I’ve been working on a couple of projects concurrently. One is a resurrected
String Quartet No.3 and the other is another idea revisited, Requiem. I believe the majority
of composers have attempted a String Quartet at least once, including me.
It’s a classic vehicle for
a composition and challenging due to there being only the four instruments; two violins, viola and cello. You have to
be somewhat adept at counterpoint and other techniques that make the best use of a limited number of voices.
have been over 2000 Requiems written over the centuries. Many legendary and famous composers have written
one, including many 20th and 21st century composers. It can, for me, be an intimidating and daunting task to attempt
But the desire to write one is compelling enough to get me past all that. My motive
for writing this is not to assume a position along side of the composers who came before me. I do not think of myself
as among their ranks. I see myself as an individual, unlike other composers.
Again, I quote Morton
Feldman who said “I’m Morton Feldman. Is there anybody like me? You know anybody like me?
The minute you call me a composer, you are relating me to someone else.” I think of myself in this same way.
We may all speak, more or less, the same language, but we’re individuals, each unique in his or her own way.
That’s why I’ve always believed that one composer is no better than another. You can prefer one
over another. That’s a personal choice. What I like, you may not. That’s OK.
attempting a Requiem is an individual expression, not a competitively driven desire. I’m not a competitive
person. It’s usually me against the mountain, not me against someone else. In that regard, I am driven to
overcome whatever is preventing me from achieving what I want. That never includes going after another composer.
I have too much respect for composers in general, even those I don’t particularly care for.
But a Requiem
will be challenging. With over 2000 versions already done, a big concern is making sure mine doesn’t sound too
much like anyone else’s. That will be difficult, as the liturgy has a meter or cadence of its own that suggests
a certain musical pattern. I’ll have to be particularly creative when avoiding this. By the scope of the
liturgy itself, this will not be a short work in duration.
I did one other Requiem in 2001 for
Susan Oppedisano, my best friend Chuck’s Mom. But that was more of a memorial for her than anything else.
Besides, since then, my music has matured and my technique improved.Today, I am a better, more learned composer and feel more
confident that I have something to say that will be worthy of the Requiem.
I will talk about my
progress in future blog entries, even include some MP3 excerpts for you to listen to and comment on. It might be interesting
to share my process with you.
So, until next time, take good care of yourselves and love each other,
I wanted to share some of
the better quotes from Morton Feldman with you. These are particularly interesting to me because they reflect
my own thinking and come close to describing my philosophy as a composer. In some instances, I’m
paraphrasing because Morty had a habit of running sentences together, sometimes not even completing them.“When a composer composes, he necessarily, as a matter of course, re-orders the memories of music already
heard and learned”.
“Composing is making one sound, then making another, then another…”
Because Feldman did not follow any particular system when composing, instead relying on his instincts and using
what sounds entered his head, this is how he composed. The above quotes reflect that to some extent.
He’s right about a composer essentially re-ordering what has been heard and learned.
All composers started out listening to music before they started
writing it. The influence of that cannot be underestimated. It helps define the song
in your heart, your signature sound, the music that is at the emotional center of your soul.
Without fully realizing it, some aspect of that music bleeds through
into your own. Yes, it is still perceptibly different to the ear. But there will always
be an element of it that comes from that place in your heart, nourished by the music you’ve heard and loved.
That’s not plagiarism, nor is it cheating in any way, shape or form. It’s acknowledging
The second quote, describing the process of composing, is also something I share. It
is indeed sound, after sound, after sound. Unlike Morty, I have used a system, specifically serialism.
But I did so because I liked the sound of the ordered sets that serial music is based upon. I selected
an order of the twelve tones of the chromatic scale based on how it sounded, what motifs it suggested, what emotions it invoked.
Then I subjected that series to the permutation process to create subsets of the original.
The inner beauty of the math reveals itself in the variations that are created. They all seem to
relate to the original in the overall sound that resulted.
So, in a very different yet real way, I too make one
sound, then another, etc. And when, for whatever reason, the series or any of its iterations start to not
sound right, I change them. I’m not following the system and all of its rules if it doesn’t
give me what I want.
In another quote, Feldman says “I began to feel that the sounds were not concerned
with my ideas of symmetry and design. They wanted to sing of other things. They wanted
to live, and I was stifling them”. It is apparent that, along with the sounds, he let the patterns
and basic form come through, and then combined them into his composition.
