Tuesday, June 30, 2009

deciding on the next pieces

I am working on incidental music for a play/ballet project, but that is coming along fairly well. The performance is tentatively set for November and I need to meet with the writer and choreographer before I can really proceed.

Other than that, since I finished Pachamama the other day, I'm coming off a round of requested pieces. This leaves me free to do whatever I want, although I must say that it's a little more exciting to write specifically for someone else.

I have a list of projects I want to start, and I am trying to prioritize them. I will be applying for PhDs this fall (for hopefully the last time - 3rd time is a charm, right?), and I feel like I need some things to beef up the portfolio. My past few pieces have all been very interesting to write, as I have been experimenting with a lot of different ideas, but I feel that I need a new piece with a little more weight. Also, I am interested in some multi-media type programs, specifically at Brown and Washington, so I feel that I need something a little more, well, multi-media.

So here are my ideas:

A big piano and electronics piece - 20 minutes in length. For digital piano, acutally, using MIDI information to trigger things. For the electronic part, I could do this in Max/MSP but I could also switch over to its free spinoff PureData. I'm actually leaning towards ChucK, because it would be a little more impressive if I learned a new programming language...

Percussion + electronics and video piece. This would actually be an aggressive revision of a previous piece, Dead Broad on Broad Street. Thinking around 15 minutes. Caleb Herron, who I wrote for in the first place, is excited about this, so I do have a performer lined up. Lot of logistical hurdles in putting it together, though.

An orchestra piece. Another revision here, of a brass quintet titled "Epiphanies." Something I've been interested in doing. Indiana University requires that one of your portfolio pieces be an orchestral piece. So I will need to do this if I want to go to IU. But maybe that's a sign that IU is too conservative for me!

Piezo flowers installation. I made piezo flowers for a previous installation, but they were the sensors. I really liked how they looked and would like to turn them into speakers, playing algorithmically generated ambient music. Ultimately I would want to program small chips so that I could make a bunch of these flower pots and have them throughout a room. That would take learning a lot more programming. However, I could at least to a prototype with an Arduino.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

stamping my music's imaginary passport

I just had a performance (of Searching for Coincidences), and I was 4000 miles away from it. While I find it very interesting that my music can travel further and more easily than I can, I do dream of an exciting life where I can follow it around a bit!

If and when I get my hands on a recording, I will post it on my site. I am very curious how it turned out, since it is indeterminate. I don't even have a MIDI file to give me some kind of sense for it.

In August, I hopefully WILL follow my music - actually, my music will not be heard if I am not there - to Toronto. A paper and a piece have been accepted to the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium. I'm also excited to see more of Canada than the other side of Niagara Falls!

The percussion trio, now officially titled Pachamama, is nearly complete. My friends looked at a draft and they are very excited about it, which is always nice to hear. This one I am looking forward to hearing a recording, as well. I can listen to the rhythms in Sibelius, but percussion in particular is notoriously bad in notation programs.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Sometimes I have trouble coming up with titles. I generally favor programmatic titles ("Travels"), rather than genre titles ("String Quartet No. 1"), so I make this process hard for myself.

The rock band piece that I recently finished became Six Textures for Rock Quartet. This is primarily a genre title, but at least it tells you that there will be six movements, and the emphasis will be on texture. It was the best I could come up with for that one.

The flute duet became Searching for Coincidences. I named this after some debate (and opening it up to my Facebook friends). In the end, I felt that this title best reflected the effect of performing the piece - both players choose different paths, and they may or may not be playing notes from the same chord. On the (likely) rare occasions that they do play the same chord, it will seem like a coincidence. I don't know how it will work/sound until after the premiere!

I wrote a quick piece for viola and vibraphone titled Mirror Universes. This is another indeterminate piece, in which each musical "cell" can be read in treble or alto clef. The instruments try to emulate each other - vibraphone with no pedal emulates pizzicato, string harmonics emulate bowed vibraphone bars, etc. Each cell will be played by both players, a 7th apart due to reading in different clefs. I feel that they will be in their own little "world" or universe, but there will be many recognizeable reflections. Hence, the mirror. It also alludes to sci-fi, particularly Star Trek. I find that cheesy in general, but at least this reference is subtle!

