Sunday, September 26, 2010

flute melodies taking shape

This week I focused on writing the flute part. I am about halfway done with the draft. My initial sketch is just some rhythms and basic contours on blank paper, and I have been trying out different pitches and writing them in. After this I started putting the melodies in Sibelius to see how they sound (mainly for the microtonal stuff).

After trying to come up with some kind of quarter-tone pitch scheme, I decided that this piece will mainly focus on the usual 12 semitones, with quarter tone inflections. I am basing my pitches on a 2-octave 12-tone set, the same as what I used in my piano piece Through the Canopy.

Canopy's row begins on C#, and I transposed it up a fifth to G# for this piece. Despite being based on a row, the work is very centered around E, due to my drone idea. I chose E because the Kingma alto flute can easily do any kind of trill there (written A). B (written E) has the same ease-of-trilling property, but I wanted to be able to play some notes below the drone pitch, yet still have the drone pitch be low in the flute's range.

Here is an mp3 of the MIDI mockup I am making as I compose. It is about 3 minutes, so we're about halfway through. There are a lot of pitch-bends that you won't hear, and the trills are all semitone, but you can get a sense of what I'm going for.

Monday, September 20, 2010

flute piece - electronic beginnings

This week I spent most of my composition time working on materials for the 'tape'/'computer' part of my flute piece. Below is an mp3 of the best parts.

(Times approximate)
0:00-0:30 Flute and tambura samples, chopped up and shuffled around, then reverberated.
0:30-0:55 same thing, pitch-shifted down one octave
0:55-1:10 first attempt at editing, it was too sparse - not planning to use this but i kinda like the idea. maybe in another piece - to "funky" for this one.
1:10-1:35 chopping up a scale with a lot of air sounds. could maybe be something, especially when reverberated, but not sure at this point.
1:35-1:55 chopped up air sound, then reverberated. i like this texture a good bit - this and the pitch-shifted drone idea will probably be the main 'backdrops'.
1:55-2:30 convolved a flute chromatic scale with a recording of pigeons. works pretty nicely, I think.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Since I have been exploring Arabic music for my quarter-tone alto flute piece, I began thinking about other aspects of the piece - the form and the electronic accompaniment.

For the form, I am going back to an idea I have worked with in the past: using poetic forms as the basis for musical structure. I did this first with Three Haiku, then with Tanka, and with a couple abandoned pieces based on the cinquain, sonnet, and pantoum. Since I was looking to the Middle East, I found a few forms and chose the ghazal.

The ghazal form is a series of rhyming couplets. These couplets are generally only loosely related, but the second line always rhymes. Since I have been asked to write a 6-7 minute piece, I decided to create twelve roughly 30-second "couplets," where the final five-or-so seconds will be variations on the same motive.

I sketched out eight flute ideas I wanted to explore; each couplet will focus on one of these, though some of the ideas will crop up in other couplets. One idea explores trills - moving from timbral (one note, but played with different fingerings so there is a fluctuation in the timbre), to quarter tone, to semitone, to whole tone (probably not further, though I could...). Another explores the difference between pitch bends and discrete quarter-tone scales (i.e. play a pitch bend, then play a slurred scale between the same notes). Another involves very short, fast whole-tone, three-quarter-tone, and semitone scales.

I decided on an order for all these sections, but as I started conceiving the electronic accompaniment, I shuffled them around. Going against the unrelatedness of the ghazal couplets, mine will display overall gradual changes. There will be an opening melodic section, which I called "normal" even though it will have quarter-tones and other weirdness. After this comes the bend-scale section, followed by trills, then scales, then noisy sweeps, then slap tonguing. So there will be a general change from continuous "normal" melodies to more sparse and noise-based material.

The accompaniment (as I conceive it now, anyway) will also gradually progress. It will start with a low drone of some sort, then introduce some noisy sounds (I'm thinking something like a flock of birds taking off), then move to continuous, high, airy sounds, finally working back to the low drone.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

mirror universes - pencil to computer

I have sketched out the last four entries in my Mirror Universes series. The process for each one is basically the same.

First, I write out the 'parallel techniques' I can think of for the instruments I am using in the piece. For example, MU3 involves vibraphone and trombone. Both can do pitch bends (the vibraphone is obviously more limited there). Both can have brighter timbres if played at the node or with a mute. Once I have a list of these type of ideas, I determine how many of each there will be (generally 3-4 per effect and 4-6 for "normal" melodic figures).

Then comes the pencil sketch. These are very rough and I write them quickly. It's almost an improvisation.

Once I have the pencil sketch, I sit on it for a few days, then start putting it in Sibelius, with corrections and additions.

Once they are all in Sibelius, I plan to send Caleb the scores as .pdfs for suggestions and revisions. Tentative plan is to record these sometime around the winter holidays.

Monday, September 6, 2010

drone ditty

For this alto flute piece I'm writing, I'm considering making a drone through the majority of the tape part. I made a quick test thing with triangle waves, and I made a quick quarter-tone tester thing (both are Max/MSP patches).

Below is an improv I did - will give you a sense of some of the ideas I'm playing with for this piece. I found some information about Arabic maqamat (scales), and am planning to use tetrachords from this system as a basis for my melodic figures (it won't be straight up scales, but I will be using some of the interval patterns.

The first part you will hear is a little passage on the Rast tetrachord - a whole step and two 3/4-steps. After this I played some scales to hear how they sound with the drone - quarter tone, chromatic, whole tone, then a 3/4-tone scale. Good times.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

more hip-hop project fun

I have been playing around with one of the tracks from my hip-hop project, working title "Octagon." For most of the tracks, I had 2 people record solos, but this track only had one. I tried recording some Hammond-ish organ solos, but since the backing track uses similar timbres, it tended to get lost.

Then I came up with an idea to go for the electronica cliché of sticking in some (public domain) movie quotes. I looked around and found some great dialogue from the Vincent Price film The Last Man on Earth, which is based on the novel I Am Legend. I am doing some processing on the quotes for word-painting purposes. Kinda rough, but here is what I have so far:

I really love Darren Nelsen's guitar contribution to this piece. I thought it would be fun to dissect and scramble the solo later in the track. Below is the original, then the reconstituted version:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mirror Universes series

Mirror Universes is a series of duets I am composing. Each piece features vibraphone or multipercussion with a melodic instrument. I composed the first one, for viola and vibraphone, for a now-defunct duo named String Gone Deaf. The second one, for clarinet and multipercussion, was written for the Devil May Care duo. They performed it in Boston, New York, and Duluth, GA.

These are open-score pieces. Both players read the same score, which consists of 30-40 disconnected cells of music. The players each choose their own path through the music. Some cells are straight-forward (consisting of short melodic gestures), while some have special effects. In the cells with special effects, I tried to find similar effects in both instruments. For example, in MU1, the cells in which the viola plays pizzicato direct the vibraphone to play without pedal in order to get a very staccato sound. In MU2, clarinet trills are reflected by bongo rolls and gongs, with their inharmonic partials, are reflected by multiphonics in the clarinet.

Listen to DMC's performance below and you will get a better idea. You can also look at [the score] and try to deduce their paths.

(Performance in Duluth, GA).

The next entries in the series will be for trombone and vibraphone; saxophone and multipercussion; classical guitar and multipercussion; and finally vibraphone and multipercussion. DMC percussionist Caleb Herron and I are planning to record the whole series for release sometime next year. While I'm not sure that playing the entire set in concert would be particularly compelling (they all have a similar character - mezzo-piano throughout with brief bursts of activity), I think they will work as a home listening experience.