Tuesday May 31, 2011
I hope everyone had a good Memorial Day weekend.
I spent part of it at my daughter’s house, breaking bread with her and her family. My son
was going to be there but something else came up and he couldn’t be there. We missed him but completely
understand. With my whole family working what seems to be all the time, moments when they can do other
things are precious few. So we cut everyone some slack and extended a mea culpa. But
there was a lot of yesterday that I was able to spend on Gestures in Motion and have posted a new sample this morning.
Thus far, the entire piece is clocking in at 14 minutes 23 seconds, with four and a half movements completed and three
and a half to go.
of the things I did was shorten the pauses between movements to create more of a continuous flow. I’m
thinking that in its final iteration, the piece will play without interruption except for the brief pauses written into the
score. I removed fermatas and am only using rests of at least two beats, with some up to four beats to
separate the movements. After listening to the entire piece a few times, I decided that it sounds better
overall if it’s continually moving forward. I’m also letting the serial gestures be what they’re
going to be, as they flow from my creative energies. I’m not deliberately trying to structure them
so they are part of a larger shape. They are literally gestures in motion, each one being separate while
still part of the whole.
with compound meters, using nested tuplets, has proven to be a very interesting technique. When I return
to “normal” rhythmic patterns in the 4/4 time signature, they sound so different after a series of tuplets and
nested tuplets, giving the sense of a completely different tempo. It sort of reminds me of the story I
heard about this woman who never knew her husband drank until he came home sober one day. It was conspicuous
by its normality, and unexpected. That’s why I find it interesting to insert a normal phrase in the
midst of very unusual phrases. All to keep things interesting and contrasting. Surprise
people with the unexpected. Sometimes that’s a rapid change of dynamics, going from a quiet piano
passage to a loud fortissimo with a strong attack. It wakes you up if you’re becoming too complacent
(or nodding off). I don’t like people nodding off while listening to my music.
We’re bringing May to a close and, around
here, the temps are in the upper 80s, low 90s. It looks like it’ll be that way for the next few days,
according to our local weather bunny. I guess I shouldn’t refer to the meteorologists, who give weather
forecasts on the local news programs, as weather bunnies. But they have this plastic, overly-rehearsed
shtick that makes you wonder if what you’re hearing is legit or more news hour happy talk. I, like
a lot of people, tune into a news broadcast to get a weather forecast first and foremost. It directly and
immediately affects me. I have to make a myriad of decisions on what I wear, what delays I may experience
and a lot of those kind of things. Learning about what politician is being indicted on what charges is
not something that immediately impacts me unless he stole my money. Then I’m really pissed off.
So a weather forecast is among the
purest of news content there is and I want it straight up and factual without teaser lines or vague references.
Don’t tell me it’s going to snow today. Tell me when, where and how much.
Even a generalized reference by region is better that a blanket statement that it’s going to frickin’ snow.
Same with rainfall. These weather phenomenon directly affect all of us, especially those who commute
to work, which happily doesn’t include me anymore. But I do have to run errands, so that information
is still good to know.
local ABC affiliate is owned by Disney. There have been stories involving Disney, usually derogatory, that
is interesting to hear reported by these folks who get paid by Disney. The term boot lickers comes to mind,
maybe even ass kissers. I see that as a definite indication that this station’s editorial policy
is inhibitive, at least to the point where they’ll gloss over stories having to do with the TV station’s ownership.
Fertilizer occurs. Sometimes it occurs really close to home, even to your associates,
even to you. It is what it is. You should report it factually and accurately.
If you don’t because it’s too close to your bread and butter, I can’t trust you to be truthful about
any story you report on that you may consider too sensitive.
Fortunately, the weather bunnies usually follow the National Weather Service’s
forecast model, so it’s closer to right than not. It’s just the delivery is kind of slick,
too much so for me. If you’re happy with that, or if you like the whole happy talk approach, good
for you. There’s certainly plenty of network news teams to choose from. Me, I
watch and contribute to PBS. Their news programming is not beholding to anyone but us, the public.
You will always get it balanced and straight from these folks, so I subscribe to and watch WTTW in Chicago.
Their overall programming is of a higher quality, very informative and still quite entertaining.
They don’t resort to reality or game show formats that
are nothing more than silly. There’s also a lot of promotion of rude and apathetic behavior on network
TV, both in the program content and in the ads for the sponsors who pay for it all. They evidently think
we are all stupid and without any sense of decency toward each other and even toward ourselves. It becomes
abundantly clear how our behavior is strongly influenced and affected by all of this. I wondered when it
became the norm to be rude, disrespectful, intolerant and given to derogatory and hateful talk? If kids
see this, they will emulate it. That’s what they do. It’s okay to show them
examples of positive behavior. We’ll still buy the crap we need that your sponsors are selling.
It’s not necessary to push nasty as the new nice. Get a clue!
Tomorrow is the first day of June, a day we’ve been
anxiously waiting for after what seems a long span of cold and rainy days. I hope this coming summer gives
all of us an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, have fun doing the summer things we enjoy, and hopefully make it to some outdoor
music concerts. The state of things in the music business is particularly sad right now. Not
for the fortunate few, but for the not-so-fortunate many. Supporting these talented and gifted musicians
by going to their concerts and recitals is a great way to support them and to enjoy yourself at the same time.
I hope to see you at some of these concerts.
Memorial Day 2011
I wish everyone a great Memorial Day. Have
fun doing whatever you do today, but remember all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.
Regardless of what your political views and concerns about the numerous armed conflicts around the world that our military
is engaged in, the people who are serving are there to protect and defend our freedom, liberty and national interests.
They do this with pride and honor and are deserving of our support and admiration.
But more than that, they who have lived
through the horror of war, deserve to be truly welcomed home when their service is completed. We owe them
a debt of gratitude that is best manifested in the form of the care and healing of their wounds, physical and mental, as well
as help with getting back to their families, friends and their lives. They’ve done their share.
Now we should do ours. Support all the men and women in service to their country. They
do it for you and me, and for the love they have for America.
Sunday May 29, 2011
I was thinking about a place I worked at from 1998 to
2002. It was a small manufacturing company that made products for the telecommunications industry.
I was the Director of Quality. This was a privately owned organization comprised of many of the
people the owner worked with at another telecom company. I ended up there after being recruited by one
of the owner’s friends with whom I had worked before. Among this cast of characters,
who migrated over, was an engineer, who I came admire for a lot of reasons, named Carl Erite.
Carl was paradox. He
was an electronics, telecom genius who was way ahead of his time in many ways. At the same time, he dressed
and acted like a hippie in all the ways you’d expect. I won’t elaborate on that any further.
He had a rare skill among engineers. He could talk in plain English and, even understood what was
going on in the real world of manufacturing. He also had a ability to drill through all the engineering
rhetoric and get to the core. Whenever I had a compliance problem, I’d go to Carl for advice because
he had the most practical outlook on things of any engineer I’ve ever known.
Most engineers will always err on the side of caution when
asked to determine if a component is acceptable or not when it slightly exceeds specifications. Most engineering
requirements are conservative and there’s usually some latitude. Engineers do that because they don’t
believe manufacturing will be able to make product to the real requirements; a little paranoia and mistrust, I suspect.
However, when confronted with components that exceed these conservative limits, and are asked if they will still be
fit for use, most won’t take the risk, even when it’s probably quite safe to say it’s okay.
They’re basically chickens and don’t want to take the heat for being wrong.
Carl was able to see past that and look at the bigger conformance
picture and determine, from a practical standpoint, if that component was still okay to use. In my experience
with him, making those calls, he was always right. Nothing he ever told me would still be fit for use ever
failed or was rejected by the customer. I came to trust his judgment and, on questions regarding electronics,
he was the guy I went to. He was also a wealth of information on certain herbal questions regarding their
care and feeding, which was something I was personally concerned with.
Another engineer from this same cast of characters, but this one was a mechanical
engineer, was Paul DeCraene. Pauly and I became great friends. He too had a
practical side that was helpful when I encountered the same kind of problems only with mechanical components.
He could cut through the surface and see how the discrepancy I was asking about affected the way everything went together.
More often than not, he saved the day because he was able to keep this big picture image in his head and tell right
away when things weren’t going to fit together.
His other admirable quality, one that I admired more than any other, was his
sarcastic wit and sense of humor. He was able to see through management’s usual psycho-babble and
know when they were making stupid decisions and taking unnecessary risks. Pauly really gave a damn about
what he did and had a lot of pride in his work. He not only designed all the mechanical components but
he designed the layout for all the printed circuit boards.
Pauly, like me, also had a good handle on computers. In fact,
he and I were the default IT team at this company because no one else knew what they were doing. We’d
work evenings and weekends sometimes updating the network and upgrading equipment. At the time, I was the
only one with a CD burner, and that was on my home computer. When there was a Novell upgrade, I’d
have to download it at home and burn it onto a CD to bring to work. That’s how primitive this company’s
computer capabilities were. Pauly could wire an Ethernet RJ connector, with all color codes and locations
correct, with his eyes closed. We went around and updated every PC in the house when the Y2K thing was
Customer enquiries as to Y2K compliance were directed to me. Stupidity abounded. I
was even asked if a simple connector we sold, that did nothing other than allow wires to be attached to it, was Y2K compliant.
I assured this woman that when she awoke on the first day of 2000, the connector would still be functioning.
I had to issue letters of certification assuring people that the products we sold them wouldn’t suddenly go crazy
on New Year’s day. Customers may not always be right, but they’re always your customers.
So I avoided calling them idiots, which would have been more accurate.
No one could accuse Pauly of spending all his money on fancy clothes and cars.
He dressed like it was the weekend, and on the weekend he dressed like he was on vacation. He drove
a 1984 Chevy Cavalier that was held together by the memory of the molecules that were once sheet metal panels.
He finally bought a Subaru Forester because he needed the room to haul around his tools. His hobby
was woodworking and he did beautiful work. He showed me photos of some of his handiwork and I was amazed.
But he had no problem getting into management’s face when he knew they were with an abundance of fertilizer (a.k.a.,
full of shit). And he told them so in very uncomplimentary terms. It eventually got
What I find
really interesting is the memories that stand out after all this time are not about the company and how succesful it was,
but are about the characters I met along the way and learned to admire and like. People are always more
important than places and things. It’s these crazy and wonderful people that got me through an otherwise
difficult career, not any skills I learned or accomplishments I achieved. This helps to put into perspective
what’s important in life. When all is said and done, people are more important than anything else.
Saturday May 28, 2011
As far as our painting project is concerned, things
went very well yesterday. The forecasted 60° turned out to be more like 72° and sunny, which made
completion of the prep work and applying primer a much easier task. With the long weekend upon us,
there will be ample drying time for everything so that, come Tuesday, the final coat will go on nicely. Even
with just the primer coat, there is a dramatic improvement in how everything looks. I come to find there
is no standard window for the one needing replacement on the garage.
Many years ago, when my house was built, double-hung windows were fabricated
on site and installed piece by piece. There were no window companies like we have today, so everything
had to be custom made on the job. The window that needs replacing is just such a window. Of
course, the down side of buying a custom made window is that it costs a lot more than the standard. What
should have cost less than $100 will cost over $325 and take two weeks to get here. My painter said to
give him a call when it gets in and he’d pick it up and install it.
As I said, any home repair project will cost more than originally estimated
and most likely require some exotic, expensive tools to do the job, which the average home owner doesn’t usually have.
That’s why I resist everyone’s urging to do it yourself. I keep hearing about how much
money I’ll save. I don’t think so. First of all I have zero experience doing
this sort of thing. This means the most likely outcome will be me screwing it up, necessitating the need
to call in someone who actually knows what they’re doing to undo my disaster and do it the right way. So
all the money I spent on materials is adrift at sea and I still have to pay for the labor and more materials.
Of course, all those wonderful specialty
(and even not so specialty) tools I’ll need to do the job would also be something I’d invest in if I were to do
it myself. Maybe some guys could everything with a hammer and a screwdriver, but most times you need the right
tools. There are some jobs that would need doing again maybe once, maybe never. What
the hell do I do with those tools I just bought? So you wind up loaning them to friends and family just
to get some use out of them and, all of a sudden, you’ve become the local rent-a-center. This is
light years from where you wanted to be, of course, but it’s too late. You’re now the guy with
the tools that nobody else wants to buy because they’re too expensive. You know you’re going
to get asked to loan them out.
I think the big push for doing things yourself is driven by the big home improvement centers that sponsor shows like
This Old House. They make the most money from your folly and use some of it to sponsor shows that
encourage you to even more folly. The other side of that is you do the job yourself, warts and all, and
rationalize that it doesn’t look that bad so you leave it. You learn to live with it.
Of course when someone comes over to your house and sees your handiwork and says. “How come there’s
a big slope in that wall?”, you’re faced with having to explain why it looks that way or shoot the guy to
shut him up.
Since the latter option has some serious consequences, you opt for the former and admit you screwed it up.
Then he says, “You should have had it done by a real carpenter.”. Then you’re
back to the killing him thing only now you’re more motivated. If you don’t know what you’re
doing, leave it the hell alone! Get someone who knows what they’re doing to do it right the first
time. That’s the truly inexpensive way to go, not buying into this myth that doing it yourself will
save you money and, besides (they tell you), it’s not that difficult. Trust me, when you have no
clue, it is.
Do what you’re comfortable doing and leave the rest to a seasoned tradesman. Besides, you’re
contributing to the economy as well as having your home actually look nicer. My painter is a young guy,
married with kids, and I feel good about giving him the work so he can provide for his family. It’s
what he does. It’s not what I do. I’m a composer. It’s
important to sort that out up front.