Morty’s instincts were very good.
I’d like to think mine are, as well. I know I’ve learned this from Feldman and make
every effort to allow myself to approach composing in this way. It’s right for me. When
it no longer feels right, it’s time for a different approach.
Peace and love,
I was recently watching a
documentary on Fractals. Of course, Mandelbrot’s name was prominently mentioned as the discoverer
of fractals, or at least the man who finally saw what was always there. Needless to say, his discovery
changed the way we mathematically see all that is in nature.
A mathematical fractal is based on an equation that involves iteration, which is a kind of
feedback based on recursion. It is self-similar, at least stochastically. I found the
definition of Fractal from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractal) to be the most descriptive and helpful.
Of course, when you see the word Stochastic, most people acquainted with modern music think of Iannis Xenakis.
It is a word that is often used to describe one of his approaches to creating music. His book “Formalized
Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition” is regarded as one of the most important of his theoretical writings.
Again, Wikipedia has a very good reference on Xenakis that I’d recommend reading (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iannis_Xenakis).
In my explorations of new ways
and means to express myself musically, Xenakis’ work and Fractals, in general, are very intriguing. Yet,
this approach seems to be more about how the music is made and less about how the music sounds. This is
exactly the criticism Feldman made of Boulez when he stated he was more interested in the method than the result.
As I’ve said often in my blog entries, a composer may
not need an audience to compose, but he’d like his work to be heard and appreciated for what it is. I
believe that is essential in motivating a composer to create music. It’s not just an abstract, independent
event that is for its own sake. It’s a form of communication and, as such, needs someone to communicate
to, even if that’s just a few close friends of the composer instead of a much wider audience.
I think taking a more mathematical approach is a good thing just so the music
that results is measured aesthetically, at least by its composer if not others. Another consideration is
that most composers do not have the math skills required to turn these equations into sounds. Xenakis was
also an Architect and mathematically trained.
Most composers are musically trained where the math involved is clearly not at the geometry level. Even
studying pitch class sets, involving modulo 12 and permutation schemes, does not begin to approach this level of math.
Unless someone developed software to assist the composer in applying these equations to creating music, most composers
would be reluctant to venture that far out.
for me, it’s intriguing to find out what the equations sound like. I count myself among those composers
with only marginal math skills, so I’m not ready to jump in and figure it out. The journey to get
there would be, for me, far too long. Still, I’m still interested enough to see if there’s
a way of applying at least some level of fractal geometry to music construction. I’d like to know
what that sounds like and if it meets my own aesthetic vision.
I’ve written music based on a total serialism method and found it redundant and boring. It
had no heart, no soul. I wound up modifying it to where what resulted was closer to what I wanted to hear,
thereby compromising the basis for the technique I was using. So what’s the point of a technique
if it doesn’t help you achieve your vision? It’s one of the things I admire most about Feldman.
He didn’t use any technique except what it took to satisfy his aesthetic. He worked within
the boundaries of the musical discipline he was taught and knew well. Yet he was a sought-after educator
and much played composer.
I think the message here
is that when you put yourself into the music you create, you give it a heart and soul, a signature unique to you that differentiates
it from all the rest. That needs to be the primary goal of any composer. Make it your
own. Give it a unique voice. When people hear it, they should be able to say….”Hey,
that sounds like Prov wrote that!”
I've been working on a new piece, concurrent with the other projects I've been
working on. I've posted it on my music page. It's titled Couches de Bruits Musicaux, which translated
from the French means Layers of Musical Sounds. It was an experiment in multi-tempo layering of music passages
for various instruments including Bassoon, Flute, French Horn, Violin and Percussion.
For each instrument, I composed
a serial passage and recorded it four different times at four different tempos. Then, using a multi-track software,
I layered each variation across the timeline, repeating some sections to fill in gaps. I then mixed all that down to
a single sound file.
I repeated this for each of the five instruments, then did the same layering using the mix
downs from each instrument. I varied the dynamics of each track to achieve the overall sound I was looking for.
I think the result is an interesting study in compound serial structuring, and one that I was pleased with overall.