Now I am trying to title my percussion trio. Due to the instrumentation (ocarina, conch shell, melodica, stones, shaker, log drum, drums, pebbles, paper/plastic bags, frog guiro), I am picturing primitive cultures in the Andes (pre-Inca). I don't know much about those cultures, and this is not directly inspired by any music, just alludes to something primitive and organic. Researching online, I learned about Inca beliefs, including their name for Mother Earth, "Pachamama." I love that word, but I fear that as a title, people may consider it humorous, which is not my intent. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

percussion trio update

I've been working on the percussion trio a bit this week, committing the "sin" of composing directly in Sibelius. I think it's helpful for this piece, since I can't properly execute the simultaneous patterns myself. As I wrote last time, I have some simple rhythms that I am currently refining.

The refinements are as follows:

1. Creating space - rather than have the players start full-on and keep playing for 12.5 minutes, I wanted to thin out the texture. Otherwise, we get nearly constant eighth notes. So I began subtracting notes over the course of several bars, until the patterns consist of only 1 or 2 notes, with many rests. Then I build the patterns up again.

2. Emphasizing the meters - this is all written in 4/4 for purposes of ensemble, but I'm really conceiving of it as having 3 meters simultaneously. If you listen to the repeating patterns, you can pick up on some of these, but I wanted to make them more apparent. I began adding rolls on the up-beats, which has worked well so far. I'm trying to come up with other ideas.

3. Expanding the timbres - I've only barely started with this today. All 3 players will have a small drum. I began introducing the rim to add another interesting sound. The rolls somewhat accomplish this goal as well. Again, still thinking about new ideas.

With these changes in place, a form is beginning to emerge. There are several moments when two or all three of the players seem to lock into a groove (although they are really in separate meters), and there are moments when the texture thins and we get a half-time feel. One longer groove also has all three players exchanging rolls, which should be an interesting effect, and comes in a little before the Golden Mean. The "melodic" tone-based instruments (conch shell, ocarina, melodica) seem to emerge rather naturally from the texture (at least from what I can tell on crap MIDI sounds!).

More soon...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

percussion trio, etc.

First, an update on previously mentioned pieces...

I did complete the alto flute duet awhile back (I am calling it Searching for Coincidences), and sent it off to the intended performers, rarescale, who will be premiering it in London on June 27. My London debut!

I finished the rock quartet piece as well. It is titled simply Six Textures for Rock Quartet. I will be going over it with the band leader, Darren Nelsen, this week for finishing touches, mistakes, etc.

Now for the percussion trio...

Like the piece Axe Grinder mentioned previously, this piece uses a Magic Square to create the form. This time, I used a 9x9 square. Again, the squares going horizontally determine the number of measures in a section. There are nine rows, so I divided these into sets of three, which determine the rhythmic pattern, instrument, and dynamic level for each player.

The numbers in each square had a hand in determining what happens. For example, I gave each player 4 instruments. If the number is 1-20, they play instrument A; 21-40 is instrument B, etc. Similarly, numbers 1-20 denote a mezzo-forte dynamic; 21-40 is mezzo-piano, and so on.

The rhythm patterns are in lengths of 3, 4, 5, and 7 beats. If the number of bars was divisible by one of these numbers, that became the rhythm pattern (e.g. a square with the number 39 would have a 3-beat rhythmic pattern and a square with the number 28 would have a 7-beat pattern). Even numbers and prime numbers were given a 4-beat pattern.

With these constraints in place, I wrote 4 very simple patterns and threw them in the appropriate spots. Some instruments are intended more for sustained "atmosphere" so they may not have a rhythm per se, but instead simply re-articulate every 3,4, 5, or 7 beats. With this overall structure set, I plan to go through and refine the surface - basically change things up here and there to add interest.

While I have this rhythmic structure in place, I am not intending for this to be a heavy, driving-rhythm type of piece. It will have rhythms throughout, but the overall dynamic will be soft (mezzo-forte is the loudest, and I gave it to squares with fewer bars). The overall sound-world I am trying to convey here is a forest. Here is the instrument list: Perc. I: ocarina, shaker, box of pebbles, small drum; Perc. II: conch shell, stones, plastic bags, small drum; Perc. III: toy saxophone/kazoo, log drum, frog guiro, small drum.