The fifth movement of Gestures is coming along. I added some to it yesterday but not
that much. I’m finding that I’m making slight and sparse gestures with a little space between
them. I’m giving it an almost economical feel, that is more of a spattering of sound events rather
than a continuing stream as is the case in some of the other movements. This essentially breaks up the
flow, enough that it gets your attention. That’s what I wanted to accomplish.
The overall feel of this piece is different than some of my
recent serial work. Rather than attempting to create a series of building blocks and constructing an edifice
with them, I’m scattering them around so that the piece isn’t overtly contiguous and resembles more of an art
installation than a recognizable structure. You have to listen to it carefully. You
don’t get a sense of when a movement is going to end or the next one begin except for the fermata that creates the pause.
I don’t lead you in any direction. I leave you to wonder on your own.
I wanted each musical gesture to be like a stand-alone entity.
I wanted you, the listener, to construct the piece in your mind as you’re listening. While
the piece flows through time, as all music must, you don’t get as much of a sense of that. By intentionally
structuring the piece in this manner, I’m essentially inviting you into it in the same way I might coax you into a maze.
How you perceive that maze determines how much or how little you’ll enjoy it and get something out of it.
You can reject it, turn it off and return to a more comfortable state of mind, or you can embrace it and interact with
But for that to
happen, there must be this confluence of occurrences that creates this. It’s a combination of timbre,
dynamics, attack and motion that creates these gestures, and varying them gives each one uniqueness. So
I was very deliberate and selective in choosing each parameter when creating a gesture. This
piece for me was far more cerebral than others I’ve done. I focused as much on the psychology as
I did on the musical elements so I could “preview” in my own mind how it would be perceived.
On a completely different note, I navigated for the first
time to the Wikileaks website, where Julien Asange posted all the classified and secret documents he’s
acquired. I didn’t know what to expect when I went there but was surprised at the sheer number of
documents covering so many areas. I have mixed feelings about what Asange is doing.
I’m reminded of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. While I would never
want to see any harm come to anyone involved in any of these activities, I also feel that the public is better for knowing
what really goes on. Whether they can handle it or even care about it is another matter.
There has always been two sides to
how things are done in government, the public side and the private side. Publically, politicians and government
officials tell us what they think we want to hear or what they want us to believe. Secretly, they say and
do whatever is required to get what they want. In most cases, the two sides are totally different.
We’re not being lied to, but we’re not being told the truth.
Should we care? That depends on how comfortable
you are in your own world. If you’re not directly affected, you probably don’t give a damn.
Your life is hardly impacted by all this covert, behind the scenes goings on, at least in the short term.
But in the long term, maybe a loved one will be called up to serve in some armed conflict half way around the world,
be put in harm’s way, because of what transpired in those covert encounters. You probably don’t
know this and just assume your loved one has been called upon to serve their country.
It’s good to be patriotic and have a sense of commitment
to the principles of democracy our nation was founded on. Those are noble feelings that take you beyond
yourself to a greater good. Serving your country is privilege and an honor. But, unfortunately,
the people in power sometimes abuse that privilege. The reasons behind the decisions to intervene in some
situations is based more on financial and political interests than on the nobility of the cause. We shouldn’t
take those kind of chances with the lives of our young people who are serving their country. We have an
obligation to only deploy them when America’s national interests are at risk. And those interests
should be more about democracy and freedom than political and financial concerns.
As we are getting ready to celebrate memorial day and honor the
men and women of our military for their service, we shouldn’t forget our responsibility to deploy these forces for truly
just causes. Since the second world war, armed conflicts around the world that have involved American forces,
have been convoluted and difficult to justify. The clear threat of the axis powers to the United States
made the fight to bring them down a clear and very righteous fight. But from Korea to the conflicts
today in Iraq and Afghanistan, our reasons for fighting isn’t that clear. Fighting Al Qaeda is proving
to be far more complicated than fighting Nazis, and in very different ways. It seems the more effective way is the clandestine
approach taken to kill Osama bin Laden. I think Winston Churchill's coment about the RAF applies here, "Never
before has so many owed so much to so few".
If Wikileaks in some way forces more transparency in how we do things, and helps
to avoid our involvement in armed conflicts that will needlessly put our forces in harm’s way, then it’s a good
thing. But they have a responsibility to protect those individuals involved who are carrying out orders
and directives, not making policy. Those people are acting out of the same sense of patriotism as the soldiers
we send off to war. They aren’t the reason behind the clandestine goings on, they’re just serving
their country by following their orders. Their identities need to be protected so no harm will come to
them as a result of disclosing documents. But the revelation of the truth behind how we eventually get
ourselves in the messes we find ourselves in, can be helpful in our evaluation of the politicians and policy makers we vote
Friday May 27, 2011
Today, the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, is
the unofficial start of the summer season. I’m finding it difficult to get caught up in all that
because it’s 39° this morning. That’s more like the end of the summer season, beginning
of fall. I still have the heat turned on otherwise it would be in the mid 60s in my house.
Instead, it’s a comfortable 72°. Everyone in my house appreciates that a lot.
According to the weather bunny, it’s only going to get up to 60° today. The only good
news is that it should stay dry. That’s a good thing because it’ll give the painter a chance
to start putting some paint on my house.
He finished all repairs and prep work yesterday, so things are ready to be painted.
Some of the wood, however, is still wet from all the rain. That may be a problem. Then
he has to replace a window on the back wall of my garage but, hopefully, that should go well. Even as I
just said that, I realized how ridiculous it sounded. That would be the only thing that goes well.
Both my house and garage, it turns out, were habitats for several bee colonies. I’m all for
conserving nature and protecting animals, but I don’t feel bad for evicting the little buggers. Maybe
now we can have family get togethers without fear of getting stung. This painting project has provided
benefits I didn’t even consider. I would recommend Handyman Connection to anyone needing
to have work done around the house.
I did manage to get some work done on the fifth movement (Grande Jete) of my Gestures in Motion.
I’ve posted that this morning. I’m finding the timbre of the nine woodwinds a strong
element tying this suite together. It ranges from the piercing, high-pitched piccolo to the bombastic,
deep-voiced contrabassoon. There is so much contrast between the instruments that it greatly contributes
to the piece’s variety, hopefully keeping the listener’s interest high. This, together with
the serial techniques I’ve been using, has made this piece a lot of fun to compose. I haven’t
done enough with tone color melody (klangfarbenmelodie), however, and will be doing more in the remaining movements.
What I’ve done so far has been at a faster tempo. I want to slow things down here and there
to let the tone color have more time to come through.
I’ve been continuing to read Modern Music and After and am still discovering
some fascinating facts that explain much of why the early serialists did what they did. And I’m also
finding that not all of them were committed to total serialism. Italian serial composer Luigi Nono
was not. He said that pointillism was, in fact, contrary to his technique of sound relations.
He emphasized more vigorous connections of the various parameters, rather than on their separate organizations.
Even after a meeting at Darmstadt with Stockhausen and Goeyvaerts, he wasn’t that affected
by their ideas, projects and achievements. Nono emphasized melodic line. For
him, melody could survive the absence of tonality and the loss of its function as theme.
I tend to agree with that and have always used melodic elements
in my work. This is quite contrary to the early serialists thinking and the basis of pointillism
and the total serial approach. Those separate organizations of the various parameters, like dynamics, duration,
attack, etc., were the prominent components of that music, not melodic and harmonic elements. This was
more to do with wanting to make a clean break with music of the past, than anything else. I, on the other
hand, am not interested in completely dismissing the music of the past. Instead, I’d rather learn
from it. I’d rather glean from it what is still pertinent, what is universal.
In his typical arrogant fashion, Boulez said, “Any
musician who has not experienced – I do not say understood, but truly experienced – the necessity of dodecaphonic
language is USELESS!” (the man was a great composer and is a great conductor, but is still a real asshole).
That attitude, in many ways, dominated the thinking at the Darmstadt New Music Summer School sessions and probably
turned some people off, and discouraged them from thinking out of the new Stockhausen-Boulez box. Any
effort to inhibit thinking that differs from your own is just as tyrannical as any other form of tyranny. Of
all things, music should be kept free from any restricted thinking and allowed to be whatever it wants to be, by whomever
wants to free it.
back on this comment by Boulez, and the horrible way he treated Stravinsky, I continue to lose respect for the man.
Still, I manage to objectively look at his music and glean from it those elements that appeal to me and can be useful
techniques to use in my own work. I can mentally separate the man from his music, although I can also see
where the two are inexorably intertwined. Still, it would be foolish to dismiss the man’s musical
contributions just because he behaved like a dweeb. I don’t want to hang out with him, I just want
to better understand his music. The same holds true for Stockhausen. He, too, had an
arrogance about him that could be irritating. But, likewise, there’s something to learn from his
music. I just have problems with anyone who is full of themselves.
To date, Gestures in Motion, including all movements
completed so far, is about 12 minutes in duration. I still have to complete the last four movements, so
I may conceivably double that. Looking at it from that viewpoint, it’s longer than I expected.
Using a single series with all iterations for each movement, the real variable becomes tempo. But,
that’s what happens when you use quasi-chance operations. You get what you get.
Monday is Memorial Day and we’ll all be getting together
at my daughter’s house. Because she hasn’t got her grill yet, we’ve decided to have Italian
beef with peppers, some potato and macaroni salads and chocolate cake. That sounds fattening and decadent
enough to qualify for a holiday family get-together meal. Besides my wife and I, there’ll be my daughter
(of course), her two kids and my son. My daughter’s boyfriend has to work. He’s
an aircraft mechanic and planes need service regardless of what day it is. We’ll save him some beef.
Hey, it’s the least we can do.
Thursday May 26, 2011
Well, I finally heard from my friend Byron yesterday.
He’s been working on sketches for his arrangement of an original tune by Adam Unsworth for this
upcoming project. Next week, he’ll be ready to start scoring it, so I should see it a week or so
after he’s done. It will be scored for a chamber ensemble and jazz group. Byron
will also be composing an additional tune for this same project, bringing the project to two scores. The
original five scores we did in 2009 were recorded in Philadelphia. For the remaining scores, recording
will take place in New York, where it’ll be less expensive.
In addition to the scores Byron is working on (or will be working on), Adam
will be composing and arranging a third score. As Byron and I discussed, my concern is that this arrangement
will be dramatically different than the other seven that Byron arranged and orchestrated. One of the things
that has given this project a unique and sophisticated sound is Byron’s signature style. I’m
not sure how Adam’s score will meld with the rest. Hopefully, it’ll work and a feeling of continuity
will be maintained. That’s not really necessary but it’s nice.
Byron also told me some sad news about our friend, Bob Mitchell.
Mitch was the drummer and leader of the Mitchell Roberts Trio that launched the careers of both Byron and our dear
friend Chuck Domanico. I had contributed some original tunes to their library. All of
this was over fifty years ago. Now Mitch is facing some serious health challenges. He’s
been overweight for years, sometimes topping 300 pounds. As a result, he developed diabetes, among other
things. He’s since lost a tremendous amount of weight and has his blood sugar levels under control.
However, the damage is done and has
truly changed his life. He’s on dialysis and developed large water blisters on his legs.
Now I’ve learned the poor circulation in his foot will require it be amputated. He will be
fitted with a prosthetic and be facing a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation. Yet, he told Byron he’s still optimistic
about things. He’s considering temporarily moving in with his daughter in California until he can
more comfortably walk on the prosthetic and be more independent. I’ve always liked Mitch.
He never realized how good of a drummer he was, so I reminded him of that. He didn’t deserve
any of this.
bunny was accurate for a change and, as forecasted, it’s raining today. Because today is our garbage
pickup day, I had quite a bit to take to the curb. It took long enough to absorb about a quart and a half
of water into my clothes. Lovely. But my painter is here working on the house again.
Tomorrow also looks promising. Then there’s the long holiday weekend, but he said he may work
Saturday if need be. Besides having to finish the repair and prep for the house,
then paint the trim and soffits, he’s got to repair and prep the garage, then paint it. There’ll
be a primer coat on everything, then the final coat of white on the soffits, blue on the trim. I’m
glad the apocalypse has been rescheduled to October 21, because he may need that extra time to finish. You
don’t want to go to hell with your house looking like crap, do you?
Byron also shared with me the continuing adventures of “Malletman”,
a vibes player that lives in Byron’s building. He’s been after Byron to write some charts for
him for a few of his original tunes. Byron told him he’s into some projects right now and, if he
wanted him to do this, he’d have to get the lead sheets to him by last Monday. To give “Malletman”
a sense of Byron’s style, he played him a couple of tracks from the work we did for Adam Unsworth in 2009.
Very nice jazz stuff with some excellent players. Byron said he hasn’t heard from his since.
No calls, no emails, no nothing. I commented that I believed “Malletman” may have realized
that Byron’s work was at a level he hadn’t anticipated and now was probably apprehensive about
any kind of collaboration.
I get that. In fact, something similar happened to me. Many years ago, a singer approached me
to help him write out a couple of songs he wrote. He couldn’t read or write music, so he needed someone
to put his songs on paper so he could get them copyrighted and published. He sat at the piano and played
and sung the song, while I figured out what key he was in, wrote down the melody and added the chords. Well,
I was never a straight C7 or Bb major kind of guy. I always added major 7ths and 9ths to the major chords
and flatted fifths and ninths to the V chords to give them a more sophisticated sound. That must have blown
him away (and maybe embarrassed him a little) because he never called me back to do his remaining few songs. It
couldn’t have been what I charged him. That was only $20 per song back in the late 1960s.
I’m going to try and get some
work done on the fifth movement of Gestures today. I’ll see how that goes. To
be honest, the pounding going on with the repairs and prepping is somewhat distracting. Once upon a time,
such things didn’t bother me (or at least I didn’t think so at the time), but nowadays, it’s a problem.
I should be able to get past it and just write. I just need to focus. Let’s
see if I still remember how.