I would like to try more and different experiments with tempo and duration, as well as dynamics being varied and
I am continuing my readings of Morton Feldman's lectures and interviews. I'm going to compile
some quotes that I feel are worth sharing with you and include them in future blog entries.
I was disappointed
that the Radio Destiny Internet broadcasting didn't work out but I'm still looing into other vehicles to do this. I'm
staying away from "renting" space on a server made available by a few organizations for a hefty setup fee and rather
pricey monthly costs. I'd rather do it in true "Pirate" style, so I have to find the right software to make
Meantime, I invite you to listen and/or download my music from my "Prov's Music" page and
give yourself an opportunity to challenge your sensibility and preconceived notions about music. My work will definitely
All the Best,
I've completed the Shaker Songs piece and have put it on my music page.
I still don't know if I really like it but I couldn't get past that. So I offer it to you to listen to. I'd be
very interested in your opinion of it, Drop me an email and let me know.
I'm at that difficult place for
me, when I'm in between compositions. I try to write every day, when I can. Sometimes other things prevent that
but, for the most part, it's what I try to do. I have a few ideas for a new work, some I've shared with you in previous
blog entries. But I've gort to work that out.
In the meantime, I've been reading and studying more.
Some of it is revisiting what I've already read and studied, but reinforcement is an important part of learning. So
it's a good thing to do this. As I've mentioned, I'm reading the lectures, interviews and writings of Morton Feldman.
Much of his philosophy resonates with me. Morty was Morty. He was unique. I'd do well to heed his words.
On a personal note, my wife Donna is going to need Gall Bladder surgery. She needs to set that up with a surgeon
in the next few days, but it needs to happen sooner than later. We've postponed an upcoming vacation to allow time for
that to happen. We'll see what works out. From everything we understand, recovery time is minimal, so that will
make Donna happy, as well as me.
I continue to be amazed and delighted to see how many visitors I get to my website.
I hope they enjoy their visit. I'm setting up a Guestbook for anyone who wants to add a comment or make a suggestion.
I am all about sharing my music with the world, so I hope the world is listening and enjoying it.
NOTE: I have shut down my Destiny Radio broadcast due to technical problems. I apologize for any inconvienence.
The "diversion" piece I've been working on, re-harmonizing some old
Shaker songs, isn't going too well. I'm having some difficulty in finding just the right harmony for these very old
melodies. One of the reasons is that their form is unconventional, with bars of 3/4 and 2/4 mixed in with bars of 4/4.
They don't have what we've come to know as a "normal" cadence.
But more than that, they don't
follow a pattern whereby I could apply traditional harmonies and chord sequences that, to my mind, would be suitable for hymns
like these. I'm normally not challenged by such things and usually find a way to harmonize these pieces and make them
sound acceptable, but I'm not satisfied with how it's turning out. I'm not sure why that is.
me to question this, and in turn, what aspect of my creative sensibility is not in tune with this work. Why won't
it come together. I normally would put a troublesome project like this aside until mentally and emotionally I'm in a
better state, more conducive to working on a piece like this. But it's got me concerned.
more about why it's not coming together than finding a musical solution. I'd like to further explore why I have these
lapses of creativity on projects such as this. It may help me to better overcome these "mental blocks" so
I can change direction and continue with the work. Maybe I'm over analyzing things. Paralysis by analysis.
Lately, I've been reading more of Morton Feldman's lectures and writings. Morty died in 1987 but his work is
still very influential. But, to me, his philosophy is even more influential. I like how he thought about
music and art in general. I would encourage my readers to look up Morton Feldman on the Internet and find the
transcripts of his lectures and other writings. I believe you'll find them interesting and insightful.
also been getting into the study of Psychoacoustics through a book by Perry R. Cook entitled Music, Cognition
and Computerized Sound. This is an introduction to this discipline and explores things like Pitch Perception,
Loudness, Timbre, Hearing in Time and Space and other similar topics. Essentially it's about how we hear and respond
to sound, particularly music.
For a sound-based composer, who uses sounds of all kinds as source material for a
composition, it's good to understand how people perceive and recognize sounds. It helps in better predicting how certain
sounds will be received so that we can know if compositions made up of such sounds will be accepted or rejected.
But, as I said in my last blog entry, it's not essential to a composer to know this in order to compose music.
