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.

1 comment:

Darren Nelsen said...

Fascinating. I too have contemplated poetic forms, though I haven't yet chosen a specific approach. I'll have to give it a try. I look forward to hearing your piece! Good luck with it.