Wednesday May 25, 2011
The fourth movement of Gestures is going well.
I expect to complete it today. I will post it on my Work in Progress page when it’s
finally done. Then it’s on to the fifth movement Grande Jete. That dance
move involves a big jump from one foot to the other, where the working leg brushes into the air, which looks as it has been
thrown. For a brief moment, I saw myself doing that move, followed immediately by a hurried call to 911
and the paramedics hauling my ass to the ER. Yet another reason to admire the agility and athleticism of
dancers. You’ve got to be in great physical shape to do that.
My painter got a lot of repair and prep work done on the front
and south side of my house. However, he encountered a bee’s nest just under a section of wood. Being
midday when this happened, with the sun warming that side of the house, the bees were active. So out came
the Wasp & Hornet spray. He called it a day early to let the bees settle down. He’ll
be back this morning, weather permitting, to seal up the rest of the openings so they won’t be able to get in or out.
So far, like most home repair projects, it’s cost more than was estimated, at least as far as materials are concerned.
I have a feeling labor costs will also go up, as he’s doing more than he expected to. We’ll
But the weather
bunny is forecasting rain and thunderstorms for today. Not constant, just off and on. Of
course this means it will be constant over my house, even if it’s sunny next door. That’s how
it goes sometimes in my life. But, after seeing that I have a bee problem, I’m not having anyone
here for a cookout this weekend, even if the painter gets everything done by some miracle. I don’t
want anyone, especially my two grandsons, getting stung. I don’t know if anyone in my family is allergic.
A bee sting to a person who is allergic can be a very bad situation. But our house isn’t unique,
as far as bee infestations are concerned. According to the painter, it happens a lot more than we realize.
My decision to have each movement of
Gestures in Motion be limited in duration by only using a single series and all its iterations is turning out to
be a good one. Yesterday, as I was working on the fourth movement, I had planned a few
bars ahead and realized I was going to run out of material before reaching the end of those bars. This
forced me to revise the remainder of the layout, eliminating the planned bars (which I was going to use for an extended compound
meter passage), and planning instead to continue with the passage I’d been working on.
Ordinarily, I would have went ahead with my plan and just
tapped into additional pitch class sets as needed. But my self-imposed limitation made me reconsider things.
Doing that pushed me into a different mode of thinking which segued into being more creative. I
liked that unexpectedness. Maybe that doesn’t make sense to some, but what it did was shake my proverbial
tree and made me do something I wouldn’t normally have done. The randomness of that was exciting
in a way. It may not have been chance operations in a strict sense but it had the same effect.
John Cage would’ve smiled, I think.
So, for the remaining four movements, I will be facing the same thing. I’m curious how this
will play out. It may be something I’ll do again for another piece, if it lends itself to that randomness.
Looking ahead, my next piece should be the one I’ve been working on with ambient sounds recorded from various
sources. I haven’t added more sounds to it recently because I haven’t done any new recordings.
With what’s been going on, I haven’t planned any outdoor adventures where I’d take my recorder with
me and capture the sounds of what’s going on around me. I need to do more of that to ensure I have
enough material to work with. That’ll probably be what I work on next, unless something else grabs
me, or Byron comes up with a score or two for the upcoming project. Hey, it could happen.
Tuesday May 24, 2011
Well, my painter came and went, with no work done due
to a rainy morning. But the rain ended and the sun came out later, so he returned with some materials so
he can start again this morning. I’m hoping there won’t be too many more rain delays this week,
but it doesn’t look too promising. Wednesday and Thursday don’t look too good, leaving today
and Friday as hopefuls. He’ll work when he can and finish when it’s done, and I’m good
with that. I asked about payment arrangements and learned that the bill for labor will be paid directly
to the contractor, and he will be reimbursed separately for materials he buys out of his own pocket. So
there is no money up front, which I’m more comfortable with.
You should pay for services rendered when they’re completed,
not before they start. That can imply they’re working hand to mouth, so to speak. This
particular painter seems to have a sense of integrity and I’m confident will do a quality job, which he says should
last at least ten years. Now it’s more of a question of me lasting at least ten years in this house.
Ten years is a long time and so much can happen. While I like the fact that confidence in his workmanship
is that high, there is always a possibility we may not be in this house ten years from now to take advantage of it.
But, hopefully, someone will.
It seems that doomsday prophet Harold Camping said he miscalculated and has rescheduled the end of the world
for October 21, 2011. May 21 was actually a spiritual rapture and the real rapture will
happen in October. I’m glad he gave us enough lead time so we can gather up all our money to give
to him again. He evidently wasn’t that upset about all those people giving him money and I don’t
think he has any plans to reimburse anyone. However, he won’t spend any more time or money warning
Instead, his radio station will continue to play religious music until the end comes. That’s
kind of him not to upset everyone all over again. I don’t think he said anything to discourage anyone
from continuing to donate. He’s a real stand-up kind of a minister, isn’t he? He’s
truly the embodiment of Christian beliefs. I wonder if he’ll be allowed on the
rapture bus going to be with the big guy? You know, this guy sounds like an ideal candidate for an IRS
investigation, or some other inquiry into how he does things. The upside of all this? He’s
89 and probably won’t be doing this for very much longer. Sometimes when nature thins the herd, good
things come of it.
continued work on Gestures in Motion and added more to the fourth movement Demi Pointe. I’m
creating changing tempo transitions that break up the flow of the piece, mostly gradual decreases followed by an immediate
increase. These changes are virtually transparent to the listener since a free-flowing, rubato feel is
maintained throughout all movements, thanks to Compound Meter. In fact, while I’m posting
each movement as though they were separate, my intent is to have the piece play continuously with pauses between movements
being the only indication that there’s different sections. I think this contiguous realization with
just short pauses better serves the overall feeling of the piece. Because it’s fairly intense, there’s
no need for dramatic pauses. I think it’s dramatic enough.
There are still four more movements to be written after this
one. My challenge is to find enough contrast to keep interest in the piece going throughout.
So far, I consider this piece the most complex rhythmically I’ve written so far. Working with
compound meter through tuplets of varying value, even nested tuplets, has created a very interesting rhythmic feel.
Even in my previous serial pieces, where a sense of tempo is ambiguous, there was still more of a feel of pulse than
there is in this piece. I think this can be yet another tool to use in future pieces, but only if used
sparingly and in balance with other techniques. I also believe it defies human performance due to the difficulty
in counting these rhythms.
course, these techniques are not of my own devising. They have their origins in the work of the early serialists
and in the work of other composers, like Elliot Carter. But, like any technique that’s developed
as part of music’s evolution, it becomes available for others to use at their discretion. The key
here is discretion. Some of these techniques have their foundation in valid musical principles that, by
their nature, can be employed by others without risk of implying a mimicking of another composer’s style.
Others are very closely associated with a particular composer, enough so that using that technique is almost tantamount
is that wonderful Americana feel of Aaron Copland’s music; Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid,
Rodeo and so many others. To my mind, virtually all film scores with a western theme will either
directly or indirectly sound like Copland’s work. He essentially wrote the book on American
music, and the techniques he used that comprise his style are unmistakably his signature sound. Any mimic
of that style will be immediately thought of as being Copland influenced. It’s too specific
to be used as just another musical technique.
Another example is the music of Claude Debussy. His music was ground breaking because
it used harmony as color, not function. It also took chromaticism to its pinnacle with works like La
Mer and those beautiful preludes for piano. His style was labeled as impressionistic because it was
always associated with the images of the impressionist artists like Renoir, Monet and Degas.
There is a very distinct feel and sound to his music. A few other composers of that time wrote in
a similar style, like Maurice Ravel and Ottorino Resphegi, whose Pines of Rome is one of the most
beautiful pieces of impressionistic music I’ve ever heard. To write in that style means to immediately
be associated with these impressionistic composers. That signature sound is too powerful to be separated
from that time in music history.
But the techniques I’ve used, that were developed by Stockhausen, Boulez and Carter,
are general enough to not be associated with anyone’s signature sound, at least to my mind. I suppose
if you were a real serial music aficionado, you may recognize the use of pointillism and associate it with Stockhausen.
But I don’t think it’s as unique to a specific composer as it is indicative of that genre.
It’s different to write in the serial style than to write specifically in, say, Boulez’s style.
there has been fewer performances of this genre of music, as opposed to the classical music of the sixteenth, seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, it’s not as readily recognized. Therefore, the techniques I’m using
are, as far as I’m concerned, legitimate and available for use. They may have been developed by other
composers but are not exclusive to them. I use only the ones that appeal to me and help me achieve the
musical vision I have in mind. I don’t use them for the sake of using them. They
help me say what I want to say, the way I want to say it.
My daughter’s friend and neighbor, Eric, who is also into body building, was in
a fitness competition in Wisconsin this past weekend. He placed third but, according to most folks there,
should have placed first. Evidently, this competition, unlike the ones my daughter’s recently entered,
was poorly done with all sorts of mistakes made with the music used and even the announcing. They screwed
up Eric’s last name and had him coming from somewhere in Wisconsin instead of Illinois, where he lives.
to be a lot of inconsistencies in these events, even though they’re all sanctioned by the same organization.
I asked my daughter if an objective criteria is typically used to judge competitors against some sort of standard.
She said yes, but not always followed. I admire anyone who musters up the discipline necessary to
achieve a competitive level of fitness and maintain it. It seems like such a disservice to these competitors
to not apply the rules consistently and give them a fair assessment of how well they’ve done. I guess
this is yet another area where politics and personality get in the way of fair play.
I’ve all but given up on getting any sort of acknowledgment
from the Japanese Consulate-General indicating they’ve received the Symphony for Japan CD I sent as my gift
to the Japanese people. It seems that they aren’t immune from the typical government apathy and bureaucratic
quagmire you find in other agencies and departments. In spite of that, my intentions are sincere and the
work is dedicated to the people of Japan, not necessarily Consulate personnel. You never know.
They may surprise me.
I’ve also not heard from my friend Byron in a while, presumably because he’s hard at work on our next
project, but more likely because he just got caught up in things, whatever things they might be. We have
two projects pending, one to finish Adam Unsworth’s album of jazz tunes, the other a chamber work for a bassoonist.
Then there’s also the piece he’ll be writing for his daughter’s wedding. But I
have no idea where he’s at on any of those projects, so I wait for word. Meanwhile, I continue to
work on my own piece, sharing it with all of you on this website.
Monday May 23, 2011
After a night of some serious storms, it’s nice
to see Monday come in with calmer weather. All this week, I have a painter coming in to do some prepping
and painting of all the soffits and trim on both my house and detached garage. I’m hoping for decent
enough weather so he could finish by this coming Friday as originally estimated. It would be nice to have
a cookout next Memorial day weekend with the whole family. But, in the Chicago area, weather can change
quickly without much warning, so our painter may not get done by week’s end. Our cookout fall-back
plan is for our daughter to have it at her place.
I did get some work done yesterday on the fourth movement of Gestures in Motion and posted a sample.
My wife and I have taken to going into the studio in the evening, I to work on my piece, she to work on her genealogy
project on Ancestry’s website. After cutting back our cable television package to a basic plan, our
choices are much fewer. Unless there’s something on we both really want to see, we’ll work
on our projects or even talk to each other. Imagine that, a husband and wife talking to each other by choice,
having a real conversation. That’s just crazy.
The fourth movement, Demi Pointe, has been a mix of pointillism
and klangfarbenmelodie, with some convoluted counterpoint (I just made that term up) thrown in. By
that I mean they’re short, fleeting passages of multi-part phrases that tend to be transitions from one level of intensity
to another. Does that sound like a bunch of musicology psycho babble, or what? You see,
this is what happens when you read too many books by musicologists and theoreticians. You start talking
like them. Sometimes I have to remind myself to keep it real. I don’t try to be
verbose, but sometimes certain terms are the best ones to use when describing music.
With the development of the experimental and avant garde in
the 1950s, the usual musical terms weren’t always sufficient to describe this music. Instead terms
like density and intensity were adopted to describe the level of simultaneously occurring sounds (density)
and the level of dynamics and dissonance (intensity). I’ve adopted these terms to describe my own
music because it, too, is of this same genre. Even though I dislike deliberately pretentious dissertations
on all things music, I also realize that there is a certain amount of seemingly verbose terminology that is pertinent to this
I think it’s easier to understand how a term like density applies to music, than if you’d try to use
the appropriate traditional musical term. In this case, I don’t think there is one. Even
the terms, borrowed from other fields and used to describe specific things in music, are justified. When
Stockhausen coined the term Pointillism, he referred to the painter Seurat, who used points of
paint to create his image. His most well known painting in this style was A Sunday Afternoon on the
Island of La Grande Jatte. Stockhausen drew a parallel between Seurat’s points
of paint and his points of music. Both had two levels of existence, the first as a single point with its
own attributes of color and intensity, the other as a very small component of the whole image (or piece).
Milton Babbitt suggested to
Schoenberg that the term set (borrowed from mathematics) was more appropriate to describe the twelve tone
row, because Schoenberg had a problem with that term (row) due to some German translation questions.
Thanks to Babbitt, the row is now more often called the set, specifically the pitch
class set. If you’d look at a nineteenth century treatise on music, you’ll not find any
of these terms. They evolved as the music evolved. So what sounds like verbose, pretentious
terminology, used to describe aspects of modern music, are legitimate terms. It’s not flowery, grandiose
vernacular just to make people think its user is so damn intelligent, his head is too big for his hat. If
the term makes sense and best describes a particular aspect of music, it should be understood and used.
Granted, some of the technical books, especially on atonality,
are overloaded with very complex and arcane terminology. I’ve always had problems getting through
these texts. I read them with a dictionary at my side, constantly looking up definitions to words I don’t
understand. As I just said, you should use terms generally accepted to describe certain aspects of music
when they’re appropriate. But I think some of these authors are simply trying to impress everyone
with how much they know, rather than maximizing the comprehension level of the subject matter by simplifying the language.