But it is important if you want to reach people on an intellectual level. If it's a turn off to listen to acoustically,
it will never be understood or accepted creatively. I'm sure that fifty years ago, we wouldn't have thought much about
pyschoacoustics, but fifty years ago we weren't writing the electronic and sound-based compositions we are today. It's
all part of the evolution of music.
On a different note altogether, Les Paul died a few days ago. Les not
only invented the solid body electric guitar, but he pioneered the technique of muli-track recording, which impacted the entire
recording industry. We couldn't have evolved to this point without Les' contributions. He was also a great guitar
player and was still gigging up to his passing at age 94. He will be missed.
My wife was having some tests
done for a gall bladder problem recently, and because these take a very long time, I brought a book to read while I waited
for her. I was reading James L. McHard's book "The Future of Modern Music" which I had already read
once but wanted to re-read it. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about modern music and the composers
who create it.
Until next time,
I have posted "Die Stimmen von Mauthausen" (the Voices of Mauthausen)
on my music page. It is written for electronics only and is approximately 23 minutes long. I can honestly say
it is a difficult composition to listen to because it attempts to emulate the voices of suffering, pain and death that was
the plight of the inmates of Mauthausen.
From a technical standpoint, the electronic sounds can be something
the average listener may not be acustomed to. It is an acquired taste, if you will. But if you're a fan of such
composers as Xenakis, Estrada, Pape, Bussotti and others, you will find this somewhat familiar. I don't mean to imply
that my work ranks with these composers, but that we use the same language to express ourselves.
As a diversion,
I am working on a short piece for accapella chorus based on some very old Shaker spirituals, many dating to the 1700's.
I am harmonizing these old melodies and linking several of them together into a single choral work. It's still in progress
and will be for a while yet. Without a record of how these spirituals were originally sung, I am taking some liberties
with tempo and, of course, harmony.
As I said, it's a diversion that is quite a departure from what I've
been doing as of late. But I needed a diversion to get my head out of the world of atonality for a while. It's
like a restart button for my musical brain.
I've been reading some of the lectures of Morton Feldman, as well as
the writings of Milton Babbitt. In the particular pieces I'm reading from both composers, I've come upon a common thread
dealing with the audience. Not just the audience at a concert hall, but listeners of music in all forms of media from
CDs to downloadable MP3's.
The question is; does a composer need an audience in order to compose music? The
answer is, of course, no. Feldman makes the point that considering the audience when composing causes the composer to
begin compromising for the sake of the listener and not following his or her vision of what the piece should sound like.
Even matters of duration are things that can be a listener consideration. We could begin planning on a specific
duration that will comfortably fit on a CD or for a typical concert time slot, instead of letting the duration of a piece
be the natural result of how long it takes to make your statement. The dilema, of course, is that if you depend on selling
recordings of your work in order to make a living, you're going to consider the listener because they are the ones paying.
For me, living a retired man's life with modest fixed income, I don't pay that much attention to what the listener
may want. There is such a tremendous amount of music, of all genres, styles and complexity that there's something for
everyone to listen to. My music doesn't attempt to find a niche in all of this, or to serve as an alternative to any
I try and stay true to my vision when I compose. It may be challenging at times and certainly unconventional,
but it's my signature sound, my personal song. However, I do consider how the listener will engage with my music.
Like most composers, I like to know how my music is received. I also hope that it is enjoyed to whatever extent the
listener enjoys it. That's not so much ego as a fundamental axiom for any artist.
I also like to challenge
my listeners. I ask them to leave their comfort zone and stretch their minds a little. I try and set the stage
for them, if you will. I always title my works. I have a problem with any artist who creates a work, whether it
be music, art, poetry or whatever, and doesn't title it.
I've seen so many art works simply called "untitled".
To me, that's a copout. It says that you really had no particular vision in mind when you created this piece and you
just rambled through applying techniques for the sake of applying technique. I feel an audience is helped a great deal
when an artist or composer titles a work. It gives them a clue as to your intent.
Most people are
living their daily lives, full of stress and struggle, where art in any form is not usually a major part. They need
some help in finding your direction. A title is like a mini-map of the piece. A preview of coming attractions.
It helps them focus on the work when focusing is difficult because their lives are filled with other concerns. Think
about that the next time you come upon a work of art that is "Untitled".
