New sketchwork

There’s two pieces of music that I have on the brain right now to complete by the beginning of 2018, and I thought i’d write down some initial brainstorm thoughts that I’ve had with them.

First, one of my marching band students has asked me to write a piece for his senior trumpet recital. After a brief discussion about ideas, I decided to write it as an interactive piece using Max, which has gotten me down the path of re-learning and doing a lot of Max programming (because apparently I can’t make things easy for myself even if i tried). I’m not as familiar with MSP as I should be, but hopefully this will graduate me from beginner to competent amateur.

Right now I’m conceiving of the piece as being done in four movements, all of which play with a different concept of time. The first movement will be about the trumpet playing some passages that will then get echoed back and potentially manipulated, representing the trumpet playing from the “past” being used with current material. The second movement will be about the trumpet playing passages that has chordal movement in live unison, representing the trumpet playing from the “present” being used with the current material. The third movement will be about the trumpet playing passages that it hears from Max first, representing the idea that those passages are grabbing trumpet playing from “future” passages. The fourth movement will pull from all of those concepts into a single movement that is loosely based on the concept of spacetime.

The beginning stages of this is mostly programming Max patches that can deal with these various mechanics. I’m trying to figure out the best way to get the trumpet signal into Max, easily identify its pitch, account for tuning errors, different input/output gains and levels, and the like. Once I create that groundwork, I’ll deal with tools for the actual music. The patch for Movement 2 is going to be a modified version of an external patch already built by ICST, so that’ll also probably be what I compose first.

Second, I need to write a piece for nienteForte this year, and if all goes according to plan, that will be for the TALEA ensemble. A lot will depend on exactly what members of TALEA will be a part of the festival, but if all goes according to plan, the piece will also include some basic Max programming (but much more simple as it will be MIDI only and I can do that in my sleep). The piece is going to be based on a Dali painting that i love, with the idea that the ensemble is going to be split into two distinct tonal groups – one that uses equal-temperament and another that uses a “parallel” microtonal equal-temperament that phases in and out as controlled by Max and a MIDI piano. The idea I have right now is to put the responsibility of the parallel tuning on string instruments with the idea that it’s easier for them to constantly microtune than it is for wind instruments.

We’ll see how all of this shakes down; the current goal is to get the Max programming structure of the trumpet piece done in the next few weeks so that I can start writing the actual music in July. My progress on that will be somewhat contingent on Life getting in the way, which is going wonderfully ballistic right now with house hunting with the girlfriend, staying on top of TUMB stuff, etc.

Habits of Man – fifteen years later

Recently I pulled out my old solo digital audio work Habits of Man for a recital here on campus. It’s the first time that I’ve listened to it critically in several years (even though I posted it on YouTube four years ago):

There are a couple of small nagging sloppy parts to the piece that frustrate me and I think the middle section before the final climax is something that I would do slightly differently, but there’s more about it that I’m still happy with than unhappy, and that feels pretty good.  The more important thing is that fifteen years later it still feels like me – given the same source material that I had back then (which was probably over two hours worth of material), my approach to the composition might be more polished, but the general structure and idea behind the work would still be the same.

It serves as a good reminder that contemporary electronic art music is something that still holds importance to me in some way, and that, along with some other stuff that i’m almost done creating a different blog entry about, is giving me the drive to kickstart some abandoned projects in that realm to complete for the next couple of years.  There’s two electronic projects in particular that I’m planning on doing – one is a revision and a revamp of an old piece I did during my undergraduate years that then carried through to my masters called Surrounded By Mirrors for clarinet, MIDI keyboard, and interactive electronics.  The other, In a Fast Paced World, is a piece that I was originally conceiving of as an interactive octaphonic piece of music using a LEAP Motion Controller.  I’m not 100% convinced that the LEAP is the right controller for the job anymore, but it’s still worth fiddling with since the software side of the tech has improved greatly since i last experimented with it, and they may have even figured out at this point how to get two LEAPs to connect to a single computer.  We’ll see what happens, or if something else comes along that is a better sort of input for that project.

endings are malleable

Sometime a week ago, there were three parts of Moon of Eris that still needed work – the last development of the B section, how that B section lead to the A’ prime section, and the very ending (I had already written the A’ section a month or so ago because i knew that the B section was going to head there, it was just a matter of how to get there.)

I started playing through the B section i had already written in Finale and then in my head to try to monitor the pacing of it and figure out how to get out of it, and then sometime a half hour later when i was taking a break (i might have been at the grocery), the ending sixteen measures of the piece instantly appeared in my head.

Occasionally that happens, where the right thing for the piece just pops in my head out of nowhere, as if to say, “duh, mendel.  what else could it be?”

When i got home I wrote down a description of what happened in text, confident that i’d remember what it sounded like, and writing the words was incredibly gratifying.  The ending of this piece is something i had been struggling with – the A’ material was strong, but wasn’t leading anywhere yet, and i didn’t know where i wanted to take it.  To have a definite idea of how i was going to get there felt like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – all i needed to do was fill in the details and the piece that i had struggled so much with and fell so behind on was finally going to hit that hump of completion.

Between craziness at work and catching up on some much needed socializing, i ended up shelving the piece for a few days.  When i came back to it, i was revisiting the B to A’ transition, struggling because the method i was currently exploring felt stale – the way it was leading was a gradually increasing density of parts that would abruptly turn into unison hits – i initially started that way to give it a unifying element since it was a variant of how the A section led to the B section, but since i also used that technique multiple times in the B section itself, to do it a fourth or fifth time in the piece and end it the same way started to feel less like a unifying element and more like a tired overbearing repetition.

Tonight i started to go a different direction with the material leading to the recap, something that sparked in my head a few days ago.  The new direction feels right for the piece – but it bridges the transition to the A’ material so differently that that A’ section i wrote about a month ago might get thrown out, which means that those perfect sixteen measures which are pretty still well etched into my memory might not actually make it into the piece – sure it’ll end in a similar way, but it won’t be the same.

But ultimately that’s what composition and art is about – malleability and the exploration of multiple possible scenarios that lead to their own individual outcomes.  The strength of the material the way i have it written right now is enough that i don’t want to stray from it, and the fact that it’s completely changing the ending material is disappointing in some ways but is ultimately a better choice for the piece.  Even seemingly perfect endings can change drastically enough that a different ending that wasn’t even on the radar pops up out of nowhere, and that new ending becomes the perfect ending in a way that the previous one could no longer ever be.

Life is kind of like that too, i think.

For those interested, here’s the tail end of the development of the B section.  I’m plunging ahead with how it’s written with a clear level of acceptance that it might have to change because it’s not really playable.  We’ll see.