It’s not about them, it’s about the subject matter. A good percentage of my music book
library are books like that. Trying to get some understanding from these books shouldn’t be that
painful a process.
going to try to work more on Gestures this week, in spite of the painter being here. Since all
of his work is outside, he won’t need to come in except to use the facilities, and that’s only when I’m
here. I can’t let his being here prevent me from leaving to run errands and the like.
We’ll have to come up with some arrangement of where he’ll park his truck while working so I can get in
and out of my garage. I have a long single car-width driveway and a two car garage. I
usually angle my car in on the off side and leave the straight in side for my wife. But, for this week,
I’ll stay on the straight in side and she’ll leave her car out on the driveway.
I’m also curious as to how payment for materials will
be handled, as we didn’t discuss that earlier, but will before he gets started. There’s something
about handing over a couple of hundred dollars to the guy and watch him drive off. The Chicagoan in me
says he’s going to skip out with my bread. The more rational me says he’s going to get the
materials he needs and be right back. Maybe he buys on credit, getting his tradesman discount, then pays
it off when he gets paid for me when the job is done. These always seem to be questions that come up after
the fact, rather than beforehand. But sometimes that’s me; ready, fire, aim. What
can I tell ya’?
Sunday May 22, 2011
Damn! Doomsday came and went and
I must have missed the whole damn thing while I was taking a nap. Evidently everyone I know are godless
heathens because they all missed the rapture bus out of town. Since yesterday’s journal entry, I’ve
learned Harold Camping, the whacko who predicted yesterday was the end of the world, also predicted it in 1994 and
blew that as well (obviously). Evidently, he believes the bible to be secretly coded and he somehow broke
the code. That’s how he discovered this revelation that the world was supposed to end yesterday
at 6:00pm, no less. Damn precise, if not way off base, I’d say. I guess if
you’re going to be wrong, you should be precisely wrong.
When I was very young, there was a radio program called Captain
Midnight. You could send away for this special decoder ring and each week, Captain Midnight
would give you a clue so you could decode it using the ring. The wind up was the message, after decoding,
read Drink More Ovaltine, a chocolate drink that sponsored the show. I wonder if Camping
had one of those and used it to decode the bible, which led him to this prediction. If Captain Midnight’s
decoder ring was his cipher, it’s no wonder he got it all wrong. Somehow, I don’t equate a
chocolate drink with the end of days. Captain Midnight would have had no part of such foolishness.
Robert Fitzpatrick, who spent
his life savings on signs warning everyone of the approaching apocalypse, said after 6pm came and went without incident, “I
can’t tell you what I feel right now. I don’t understand what happened.”
Someone needs to buy Bobby a drink. I think he needs one. He’s walking
around Times Square in New York, reeling from disappointment. Bobby! You’ve been
bamboozled, and it’s your own damn fault! Maybe you could put the rest of those doomsday signs on
eBay and recover some of your retirement money. There must be others like you that took a bite
from the same apple. It’s almost too sad to look at. A grown man....wow.
Camping and Family Radio,
on the other hand, has accepted an abundance of donations, as they’ve been doing for some time now. In
2009, they took in $18.3 million in donations and had assets of $104 million. I don’t know what this
doomsday scam generated for them in donations, but I’m sure it was mucho. I’d like to think
that one day we’ll learn from situations like this, but I’m afraid we’re all Lemmings, headed for the sea
again. To all those who donated, you could have fed some needy families with that money. What
the hell were you thinking? You’d actually be pathetic if you weren’t so stupid.
Well, now that it’s reasonably
safe to assume we’re still going to be here for awhile, we can turn our attention to other things. I
bought another laptop for my wife. It’s an HP that was on clearance at Staples. It
has 2GB of Ram, a 320GB hard drive and Windows 7, and was on sale for around $320. That was a very nice
price indeed. The Acer she now has, running Windows Vista, has been having start-up problems.
It’s been failing to start due to some problem Microsoft has identified as having to do the operating system.
Vista was flawed out of the gate. Microsoft, if you recall, ran a heavy TV ad campaign extolling
the virtues of Vista in response to a lot of complaints about it. To me, if your response to customer complaints
is to tell them how great the product is, you’ve missed the bus completely.
I think within the inner sanctum of Microsoft, they got the message
and solved most of the problems people complained about when they issued Windows 7. I’ve been running
on this system in its 64 bit version on an Intel 4-core i7 workstation with 12GB of Ram. I do all my composing
on it and it runs great. There are some quirks in W7 that a former XP user will find a nuisance, but the
interface and protocols are very similar to Vista. There is no upgrade, however. You
can’t simply upgrade to W7 on an existing system. It has to be a fresh, clean installation requiring
you reload all your programs manually. Yes, you’re right, that is a pain in the ass.
But I guess there’s only so much
backward compatibility you can maintain. At some point, everything has to change and you have to say goodbye
to all the old versions of your favorite software. We are all hamsters on the wheel when it comes to computers
and upgrades. At some point, you won’t be able to find printer drivers for that old LaserJet you
love so much, because they really want you to buy a new one. Same with software. I had
to upgrade a few applications when I moved from XP to W7. I did it because I needed to be able to still
use them for my work. But, when you’re considering the cost of a new computer today, you’ve
got to factor in all the upgrade costs.
But, through some digging and investigating, I’ve been able to find all the drivers I’ll need to load
on my wife’s new computer, So now it’s a matter of installing drivers, connecting hardware
and having at it. I also bought a three-license version of Office 2010, which is the latest version (for
now) of that popular suite. I also found and tweaked a driver for my venerable LaserJet 1320 to use on
my Windows 7 system that allowed double-sided printing. I use that mode to print letter-size scores.
In some situations, that size works better for the conductor. It also works nicely as a working
copy for the engineer to use in the booth, if needed. Now I can retire my wife’s tired old Vista
computer, which I can decide what to do with later.
I began work yesterday on the fourth movement of Gestures in Motion.
I don’t have enough of it done at this point to post a sample, but may be able to later today or tomorrow.
Right now, it’s nice and warm outside, around 87° or so, maybe I’m going to hang out on my patio for
awhile and see how it goes.
Saturday May 21, 2011
Another weekend begins with the prospects of warmer
but rainier weather. This is much more of a disappointment for my wife than me. She
was hoping to get out in the yard and tend to her flower beds and garden. She was born and raised in northern
Wisconsin. This has instilled a love of the outdoors in her and, through her mother, a love of gardening.
Over the years, we have enjoyed the many home canned vegetables and jams she’s put up. Besides,
if it makes her happy, it makes me happy. I love to see her smile.
I’m going to start on the fourth movement of Gestures
in Motion. The third movement, Demi Plie, was completed and posted yesterday.
The fourth, Demi Pointe, will be more about pointillism, at least how Stockhausen and Boulez
defined it. But I will continue to use compound meter timings with tuplets against tuplets, some
nested, some not. I think a compound meter and pointillistic approach concurrently will
create an interesting result. I may also apply a serialization of dynamics in this movement to create more
of a Total Serial homage to that dynamic duo of serialism.
I thought I’d better hurry up with this as today is allegedly doomsday,
according to some 89 year old minister whacko. At 6:00pm today (I’m not sure what time zone), the
process of “rapture” will begin where god recalls all of the souls of the faithful, not unlike what Chrysler’s
done for many of its cars. There is supposed to be earthquakes and other apocalyptic events, like wrestlemania.
It sure sounds like things will be going to hell today (no pun intended). There was one man, presumably
intelligent, who took his life savings of over $100,000 and spent it on signs and placards warning of the pending doomsday.
He’s walking around as I write this, holding a sign on a stick, passing out leaflets. Believers,
according to news reports, number in the thousands, which doesn’t surprise me.
I don’t criticize anyone for their religious beliefs.
They provide a comfort and reassurance for those who need it. Most religions have origins going
back thousands of years. For a religion to remain vital for that long means that its appeal is very strong
indeed. If it’s what you believe, that’s okay. Just don’t criticize
others for what they believe. But sometimes, you have to take an objective look at things like the prediction
of the apocalypse today. Unfortunately some people, motivated by more human needs than divine, take advantage
of peoples’ strong religious beliefs, and take their money for their own personal gain.
Personally, I think this doomsday minister is most likely
one of those kind of people, or has immersed himself in so much self delusion that he truly believes it’s going
to happen. I don’t know which and, actually, don’t care. But making predictions
like that preys on people’s fears, and that’s the worst kind of deception. It’s even
more primal than greed, which is what people who are out to deceive count on even more. By appealing to
your greed, you are much more of an accomplice in your own robbery. Sorry about that but, hey, you should
have seen that coming. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
But if a scam appeals to your fears,
regardless of how strong or how weak those fears are, you’re much more of a victim. It could be a
fear of not adequately providing for your family’s future that makes you buy into some investment scheme, or a fear
of dying in some horrible way that causes you to give someone all your possessions to avoid that. Whatever
fear is being appealed to, it’s much harder to resist and ignore. You’re forgiven for falling
into that trap. It’s a fine line between being cynical and totally untrusting and being open to whatever
comes your way. You tell your kids they can trust a policemen, then you hear about cops who abuse their
authority. You thought it was okay to seek the guidance of a priest, then you hear about them molesting
young kids. It’s no wonder why we’re cynical.
I try to let common sense affect my judgment. But I also
temper that with what I’ve learned of life over the years. Mostly, I try to trust my instincts when
confronted with things like this pending apocalypse. Those instincts tell me it’s not going to happen
today. Yet, even in my rational, objective evaluation of this whole situation, I still feel a tinge of
that unknown fear that maybe this putz is right. Intellectually, I believe he’s a whacko, emotionally
I have an inkling of a doubt. That’s how fear mongering works on you. That’s
why it’s the most unforgivable of scam motivations. Sometime after 6:00pm, I’m going to have
a talk with myself about falling for this crap, but I know that won’t prevent me from doing it again.
Fear mongering is not just the domain
of would-be scammers. The evening news owes its existence to fear mongering. Every network’s
news programming is directly or indirectly sponsored by paying advertisers who can influence that program’s content
in some way, shape or form. Also, ownership of a network by whatever conglomerate has controlling interest,
is another source of influence on news reporting. Ratings (translated as revenue) are more important than
the integrity and objectivity of the reporting. Focus on the negative, the morbid, the tragic side of the
news is the basis for their fear mongering. They say they’re just reporting on what’s happening
in the world. That’s true, but only for that small segment of the world they’re covering.
They’ll only tell you about how
little Jimmy has overcome his disability and made the team if there’s nothing more scandalous or lurid to talk about.
They don’t make money telling you about little Jimmy or the puppy that was saved from drowning. Those
stories are told as balance to their real bread and butter, the gloom and doom stories of the moment. When
you continuously report on the dark side, people begin to think that it’s going on all over the place, that’s
it’s rampant throughout the world. It’s not. They just do it because they
think that’s what we want to hear, and they give us what they think we want so we’ll buy the products their sponsors
sell, so they can maintain a stream of revenue. The bottom line is the bottom line. Sad
digressed from any semblance of my usual theme, music, I apologize for the rant (I guess I’m as affected by all this
as you are, and was just contributing my two cents after taxes). I will now return to our regularly scheduled
subject matter, avant garde music and how much fun I have making it. Speaking of which, I hope you’ve
had an opportunity to check out the first three movements of Gestures in Motion. This particular
piece has been a lot of fun working on, mostly because I’ve been treating it more as a study than a composition.
I’ve been deliberately employing techniques and methods that others have used successfully, just to try my hand
I think truth
be known, a lot of composers have been driven by this very thing. We have to give voice to ideas we’ve
either thought of ourselves or learned of from others. It’s a big part of our evolution as composers.
We are the result of all we’ve heard and all we’ve learned. But because we are each
unique human beings, what we do and what we say has that same uniqueness. There are always similarities
but, unless you’re stealing another composer’s music note for note, it’s okay to be similar.
Every genre or style of music doesn’t only have one or two examples of what it’s all about.
Many composers add their contributions to a genre or style of music because there’s more to say and different
ways to say it.
still writing serial music years after its alleged demise. Why? Because I’ve got
more to say and say it with that particular language. It’s not a dead language anymore than Latin
is a dead language. It may not be spoken as commonly as other languages but it’s still spoken or
otherwise used for documenting things. Same with serial music. The common denominator,
as I’ve said before, is that we use the basic twelve tones of the well tempered chromatic scale as the basis for all
western music’s languages. An A is an A is an
A, whether it’s tonality, serialism, minimalism, free jazz or popular songs. It’s
what Lady Gaga and Karlheinze Stockhausen have in common. It’s certainly not hair styles, at least
I don't think so. I think I'll take another look at the photos.
Friday May 20, 2011
As I’ve been reading about notation and performance
problems with new music, and pondering that and even discussing the more prominent points in this journal, I decided to go
through my library to see what else I had that elaborated on that subject. I found Performing Twentieth-Century
Music, A Handbook for Conductors and Instrumentalists by Arthur Weisberg (Yale University Press, New Haven and
London, 1993). Because I have an extensive library of books, most on various aspects of modern and avant
garde music, I sometimes forget exactly what books I have. It’s only when, like now, when I’m
into something specific that I’ll peruse my library for more on that subject.
Interestingly, when I go to our local library with my wife,
I’ll look at their music books section while my wife is finding what she wants. The comparison is
staggering. My library is at least ten times more extensive on music in general and even more so on modern
music. I pointed that out to my wife, who often suggests I find what I’m looking for at the library
instead of buying it. After she saw how pitifully small their selection of music books was, compared to
mine, and that they never have the book I’m looking for, she stopped suggesting the library as a source.