All the best, Prov
I have completed two works in the past few days. The first is Sonata
No. 2 for Flute and Piano, I mentioned in my last blog entry. The second is a piece constructed for electronics
entitled Die Stimmen von Mauthausen, which translated means the Voices of Mauthausen. It is dedicated
to the victims of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.
My friend and collaborator, Swany, spent
time in Austria and visited the camp. It was her telling me of her experiences there, along with other material I've
read, that inspired this work. It is written for electronics only, no instruments, and is approximately 23 minutes long.
It's also not something you want to listen to alone at night.
Now, as they say, I'm in between projects and
that's good in a way. It will give me some time to think about what I want to work on next. I'm seriously thinking
about taking my friend Byron's advice and doing a narrative piece where I use biographical information to tell a story about
some famous artist or composer. I did that in my Painter's Suite with DeKooning and he liked it.
Sonata No. 2 and the Adagio for String Quartet are both a mix of styles, as I said I was going to pursue.
It was actually fun writing in multiple styles and blending them together in a single piece. Free style is a no-rules,
petal-to-the-metal approach that really starts with a truly blank canvas and a full palette to work with.
It's a very liberating experience to write like that. You become more like a Gonzo composer.
it's good to stop writing and do some listening. Not necessarily to look for ideas or material from someone else's work,
but to go deeper and listen for what's beneath the work, the essence, the inspiration. To see how a composer uses his
or her voice to say what's important to them. This can often rekindle that same spark in my own work, my own voice.
It's that kind of renewal that's important to keep from getting stale or complacent. Absence makes the heart grow fonder
and my muse re-energized.
In looking at the statistics that Register.com is posting about site activity, I see
that I get visitors from all around the world. Besides the United States, I get quite a few visits from China.
I welcome all of you, one and all. It is a pleasure to share my music with all of you, and I encourage you to email
me and tell me about your experience visiting my website.
Until next time, take care of yourselves.
After completing a short piece for String Quartet, which was primarily tonal,
I decided to begin work on a Sonata for Flute and Piano, which is a mix of structured serial, free atonal and some polytonal
influences. This was my intent with the next work I would be writing, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post.
I have kept the flute part closer to the structured serial, at least as far as pitch class is concerned. The piano
part is where I use the mix of free atonal and polytonal. Thus far, the results have been interesting. I'm enjoying
writing within this mix of styles. It's been more of a blank, open canvas to work with.
The continuing story
of Voluspa has begun another chapter. My friend Swany, who did the Icelandic narration on the piece, met a woman who
is a major player in the promotion and distribution of music in London, UK. She asked Swany for a copy of the CD to
preview. When Swany told me about that, I said I would burn the CD and put together a cover letter. I did all
that and sent the CD to her yesterday. We'll see what comes of this.
On a personal note, my daughter Jean,
and her boyfriend Scott, and my grandsons Tyler and Vinnie went to visit my two sisters-in-law up in Grandview Wisconsin.
From the many photos I've seen so far, it looks like a good time was had by all. It was good to see all the cousins
and their families get together and enjoy each other's company. It also looks like the aunts enjoyed it too. My
wife Donna and I will be going for a visit of our own later in August.
The area that Vickie and Dolly live in is
in the far northwest section of Wisconsin, near Hayward and the Superior/Duluth region. It's very beautiful country
with acres of forests, lakes and, of course, Lake Superior. Donna and I really enjoy the ferry boat ride from Bayfield
to Madeline Island, part of the Apostle Island group.
I've also been reading a book on String Theory, which I mentioned
earlier. I became interested in this as part of an exploration into the law of attraction and how it uses the universe
as a conduit of communication. It started with reading a book by Gregg Braden which looked into the physics behind this
phenomenon. This led me from there to quantum mechanics to String Theory. It's been an interesting journey
thus far and the source for inspiration for a few recent works.
The rest of my life recently has to do with domestic
issues (as the late Erma Bombeck said, "anyone who owns their own house deserves it") and personal health issues,
both of which take way too much of my energy that I'd rather put into my music. But these are all part of the rest of
my life and I have to deal with it all. Hopefully, as my daughter is fond of saying, what doesn't kill you makes you
stronger. Given that, I should be either very strong very soon, or closer to the other part of that saying. I
guess that's part of the struggle.