They have tons of the kind of books my wife reads, but nothing for me.
So, I usually purchase the books I want and need for my work, They
now occupy two and a half stand-alone book cases in my rather small house. I know I’ll be reaching
a saturation point one day relatively soon, but I also know I won’t stop buying what I need. I’ll
have to get more creative with storage solutions. I think my wife fears I’m a borderline hoarder,
although she’d never say that to my face. I’m not. My books are where I
go for help regarding a myriad of technical and procedural points about composing, as well as aesthetics issues and similar
dissertations necessary to round out my overall music education. As I’ve often said, I am and always
will be a student of music. It’s a lifelong journey. I’ll never reach a
point where I know it all.
other book I’ve rediscovered in my library adds another dimension to the question. While the other
books talk about problems with notation and performing new music, as does this one, this book also addresses problems conducting
new music. The author, Arthur Weisberg, is not only a composer, bassoonist and teacher, he is
also a conductor and was artist-in-residence at Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida (at least at the time the book was
published). Clearly the conductor of this new music is challenged by some of the same issues, especially
with notation, but must also be concerned with guiding the players through the performance.
In many respects, he has the most to
be worried about. All aspects of a realization need to be considered by this one person who will be looked
to for guidance. For us, understanding all of these issues completes the picture. We
must look at the three main ingredients of a realization; notation, the players and the conductor. The
composer establishes the foundation for this, starting with notation, but also includes elements that could either complicate
or simplify matters, like time signatures, tempo, etc.
Odd numbered and frequently changing time signatures can be difficult to sight read, and
may still be a problem even with rehearsals. Stravinsky encountered that in the original score of the Rite
of Spring and felt compelled to simplify things. After he did, rehearsal times went way down.
Frequent tempo changes can also complicate things if they happen too often and if the differences are too subtle.
Going from an MM of 60 to an MM of 64, for instance, is a very slight change and will invariably be “estimated”
by the conductor, unless he or she has metronome-like sensibilities.
However, going from an Adagio (with a typical range
of 66 to 76) to an Allegro (with a typical range of 120 to 168) is easier to perceive and execute. Those
tempo characterizations are carryovers from traditional classical music. While you may still occasionally
see them used in modern music, it’s more likely you’ll see specific tempo markings. Most of
the newer music is more precise in all aspects of its score layout.
As for time signatures, most musicians like it when it stays
fairly constant. No surprises, easier to count. I’ve always looked at a bar’s
duration as similar to a sentence. Some sentences are longer than others, depending on what you’re
saying. The same is true with bar lengths. A musical passage or statement often dictates
the length of a bar. If it’s too long, it’s usually divided into smaller bars but in such a
way that that group of bars contains the statement in its exact duration. The same holds true for the number
of bars per section, from rehearsal mark to rehearsal mark. I liken this to a paragraph. Since
paragraphs are made up of sentences, and those vary in length, paragraphs will do the same.
But, for players and conductors alike, the number of bars
in a section is not an issue. The time signatures of the individual bars can be. Frankly,
it’s just as easy to fit all the statements you need to make into a 4/4 or similar fixed duration bar. It’s
simply a matter of how the composer approaches the score’s layout. I tend to keep the bar lengths
constant at 4/4 and simply tie over any note duration that exceeds that. Knowing that it simplifies things
for both the conductor and players, without compromising the integrity of the music and my vision, is something I see as a
And, in the spirit of good teamwork, I would concede to doing this in the interest
of bringing off a better performance with fewer hassles. I’m not interested in pissing off the conductor
or the musicians just to stay true to some principle that itself doesn’t need to be that rigidly defended.
It’s better to be practical about such things, rather than a pain in the ass. I usually save
that for when I really need it.
Thursday May 19, 2011
I’m making, what I believe to be, good progress
on the third movement of my Gestures in Motion. I posted another sample yesterday afternoon, if
you’d like to check it out. The overall tempo of that movement is much slower that the previous two,
which really gives the Compound Meter technique an even more dramatic feel to it. Actually, that
took me by surprise. I know when you slow things down, you allow more of the sonorities to come through,
but this was even better than I expected. As a result, Demi Plie makes for a nice contrasting
element in this work, thus far.
I’ve been reading about some of the surprising parallels between Pierre Boulez and John Cage,
especially in their piano works of the early 1950s. Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano and
Boulez’s Structures were written around the same time. Structures was about total
serial organization, where as Concerto was more about non-intention, where decisions were made by coin tosses rather
than creative choices. Two goals, each the extreme opposite of the other in how the composition unfolded.
For Cage, this approach remained one he was committed to for the rest of his life. He gave equal
importance to sound and silence. He used chance operations to choose the various elements of his works
subsequent to Concerto.
While I see chance operations as one way to avoid habitual tendencies, I reject the notion of giving up creative
control over choice of various compositional elements. As an artist, I want to always exert some influence
over how my music will sound and move through time. The rhythmic, linear, vertical and timbral components
of a composition are its building blocks. I couldn’t let their determination be the result of random
selection by an external means. Cage used the I Ching quite a lot for guidance
on what chance operations to use. Frankly, these chance operations sound like a lot of effort for little
I have a problem
relinquishing my will to an impersonal, random method of choice. I’m not sure why Cage felt he shouldn’t
exert some will in determining how his compositions should be realized. I’m sure he had his reasons
and, from all I’ve read about him, his convictions were strong. I’m not being critical of how
Cage did things. It obviously worked for him throughout his career. But I also got the
impression he was a very gifted creator of music, and many of his innovative compositions broke down barriers that, until
then, were obstacles to a more open music. I think he should have trusted his creative instincts more,
rather than rely so much on chance.
My music is an expression of my creativity. That expression uses the language of music to say
what I need to say. But the methods I use have some inherent randomness built in. In
twelve tone music, the ordered series becomes the source material you choose from for melodic and harmonic elements.
In most cases, I follow the order of each of the series in selecting what pitch classes are to be used.
I don’t jump around selecting certain pitches to achieve certain patterns.
The method for creating and ordering the series has some inherent
randomness to it, insofar as there is no preconceived pattern (as would be the case in tonal music with the diatonic or any
other scale). What influences determining the series’ order, besides not repeating a tone until all
twelve are stated, is aesthetic. The early serialists avoided favoring any one note so as not to falsely
establish any sort of tonal center or tendency. This was more to do with their need to make a clean break
with the music traditions of the past, than any procedural reason pertinent to the method.
Personally, how I order the series is often influenced by
its motivic properties. Is there a theme suggested in how the intervals unfold? Is there
some pattern that appeals to me? This is how my series starts out, but putting it through each of the four
basic permutations, and all subsequent transpositions for each, completes the process and gives me the source materials I
need. The unfolding of the permutational patterns is, in a sense, random in that the mathematical scheme
dictates the order, not my creative choices. I maintain that order and, for the most part, choose pitches
in the order sequence they appear in the series.
This influences both the melodic and harmonic elements in the piece. I usually don’t manipulate
that unless I’m really unhappy with the results. A big part of how I exert creative control is by
using the source material to establish passages with a distinct signature sound that has come to be recognized as mine.
To me, that’s important and at the heart of my work. It gives it identity that is unmistakably
linked to me personally. I make no apologies for wanting my work to reflect who I am as an artist and a
human being. I’m comfortable with permitting that and saddened that Cage evidently was not.
In spite of that, I still find much of his work interesting and enjoyable.
I guess in some ways he saw the beauty in the randomness of his
methods as I do in the randomness of the series ordering. I’ve often been pleasantly surprised when
there is a confluence of these random tones at certain junctures in a piece that create an amazing sound that I wouldn’t
have come up with on my own. To the extent that this is random chance, I’m for it. But
as Will Smith said in Men in Black, when talking about his black suite and dark glasses, “I make this look
good”. That’s how I feel when these convergences of sound occur due
to the randomness of the series ordering. That may have been random chance, but I recognized it and infused
it with my own creativity. I make it sound good. As
I look out the window while writing this, I see the sun emerging. I choose to see this as a sign it’s
going to get warmer and nicer out, even though I’m prepared to be disappointed. I have to clear all
the things from around the house to give fee access to the painter I’ve got coming this Monday to do the trim and soffits
of both the house and garage. Better him than me. I don’t do ladders very well.
Wednesday May 18, 2011
I just added an updated sample of movement three (Demi
Plie) of my Gestures in Motion piece for woodwind ensemble. I managed to get some work done
on it yesterday, in spite of being busy with other things. Today, I’m hoping to get even more done.
This evening, I’m meeting my wife at our daughter’s place to stay with our grandkids until my daughter
gets home from working late at the salon she manages. This means moving up today’s to-do list by
a few hours so I can leave early enough to get there and allow the regular babysitter to leave for home.
This obviously reduces the amount of time I’ll have
to work on my piece, but I’ll still manage to get some of it done. Actually, my life since retirement
four years ago has been a balance of composing and the domestic responsibilities I’ve taken on while my wife still works
full time. Sometimes one requires more of my time than the other, but I still manage to do both.
The only time that timetable gets skewed is when I’m working on a copyist project for Byron. That
typically requires more of my time and attention, so my wife will cover some of the other things.
Since I haven’t received any scores from Byron yet for
the upcoming Adam Unsworth project, I’m doing my own thing. I know as deadlines approach, Byron will
kick it into high gear and I’ll get some work. Until then, I’m working on Gestures in Time.
Sometime ago, I shared a website with you that’s all about humor for the musically inclined. I’ll
give you that address again: http://www.classicalmusicisboring.com/index. They usually put up a new cartoon each weekday. They are funny, especially
if you’re into classical and, especially, new music. You should check it out.
As passionate as I am about music and composing, I never take
myself so seriously that I can’t find something funny about it all. In fact, in our most passionate,
intense moments, we’re usually at our funniest. We begin to look like an SNL skit about ourselves.
Personally, I think it’s a healthy attitude to find the humor in all things. It’s the
reality check we need sometimes to put things in perspective. I also love stories about musicians and the
crazy things that happen to us. This business often presents some unique situations as we do our music
thing and there’s usually something hilarious associated with it. You just have to look for it.
I heard a promo for the upcoming Billboard
Music Awards. They did a quick run-through of some of the performers presumably up for awards, playing
short clips of their songs. While watching that, I realized I’m not familiar with most of them or
their work. I thought about that and realized that, categorically speaking, I just wasn’t into their
music. But I also recognized that these artists were indeed talented and their music popular with a large
segment of the listening audience. What I felt exemplified my basic philosophy, which is that there is
no bad or good music, only music you like or dislike. But I didn’t out-and-out dislike this music.
It just didn’t reach me.
There is music out there that is timeless, and there is music out there that’s for its own time.
Some of the Billboard artist’s music I believe is for its own time. To me, it doesn’t
have a timeless quality to it. Feeling this made me realize how individual and unique an experience it
is to allow music into your heart and soul. Because of that, your personality and spirituality become the
receptors that bring the music in, but only that music which it needs to be nourished. This, in many ways,
reflects the generational differences. While some music bridges the generational gap, much of it is unique
to a particular generation.
But that’s actually very normal. Each generation comes of age in a different world than
the one before it. Some of what’s in that world is the same as before and some of it is very different.
It’s a sort of dovetail fit where some of the old melds with some of the new. Music unique
to a generation does much of the same thing. It dovetails and melds with what came before it.
Pulling even further back, you realize it’s all part of an evolution, affecting us and the music that speaks
I knew it was
okay for me not to connect with this new popular music. It wasn’t about my generation or the circumstances
of my life. It was about someone else. The other factor is that because I’m an
avant garde composer and into new music of that particular genre, I tend to subconsciously dismiss music that is too distant
from that genre, the exception being “comfort” music. Comfort music, like comfort food, is
music you love that you associate with a good time in your life.
For me, coming up in the late 50s, it was jazz at first.
I listened to all the great jazz players of the time; Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, John Coltrane,
Gil Evans, the MJQ, Gerry Mulligan and many other of the jazz greats. That soon evolved to
Stravinsky, Bartok, Debussy, Ravel and several other composers of the early twentieth century I discovered. That
music fed a seemingly insatiable hunger for modern music. I soon went on to the avant garde composers like
Stockhausen, Boulez, Nono, Maderna and others. All of these performers and composers gave me the
“comfort” music of my younger days.
That music has a place in my heart and I still enjoy hearing it from time to time. I also realized
it helped shape my preferences in music that still influences what I listen to today. But I also recognize
a common thread in the music of each generation. Here’s an example of what I mean. A
singer like Beyonce is someone today’s generation can relate to. The generation before related
more to Aretha Franklin. For my generation and even the generation before me, it was Billie
Holiday. Each of these talented vocalists are part of an evolution of blues and soul singers that
go way back. That’s what they have in common and that’s why they enjoy some cross-over popularity
with different generations. In a sense, their music has a timeless quality because of that.
But I practiced what I preach.
I listened to this music and decided for myself if I liked or disliked it. And I also realized that
disliking it in no way reflected on the talents and abilities of the artists that made this music. I could
separate that from my own preferences. I felt good about that. It was kind of a litmus
test to see if I walked my own talk. A musician can be very talented and gifted and still make music that
doesn’t reach out to you. It does reach out to someone else, however. That’s
the great part of this. It reinforces the idea that there’s no good or bad music, only music you
like or dislike.
weather bunny promised a warm-up starting tomorrow. That would be nice. Today, it’s
rainy and quite cool outside. It would be a fantastic mood enhancer if it warmed up and stayed sunny with
a gentle breeze. There’s been too many tradeoffs. You get warmer temps but rain.
You don’t get rain but it’s cold and overcast. It’s sunny, cool but very windy.
It’s ideal for a few hours than there’s tornado warnings. Kauai is sounding better and
Okay, they have the occasional tropical storm and that can be bad, but with an average temperature of 80°, the
trade winds coming off the Pacific, listening to all the tropical birds while having your morning coffee is a compelling argument
for moving to the island. You just have to move inland and stay the hell off the beaches when a storm is
coming. I can do that.
Tuesday May 17, 2011
I’ve begun work on the third movement of Gestures
in Motion. It is titled Demi Plie, the dance move of which has the dancer standing with the
feet hip-width apart, while holding onto a chair or bar. The dancer’s back is to be kept straight
and the pelvis tucked under the body (I’m having a problem seeing that in my mind). The dancer then
slowly lowers the body with feet flat on the ground, then slowly stands back up. I’m sure many of
you have seen dancers do this as part of a ballet. I’ve seen dancers I’ve known do this as
part of their practice or warm-up routine.
I don’t try to create music that facilitates a dancer doing any of these moves. I’m
just writing with no other thought in mind than to apply various techniques I’ve learned about through my studies.
I’ve been using Elliot Carter’s Compound Meter more often than any other technique, mostly because
I really like the free flowing, rubato effect it creates. But I’m also incorporating elements of
pointillism, especially serializing dynamics. Thus far, I’ve only sparingly used klangfarbenmelodie.
But, as I listen to the playback of
what I’ve written so far, I can see this music as the basis for a ballet. From what I’ve read,
the great ballets start with a story, then with scenery, then the music and finishing with the choreography. The
dance is always fitted to everything else, rather than the other way around. So even though each movement’s
title suggests a dance move, it’s not necessary for the choreography to include it. I know there’s
a snowball’s chance in hell this will ever become a performing ballet, but I still like to plan around such things.
So, perhaps later today, I’ll
post a sample from the third movement on my Work in Progress page. From the stats, I see some
of you have visited that page, presumably to listen to this new work. I thank you for that.
I hope you’re finding it interesting. I enjoy sharing it. My composing
has no other motivation than self-expression. I don’t aspire to concert hall performances nor studio
recordings. I don’t even expect amateur ensembles to want anything to do with my music.
They are deluged with music choices of their own preference and from their academic associations. They
have no shortage of potential repertoire.
I write primarily for myself, my friends and family, and all of you who visit this website. I’m
gratified when I see how many of you have downloaded my recordings and scores. I offer all of it with no
restrictions because I don’t want to make it too difficult and cumbersome to share my music. Over
the years, I’ve podcasted and authored various blogs, all in an effort to share my music. If you
typed in “bob paolinelli” into your favorite search engine, you’ll find many entries associated
with those efforts. But my website is the one place where all of it can be found.
I don’t do podcasts anymore.
I’d rather put the full length versions of my work online as MP3 files for you to download. My
scores are also available as PDF files. These are the most common formats around for music and documents
with players and readers available for free. Free is good. You already pay too much
for everything else. I’ll never monetize my website nor offer anything for sale. There’s
enough ads on virtually every website or search engine you could think of. Sometimes there’s not
enough room on the screen for actual content.
I prefer to put my website up with no strings, no conditions and no freaking ads! If you want
to put my music onto a CD, there is free CD burning software and very cheap recordable CDs for you to do that yourself.
That used to be a real hassle but not anymore. I remember the first internal CD burners costing
over $1000 and blank CD-Rs costing over $10 apiece. Now virtually every PC comes with a CD/DVD burner built
in and CD-Rs are less than 20¢ each. Plus the software to record CDs is much easier to use and does
a great job. Even separate external CD burners are inexpensive, if you don’t have one already.
It used to be when you bought a stack
of CD-Rs, you could expect to throw a few away because you couldn’t record to them due to errors and flaws.
CD-RWs were supposed to be the economical choice because of the higher price of CD-Rs, but as those prices came down,
so did the need for CD-RWs. The trending has been towards lower prices and more reliable products, hardware
and software. This has worked out great for those of us interested in creating our own CDs from music we’ve
downloaded (or in my case, created). There’s even more competition for music downloads with prices
dropping and selection increasing.
More content is being delivered over the internet through sites like Apple and others, than is available
on more conventional media, like CDs, sold both in stores and online. Personally, I think all of this is
great. It reflects the changing times and preferences of consumers. It simplifies things
and makes them less costly and more attractive. There’s less people in the pipeline to pay, therefore
overall expenses are lower. No, I don’t like to see anyone be put out of a job. But
some jobs become obsolete because of evolving change.
You can’t always predict what jobs will be eliminated by advances in technology or
methods. The Stones, in one of their songs, talked about an Uncle still trying to develop better sealing
wax. Not all jobs are as obvious a candidate for obsolescence, but many are. I heard
this morning where McDonald’s will be putting in automated ordering and pay stations in place of counter personnel taking
your order and your money. They’ve always been the bastion of low-wage employment, especially for
young people. In their recent hiring blitz, they were emphasizing how working for McDonald’s was
a good career choice with room for advancement. That’s a hard sell when they’re considering
ordering and paying kiosks to replace human beings.
I’ve always contended that many of the jobs that went away in this recent recession
are never coming back. They’ve been eliminated. Many companies have simply learned
to do more with less because they had to. It’s difficult to generate enough revenue to support a
lot of overhead. Profit is what’s left of revenue after paying all expenses, including payroll.
In our capitalist society, where so many organizations are publically offered on the stock exchanges, demand for profit
eclipses most everything else. This means there’s a strong motivation to keep things lean and mean,
most often at the expense of workers. Greed is good, as Gordon Gekko of the movie “Wall
Street” is famous for saying.
So in a world where everything costs something, I’ve tried to do what I do at no cost to anyone.
Being retired, with a pension and social security benefits as my income, I’m not motivated by the need to earn
a living doing this. By the time the pension fund and the social security monies run out, I’ll either
not care anymore or not be around. So I’m in for the ride for as long as the ride lasts.
I’m simply not a greedy person. If anything, I’m probably too generous sometimes.
But we are who we are, and that’s who I am. I realize I’ve gone off on another tangent
but, hey, sometimes that’s where the road leads.
Along with my studying these days being more about revisiting some of the avant garde styles
and techniques, my music listening has also been about the same things. I’ve acquired recordings
of many of the works I’ve been reading about, essentially, to help me better understand them. You
can talk about Webern or whomever, even show examples of their scores, but actually hearing the works completes the
experience. You can’t just talk about music. You’ve got to hear it.
It’s alive only when it’s played.
Well, I’ve done my suburban thing and mowed my lawn this morning.
My wife loves putting in plants and flowers all over the place. She even lets the ones that nature
planted alone and right where they are. While this makes for a very colorful and beautiful yard, it makes
mowing a challenge. I am considering contacting the Pentagon and having them come out to certify my yard
as a Military Obstacle Course, worthy of training new recruits. Maybe I could get them to subsidize us
to use it for training. I've also considered Astro-turf in place of grass. I could go in with my son on
a few yards of the stuff so either of us has to mow. Hmmm....
I have a bad back and a damaged knee (from a head-on crash many years ago).
Mowing this lawn spells disaster for both conditions. I’m grateful for an abundant supply
of Ibuprofen on hand to remedy the situation, should there be pain in these areas. Actually, there is pain
in these areas as we speak or, in my case, groan. The late Erma Bombeck said “anyone who owns
their own home deserves it”. She had no idea how true that is. Sometimes, I long for my
nice apartment. Things were simpler then.
Monday May 16, 2011
Well, it’s another Monday in the mini ice age
we’re having here in the wonderful Midwest. It didn’t get out of the 40s, it was very windy
and it rained off and on all day yesterday. It was a perfect day for curling up with a good book, enjoying
a hot cup of coffee and bitching about the weather. This morning, it’s 41°. That’s
cold by any measurement, including sticking my ass out the door, and waiting for it to frost over.
My wife has signed up with Ancestry.com and is researching
her family history. She’s been able to go back as far as her great grandmother, who was a witness
to the Chicago fire of 1871. She traced her father’s side of the family back to England and her mother’s
side back to Poland. Actually, it’s been an interesting experience for her so far. She
wants to research my family but I don’t know if Ancestry has access to interplanetary records.
I’ve added more to my Gestures in Motion and
posted an updated sample of the second movement, Croisse. With limiting each movement to a single
pitch class set and all its variations, each movement is delightfully short. I like that. I
didn’t want to write another lengthy piece after Symphony for Japan. I wanted this piece
to say more with less, and to reflect certain techniques I’ve learned about. There’s no great
inspirational thing going on here. It’s more of an exercise in serial writing from my perspective.
They don’t all have to be big, monumental works. They can be short and mediocre.
On a brighter
note, we bought ourselves a new gas grill. The old one was about 15 years old (maybe older) and needed
more replacement parts than a 1948 Packard and were getting just as scarce. It’s interesting how
you tend to convince yourself you can make do with something. Then when you finally break down and buy
a new one, you marvel at all the new features and how much better it is than the old one you thought you’d never part
with. This has made me a believer in replacing things when they reach a certain age, regardless of how
well you think they’re working. Then you can take advantage of the improvements in design and technology
the newer products have to offer.
That old tale about built-in obsolescence is so much psycho babble. Things deteriorate on their
own. It’s not intentionally designed in. And that’s not always tied to how
much you paid for it. That’s why as reliable a car as Toyota and Honda builds, and as many miles
as you could potentially get out of them, they still sell a lot of new cars. We think nothing of regularly
updating software as soon as updates become available. In fact, we assume this to be normal.
But we don’t think like that when it comes to anything else we have. We’re weird like
the new grill is bigger and better and, as soon as we’re out of this winter-like weather, we’ll fire it up.
I know there’s people who grill all year long. But there’s something about cranking
up the old grill when it’s 20° below zero that’s just wrong. Even 40° above zero is
pushing it, as far as I’m concerned. I think the real reason for how I feel about this has more to
do with hating cold weather, period. I could chalk it up to getting older but I don’t think I’ve
ever really liked the cold. Actually, either extreme is too much. I need to move to
Kauai sometime before the lights go out. I could easily write music on that island as good or better than
I can in the Midwest.
our house served as a way station on the road between our grandson’s father and mother. He dropped
them off because he couldn’t stay with them any longer, and she couldn’t take them because she was working this
Sunday. Adult kids always assume their parents are available 24/7 to fill in the parenting gaps they can’t
or won’t fill themselves. I remind myself that I’m not my grandson’s parent.
I’m not qualified for that anymore. I’m older and, therefore, have less patience and
even less tolerance. I’ve earned my right to be cranky sometimes and, dammit, I’m going to
exercise that right.
grandsons are seven and eight years old. My oldest grandson, Tyler, makes frequent visits to Tyler-land,
where he gets lost for hours on end. Sometimes, it’s very difficult communicating with him, other
times he’s like a kid twice his age, articulate and very intelligent. My youngest grandson, Vinnie,
is basically a lovable bully unless he’s frightened of something. Then he’s a wuss.
He often takes shortcuts, cheats, makes up elaborate stories, all to get what he wants. Yet he’s
extremely intelligent and advanced for his age in many ways. His parents say that they’re just being
boys, but have been saying that since day one.
Apparently they think that at some predetermined age they will suddenly know
right from wrong, acquire manners, have respect for others and develop social skills. Evidently they don’t
feel that they have much of a role in shaping that behavior or preparing their kids for later in life. It
will happen as a consequence of just getting older. Time will take care of everything. I
must not have gotten that memo. Here, all along, I thought that was a big part of parenting.
Apparently I haven’t adopted the new thinking on this. And my kids are certainly not the only
ones of their generation who think like that.
I’m hoping to clear my head of this grey funk and focus on my music today.
In spite of these great disturbances in the force, when I’m in my studio writing music, things are right in my
world. It’s not only my passion and life’s work, it’s my refuge. It’s
where I go to commune with the force in nature some refer to as god. I don’t. I
actually don’t call it anything. But I think the Star Wars guys got it right when they called it
“the force”. Maybe it has something to do with both dark matter and dark energy.
You don’t need statues to represent god, just look up at the universe. If you can’t
find it there, you’re not looking hard enough. But, hey, what I believe is not what others believe,
and that’s cool with me. Whatever it takes, whatever you need.
Speaking of what I need, it’ll be good to get some work
from Byron soon. He has to do two more songs for Adam Unsworth’s pending album. One
will be an arrangement of a tune written by Adam. The other will be an original Byron will compose and
arrange. To my knowledge, he hasn’t started on either one. He’s also supposed
to write something for his daughter Anna’s upcoming wedding, which I will do the copy work on. I
don’t think he’s started on that either. Sometimes these things happen and you tend to fall
into a void. Getting your tukas out of that void can be a difficult thing to do. I know Byron will get
everything done when he needs to.
For reasons that completely escape me, I woke up at 3am this morning. There to greet me where
my three cats, each staring at me with that look of expectation, like I had something good for them. I
figured out that food was one of those things, but I wasn’t too sure about the rest. I think they
were as confused as I was at that very early hour. We all were wondering what I was doing up.
For creatures that can’t utter a word, they have a lot to say and a unique way of saying it. More
surprising is that I understand them. Maybe I need to get out more.
Sunday May 15, 2011
I’ve been reading more from Modern Music and
After by Paul Griffiths, third edition. It encompasses the years from 1945 through 2001 in
which the changes in modern music were dramatic, especially when compared to the previous few hundred years. The
first chapter, Rational and Irrational, Western Europe, 1945-1950, begins by talking about Boulez and his
teacher at that time, Olivier Messiaen, and goes on to look at John Cage, Luigi Nono and Musique Concrete.
I’m also reading a couple of
smaller books that deal with Musique Concrete in more detail, as well as its developer Pierre Schaeffer.
One also gets into the other French experimentalists like Jean-Jacques Birgé, Bernard Vitet, David Fenech,
Christian Zanesi, Pierre Henry, Jac Berrocal and Jerome Noetinger. I have always had an interest
in knowing who some of the lesser known composers are that don’t always share the spotlight with the more prominent
ones like Boulez, Nono et al.
These days, I’ve been reading many more of these type of books that delve into the history of modern music.
Before, my reading was virtually limited to the technical treatises of modern music, which I was compelled to read
as part of my continuing education. Many of these were revisits so I could both refresh and maybe find
some detail I missed the first time around. I still delve into these technical books, so I can constantly
improve my skills as a composer.
But the historical books take me behind the scenes, so to speak, and talk about the people and the impact their contributions
made on music in general, and to the music world at the time. As a composer of avant garde, modern music,
I’m always concerned about how my work fits into the big picture. These books give me a good look
at this big picture and how it’s changed over the years. For me, it’s just as important to
keep things in perspective as it is to learn some new technique or method.
I find that, most times, I can draw parallels between then and now.
I also see the common denominators that affected their music and now mine. That puts things in a
relative way. I can better gauge where my music is at on the evolutionary scale, both as it relates to
the music world, as well as my own personal timeline of development. I believe it’s important to
know how what you’re doing fits in with what everyone else has done and continues to do.
If you’re traveling along a road
that has no signposts or markers of any kind, you only know that you’re going forward but not where you’ve been
or where you’re going to. I’ve always believed it’s important to know where you’re
at in the space-time continuum at any given moment. Otherwise, you tend to get lost.
If you don’t know you’re lost, you can get hung up just digging where you’re at and what you’re
doing, without any regard to much else. As nice as that sounds, and many people opt for living like this,
you’re not relevant. If you know who and what you are relative to everything else, you have some
this is a double-edged sword. I tend to go through life these days without the hassle of always being conscious
of what time it is. I pay attention to time only when I have to interact with the rest of the world that
runs by time. I have to be to the doctor by such and such a time, I have to watch my grandsons at something
o’clock, I get dinner ready at a particular hour because my wife will be home shortly thereafter. This
is the extent of my relationship with time. Otherwise, I try to avoid this. I eat when
I’m hungry, not when the clock says I should. I go to bed when I’m tired, not by a certain
time. I’m not driven by the time schedule everyone else seems to follow.
But, when it comes to my music, I’m very concerned about
its relevancy to everything else in the music world, both in its state of development and how it compares to what’s
been done and what is being done currently. Musically, I want to be relevant. That’s
why I read a lot of the kind of books that help me to better understand that relevancy. There is, of course,
a correlation between where I’m at aesthetically and where I’m at technically. Each of these
affects the other in some way.
As I’ve acquired skills, especially in serial techniques, I know, because of its history, that those techniques
were developed several years earlier. The sources of information about these techniques attributes them
to both a person and a time. With serial music especially, there’s been no recent developments.
Most come from several years ago. From a theoretical viewpoint, contributions have come primarily
from Babbitt, Rahn, Forte and Perle. From a by-example viewpoint, the
most important contributions have come from Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono, Dalipicolla and
of these contributions originated some time ago, therefore I know these techniques are not necessarily relevant to today,
except for how relevant I make them to what I’m currently doing. But other techniques and methodologies
are more current and, for those, it’s good to know their relevancy to today. But not all developments
are of interest to me nor have an impact on what and how I write.
For instance, the pitch correction software Autotune
is a mainstay in most studios these days to, essentially, save singers from themselves. I have no interest
in this technology whatsoever. What little vocal music I write, I expect will be sung, if ever it is sung,
by a studied and voice-trained singer, not Justin Bieber. Autotune will not be required
to “clean up” a performance of my vocal music, like Song of Mourning. But something
like VST (Virtual Studio Technology) is a development that interests me a great deal. It
is the interface used to connect samplers like Kontakt to applications like Sibelius. It
may have been launched some years ago but it’s always being improved and upgraded, so it stays relevant.
The thing with most serial techniques
is that they’ve never really been improved upon or “upgraded”. The technique as introduced
is essentially the same today as when it was introduced. With the exception of Milton Babbitt,
no one has either improved upon existing, or introduced anything new in the way of, serial methods. But
I like to think I’m improving upon them, if in no other way than by example. I’m not a
music theorist, I’m a composer. I use these serial techniques to add new dimensions to the music
I create. I believe it’s unique because I’m unique. That’s true of
any composer, when it comes to applying anything they've learned.
These techniques and methods come alive when they’re used to create music.
They achieve their potential through that music. They don’t really have a life of their own
except in an academic way. Not all theory translates into music, and not all music suggests a theory. As
often happens, I take the very long way around to get where I’m going. I go off on a tangent sometimes
and apologize for that. In this journal, I write what I’m thinking and don’t always
edit it for continuity, just spelling and grammar. So I apologize if I’ve drifted too far from my
reiterate that point, when it comes to music techniques and methods, I’m sensitive to how relevant they are to their
place in history, to their usefulness, and their importance to me as a composer. That’s more important
to me than trying to maintain some relevance to time in my personal life. This belief is what determines
what I read and when, and what role that reading plays in my ongoing development as a composer. I don’t
give a damn when I eat lunch, but I do care about when Babbitt developed his time-point system and if I
can use it in my own work.
know, here in Northwestern Illinois, it’s colder than a well digger’s shovel this morning. We
just had a few 85° and 90° days. Tonight, there’s a frost warning for the outlying areas.
Does that suck or what? I still think we’ve pissed off Mother Nature and made her angry.
Now she’s out to get even. Maybe the Mayans were onto something with their doomsday prophesy
for December 21, 2012. Of course they were clueless about their own extinction, so you’ve got to
take what they say with that proverbial grain of salt. They dramatized things a lot because they didn’t
have the Fox Network or Glenn Beck to do it for them.
Saturday May 14, 2011
Gestures in Motion is going well so far.
I added quite a bit to the score yesterday. I’m continuing with the compound meter
approach I picked up on from Elliot Carter. This has been an interesting exercise for me. I
like the free flow that results, as though everything is in more of a rubato mode. Sibelius executes the
score with mathematical precision. It’s amazing. This could not be duplicated
with live players, at least not this precisely.
As I mentioned, the piece has eight movements, all with dance-related titles. They are Arabesque,
Croisse, Demi Plie, Demi Pointe, Grande Jete, Grande Plie, Pirouette and Releve. Ever since
hearing the three renowned ballets by Stravinsky (Firebird, Petroushka and Le Sacre du Printemps), I’ve
come to realize how important this medium has been to modern music. My other most favorite piece of music
was also in a ballet setting, Daphne et Chloe by Maurice Ravel.
Ballet impresario Serge Diaghilev, who led the Ballet Russe,
was responsible for commissioning much of the greatest music written in the early twentieth century from many of its most
famous composers. It was also a fertile ground for many artists. People like Pablo
Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Leon Bakst designed breathtaking scenery as backdrops to the ballets
that featured such famous dancers as Vaslav Nijinsky, Tamara Karsavina, Michel Fokine, George Balanchine and even
in many respects, ballet has been a big part of my musical coming of age. I even see Gestures in Motion
as having the potential of being a ballet because of the way it develops flow and motion. I think a choreographer
could create dance movements to reflect this. The other work I composed recently was Danse of the Tiny
Spiders, which was intended as a ballet piece. Gestures didn’t start that way but could
easily become a ballet piece in the right hands. I’ll have to give that some thought and maybe find
a dance company willing to consider it.
Once again, I almost convinced myself to enter a composing competition but, fortunately, I pulled back in the nick
of time. This one was through the University of Minnesota School of Music, and is the Craig and Janet Swan
Composer Prize New Music for Wind Ensemble. These temptations pop up now and then as I’m made aware
of opportunities from the American Composers Forum, of which I am a member. On the face of it, it sounds
like something I could submit an entry to that, I feel, is worthy.
But then I start thinking about it. The idea of a competition
for music goes against every principle I stand for. I’m constantly preaching that there is no such
thing as good or bad music. There’s only music you like or dislike. A composition
by composer A is unique to him or her, the result of many factors including his or her education, preferences and personal
aesthetic. The same is true for composer B, but because of these infinite variables that make each unique,
it’s simply unfair to compare one to the other. This is what any judge will do, when it comes to
music. There is no hard and fast comparative criteria.
So I tend to avoid competitions. I only consider them for
that fleeting moment because I like to share my work with others and, at the time, that seems like a good venue to do that
in. It’s not. It’s a competition. Someone has to win,
someone has to lose. When it comes to music, everyone wins, nobody loses. My daughter
entered a fitness competition, more as a personal challenge but still competing with other women in the particular class or
category she fits into. There is some specific criteria contestants are measured against. It
is more objective than subjective.
In that context, I can see where a competition has merit. Among all the contestants in class A
(39 thru 45 years old), of a certain height range, a winner is selected based on muscle tone and shape plus other related
factors. That actually makes sense to me. It is a fair competition because every effort
has been made, through age and height groupings, to level the playing field, so to speak. Petite women
don’t compete against Amazonian woman because all things are nowhere near equal. A taller person
develops muscle differently than a shorter person by virtue of the difference in body mass.
In a music competition, there’s no such finite criteria.
You end up saying things like, “His use of the oboe to restate the theme in the second section was more moving
that her use of the tuba to add an ostinato to the allegro section.” That sounds stupid even
to me! What the hell does one have to do with the other? It’s not even a correct
or incorrect orchestration application. Even in that, these days, the old rules for usage don’t necessarily
apply. Anything goes in terms of what ensembles should be comprised of and how voicings should be distributed
among what instruments.
is simply no way a legitimate competition could be held comparing one composers music to another composers music.
There’s not enough commonality to use for comparison. The only stated restriction in the Swan
competition is that the piece be for woodwinds. I guess a composer who shows up with a string quartet would
lose just on the basis of being too stupid and not reading the competition’s title. Other than that,
the compositions content and style can be whatever he or she wants. The winner will be the composer that
the judges like, not that meets all the criteria. That’s not a competition, that’s
some sort of popularity thing.
So, needless to say, I did not submit a composition even though it would have been nice to have another opportunity
to share my music. It wasn’t about sharing. It was about a self-serving gesture
of magnanimous proportion designed to give the endowing folks a sense of helping out some composers. The
fact is, it’s very political and very narrow-minded in its scope, and has little to do with helping anyone except the
composer they prefer. That preference is ultimately a personal one, not an objective selection.
not for me. I’m certainly not cute enough, nor do I dress fashionable enough. My
music is most likely too dissonant and difficult. They wouldn’t want to put up with my attitude nor I with theirs.
So, the hell with it. We’re both better for my not entering this competition.
I’ll settle for this website as the main vehicle for sharing my work. There’s no
restrictions, no excuses. This is it. Take it or leave it. If you
like it great, if you don’t, that’s okay too. You’re still welcome here anytime.
Friday May 13, 2011
For the superstitious of you, today is Friday the 13th.
Schoenberg would have been scared to death. He suffered from Triskaidekaphobia, which is the fear
of the number 13. He died on July 13, 1951 which was a Friday, at the age of 76. To
further scare the crap out of him on that day, a friend told him his age (at the time) of 76 added up to 13. Bam!
That took care of Arnold! There’s no accounting for fears and phobias. They
can afflict anyone. But music people seem to have more than their fair share. Personally,
my fear is that I’ll be struck by a large meteor while in my studio before I finish what I’m working on.
Some phobias are stupid.
Yesterday, I had surgery on my left eye, completing the process. I’m glad I was out of eyes
to do this to. Having a hole lasered into your eye can be a bit disconcerting, especially the first few
zaps. They hurt. All others after that weren’t that bad. Evidently,
the eye is under tension and the first laser hit breaks that tension. You feel, what the ophthalmologist
called, a popping. It didn’t pop, it hurt. The pain was right above the eyebrow.
This morning, it feels like that meteor I spoke of is stuck in my eye. I have drops for inflammation,
which is what I’m really feeling. The real downside is that my vision is kind of messed up this morning,
so please excuse any weirdly spelled words that don’t seem to make any sense, I mean beyond what I normally screw up.
Writing any music today may be a bit
difficult, unless I ignore the wrong notes being placed on the wrong staff. Of course, with my music it’s
hard to tell, especially this piece I’m working on (Gestures in Motion). I posted a sample
of the second movement (Croisse) on my Work in Progress page and added some visual examples of nested tuplets,
to show you what they look like and how I’ve used them to achieve Carter’s Compound Meters.
What I do is
initially take a 4/4 bar and create a quarternote septuplet (establishing a ratio of 7:4). Then, within
that septuplet, I simply notate as if it were a 7/4 bar. What changes is the meter of that bar without
changing the meter of the rest of the bars. Doing this with a quintuplet does the same thing except establishes
a 5:4 ratio. Sometimes I’ll take a 4/4 bar and divide it into two halves, creating an eighth note
tuplet for each half, (i.e., a sextuplet for one half (6:4) and a quintuplet for the other half (5:4)) and notate the first
half as if it were a 6/8 bar and the second half as if it were a 5/8 bar. This creates an even more varied
meter change within a single 4/4 bar, establishing even greater compound metering.
I especially like the way this gives a free, rubato-like feel
to the tempo while still keeping it very precisely notated. It becomes clear that these compound meterings
with nested tuplets is not something that’s easily counted while playing it. As I said, there may
be some super-performers out there that can do it but most players, even professional players, will have problems, even with
rehearsing, especially if sight-reading. They simply haven’t had many opportunities to acquire a
proficiency at executing these difficult rhythms. The majority of composers simply don’t use this
technique. With the benefit of computer-based realization, I can make it happen or, more precisely, Sibelius
can make it happen.
But, all the technical details aside, what does it sound like? To me, even with knowledge of what’s
technically happening, I still get a sense of free form, rubato-like flow that’s quite different from music with a perceptible
rhythmic pulse. Music with compound meters just seems to flow through time. Like any
technique, it can be overdone. It’s not something that should be the basis for an entire composition.
best if used sparingly and at the right moments in a piece. It can even be spread out sporadically throughout
a piece, giving a feel of breaking up the established meter. However it’s used, I find it to be a
very creative element for a contemporary piece of music. It wouldn’t feel right in a more traditional
tonal piece. But, in a modern, atonal work, it’s effective. Together with Babbitt’s
time-point system, it really has a dramatic impact on the rhythmic feel of a piece. These techniques
also show that there’s still ways to use existing, established notation to achieve new and different results.
Conventional notation, even as is, still has a lot going for it.
I’ve been getting a ton of emails, presumably from package carriers like
FedEx, UPS and DHL, informing me a delivery is pending and attaching a zipped file that is supposed to contain all the details.
None of the graphics or logos are anywhere near authentic looking, and the sending addresses are not from the genuine
organizations. I’m sure the zipped documents are virus launchers but will not confirm that by opening
always delete these as soon as I get them. It’s amazing to me how little these hackers think of us
or how stupid they assume us to be. But, as with anything else, there are some folks out there that will
be duped into thinking they’re getting something for nothing, open the damn things up and have their computers get infected
or, worse yet, their personal information pirated. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
You never get something for nothing. There’s a whole bunch more of those sayings that apply
here and you should heed every damn one of them.
I would hate for our short-sighted, power-motivated politicians to feel compelled to establish rules and restrictions
for internet usage. It’s the one place left where true freedom exists, with all its benefits and
pitfalls. There will always be evil dudes out there to attempt to separate you from your hard earned.
They pop up all over the place, not just on the web. If you bought craft supplies at any of the
Michael’s stores recently and used your debit card, you’re at risk of money being stolen from you.
If that’s describes you, you’d better check with your bank.
With freedom comes responsibility. Don’t expect the
government to protect you. They have enough problems just trying to do their jobs. They
are quite capable of screwing up a two car funeral and not even know they’ve done anything wrong. It’s
really up to all of us to take precautions against ID theft or other cyber-crimes. We get lulled into a
false sense of security while online. Because we usually do this in the quiet sanctity of our homes, that
sense of being safe and protected spills over into our inline surfing.
You’re not alone while surfing. All
the evil dudes who mean you harm are there with you in cyberspace, waiting for you to become vulnerable. Then
they attack, without any warning, silently taking the information you’ve just entered and putting into motion the process
of taking your bread. You’re just sitting there, dumb and happy, not knowing you just got ripped
off. Some people who are victims of such crimes are so embarrassed, they never say a word about it.
Preventable? Of course. Use only trusted
websites. Make sure the URL being used to process your transaction begins with https for
“hyper text transfer protocol secure”.
Use common sense. If you don’t, and whine to the government to protect you from your own carelessness,
they’ll do what politicians usually do and overreact. What you’ll get is over control that will make internet
usage so restricted you’ll find you can’t get much done at all. There’s parental controls
available to restrict access to certain sites for your underage kids. Most browsers allow you to deny selected
websites access to your system by simply identifying them by their address. There’s a lot of similar tools available to you to help you protect yourself. Use them.
Don’t force the government to try and protect you. In spite of what they tell
you, they really don’t know what they’re doing. They’re motivated by different things
than you and I. They will not have your best interest in mind with whatever they come up with.
It will be convoluted, complicated, very expensive and ineffective. Don’t ask them to fix
what you already have the ability to fix yourself. You can do it infinitely better than they ever could.
I’ve ordered a couple of out-of-print publications that
talk about some of the French experimentalists, including Pierre Schaeffer. I want
to know more about them and, in particular, Schaeffer’s Musique Concrete. I
also ordered a couple of papers by composer J.K. Randall, but those are on back order, probably until who the hell knows when.
Suffice it to say that not all online merchants have mastered ecommerce as well as Amazon. They’re
still the hands-down champions of online purchasing, and a source I use frequently. In hindsight, I should’ve
went there first. Live and learn, I guess.
Thursday May 12, 2011
I’ve completed the first movement (Arabesque)
of Gestures in Motion and have posted it on my Work in Progress page, if you’d like to give it a listen.
I’ve already started on the second movement (Croisse). As I mentioned, each movement
will be comprised of a single pitch class set, its four basic permutations and the 48 transpositional permutations derived
from them. These will be the source material for both linear and vertical elements, and their corresponding
integer notation will be the basis of serializing other elements like duration.
In essence, this piece is a summary of things I’ve learned,
primarily from Boulez and Stockhausen but also from many of the other serialists of that time.
I also owe a large debt of gratitude to the late Milton Babbitt for the many things I’ve learned from
him. His time-point system is an extraordinary technique that I use both for its unique contrapuntal
effect and as a texture beneath various solo passages. It provides a very nice contrasting element to give
more variety to a piece.
my serial music doesn’t bring anything really new to the mix, only different. It’s inspired
by what I’ve learned from the more significant serial composers and theorists, most of whom did their best work in the
50s, 60s and 70s. Most moved on to other things later in their lives. Stockhausen
began to compose the music-scenic work Licht (light) in 1977, that included a section for each of the seven days
of the week, for a total of 29 hours of music. This occupied much of the remainder of his life until his
death in 2007. Boulez turned to a career as a conductor, which continues to this day.
Most of the other serialists are no longer with us.
I suppose I still compose serial music for a couple of reasons. First,
the genre resonates with me in a very strong way. I feel I have much to say using that particular language
and still find it exciting. Second, I felt that the genre had more to offer. I didn’t
believe the body of serial work from earlier years was all there was or all that would ever be. I didn’t believe
that serial music was essentially dead, as many others did. I thought that more could be done with it to
expand on what has been already done.
We would be in sad shape if we thought tonal music ended with Mozart and Beethoven because we believed
they said everything there was to say. The extraordinary tonal music that followed clearly showed that
the genre was very much alive and there was a lot more to say. Looking at it from the most fundamental
perspective, we have the twelve tones of the tempered scale devised so many years ago to standardize on what frequencies equaled
what tones. We all, tonal and atonal composers alike, have that as the basis for what we create.
We have also evolved how we move these tones through time with increasingly interesting and complex rhythmic approaches.
We are all using the same basic language
to say what we have to say. Our need to go beyond that language is what brought about electronic music
where the tempered scale is no longer the limit of available sounds. We further expanded our definition
of music to include other sounds, not considered musical before that. We now have finally arrived at a
point when the language of music is so expansive and includes so many expressive and wonderful sounds that we are limited
only by our own selves. We are now challenged to use this expanded language in new ways to say new things.
There is a new breed of composer, working
with this new expanded language, saying some remarkable things that has taken music to places it’s
never gone before. People like Julio Estrada and Gerard Pape have composed some very
interesting music. There is a CCMIX compilation CD set (Mode records at www.moderecords.com) that feature these composers along with Brigette Robindoré, Jean-Claude Risset, Nicola Cisternino,
Daniel Teruggi, Curtis Roads and Takehito Shimazu. I would also recommend (also on Mode records)
Giacinto Scelsi. These are but a few of the new breed of composers who have taken things to the
expanded language has yet to be fully utilized, so there are still things to say that have not been said
before, as well as variations on the things we’ve already said. For me, as I evolve as a composer,
further exploring the serial, atonal genre is something I’m compelled to do. So many other contemporary
composers are still writing in some variation of tonality. Composers like John Adams, Steve Reich,
and Philip Glass use a tonality-based language, as do many film score and television composers.
Even those putting together loop-based soundtracks for things like video games use what is essentially tonality.
Very few composers use the twelve-tone
system anymore. But there are still some who do, including me. I see the next phase
of my evolution, as a composer, to include more free-form atonality, where no rules apply. Currently, I
follow some of the rules of the twelve-tone system, but not all. It’s a logical assumption to think
my next step is to do away with all rules. That is an extraordinarily challenging prospect.
When you have no rules, no roadmap to help you get where you’re going, you have to be able to find your way on
When I reflect
back on my own body of work, some 143 opuses, I see a trend in that direction anyway, which seems to be more a natural evolution than
a deliberate choice. So, being aware of that, it seems right to continue in that direction and follow my
composer’s intuition. I’ll wind up going where I’m going to go, doing what I’m
going to do, so I should trust my instincts. They’ve served me well thus far. Without
any commercial considerations, I’m not influenced by any other concerns other than satisfying my own sense of artistic
expression. For those of you who have followed my music and like it, you’ll hopefully continue to
hear what new things I have to say. That’s good enough for me.
Wednesday May 11, 2011
Around here, we topped 90° yesterday!
That was actually too much, too soon. But no one complained as it’s been colder than average
for what has seemed like forever. I took a break and got out of the studio, sat out on my patio and did
Later in the afternoon, I went to my daughter’s place to stay with my grandsons
until she got home from work. My wife met me there after she got out of work. By the
time we got home, it cooled down to 72°, which is more like it.
I did more work on Gestures in Motion and posted a new sample on my
Work in Progress page. With today being relatively uneventful, with no extracurricular activity
planned, I can focus on my piece. How I’m going to determine duration for each movement is to use
one pitch class set, in all 48 iterations, for each of the eight movements.
want them to be too long in the first place, so this gives them a musically valid limit. When I run out
of notes, I end the movement. In a sense, that’s a chance operation. It seems
I take a lot of chances.
have also been freely using techniques like tuplet nesting and, what Elliott Carter called, compound meters, as well as Klangfarbenmelodie
or tone color melody. I’ve not put much emphasis on the overall structure of the piece, other than
to divide it into eight movements and use dance-related references. That came about because of the piece’s
original title, but even after I changed that I kept the ballet references for each movement.
Since I skipped an opus number when
I did Symphony for Japan (which is opus 143), I’m assigning opus 142 to this work, not that it makes any difference
in the grand scheme of things But it helps me keep organized, and I can always use some help.
I’ve been reading more from Perspectives
on Notation and Performance. The remaining articles have been much more specific and highly technical,
such as notation for the piano, Multiphonics for certain woodwind instruments (with double and triple stops) and graphic notation
for electronic music. All of these are very interesting to me but not what I want to concentrate on in
the evening hours when my brain is fading to black like the ending of some movie. I need to be awake and
focused to really dig into this stuff. I also can’t be too distracted by other things as it totally
blows any hope of concentrating; another casualty of age.
I talked to Byron yesterday, after not hearing from him in a couple of weeks.
He’s got the material for Adam Unsworth’s song, and still needs to compose an additional song to add to
the five we did a couple of years ago. But he’s nowhere near having anything ready for me to copy.
Adam is composing and arranging a third song himself. Byron’s also going to write something
for his daughter’s wedding, which I will help him copy. I also suggested that a well mastered virtual
realization recording may be acceptable enough to play at the ceremony, as opposed to Byron having live musicians playing
it at the service, or recording it in John Vanore’s studio and playing that recording.
Those options, while offering the advantage
of that great live sound, are also expensive, as he’d be paying for the musicians and the studio time. I’m
intending to do the copy work and the virtual realization as a gift to him and his daughter.
Another CD I recently purchased is titled Piano Music
of the Darmstadt School and features pieces by Earle Brown, Mauricio Kagel, Steffen Schleiermacher (who is the pianist
on the album), Henri Pousseur, Helmut Lachenmann and Karlheinze Stockhausen. With the exception
of the Schleiermacher piece, all others were written in the 1960s by composers involved in the Darmstadt summer courses.
This is volume
two and I will need to get volume one to complete the set. The piano was often used as the vehicle for
the serial work that came out of that era, probably because it was the easiest to extract examples from for teaching purposes,
and it only required one player, not an ensemble. Far less expensive and more doable, especially when they
could get David Tudor to play it as they often did.
I haven’t heard back yet from the Japanese Consulate-General’s office
regarding my gift of the Symphony for Japan CD I sent to them. I suppose the diplomatic core moves
a bit slower and, for all I know, they are busy with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami and trying to restore trade
agreements and obligations. But still, it would be good to at least get an acknowledgment and not assume
it got tossed in the proverbial pile. I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up but, after all, I’m
human and appreciate recognition for my efforts, like anyone else.
For my evening time, casual reading, I’ve started on Modern Music
and After by Paul Griffiths, now in its third edition. It’s an account of the musical
movement that gained huge momentum after 1945 and was a movement of radical renewal. I will share more
if it with you as I get into it. Because it’s more of a narrative, rather than a technical exposé,
it’s easier reading for me, especially in the evening, end of the day hours when I don’t have to intently focus
as I would with some extreme how-to treatise. I save those for the daytime, wide-awake hours fueled by
I’ve also ordered a couple of out-of-print books that talk about the contributions of Pierre Schaffer,
who developed Musique Concrete. I felt I needed to delve deeper into his life and the development
of this musical approach, which I intend to pursue in some form in the next piece I’ll be doing. I’ve
always been intrigued by merging ambient sounds with musical sounds. I did two pieces along those lines
a few years ago called Winds of War and Konstrukt 563. I really liked how those pieces
turned out and want to do more of that.
Today is supposed to be warm again, with temps going up into the upper eighties. I’m sure
later today, I’ll be putting the AC on to stay cool and keep all my papers from absorbing too much moisture.
I hate soggy scores and wrinkled piano parts. They just don’t look that good on the music
stand, do they?
Tuesday May 10, 2011
I’m continuing with Gestures in Time,
adding some nested tuplets in one instrument, against un-nested tuplets in another. The net effect gives
the sense of being out of time, that is sounding in real time, not counted time. However, it must be notated the way I’ve
notated it with tuplet groupings of specific ratios, nested within larger tuplet groupings of specific ratios, all moving
at a specific tempo. While technically reproducible by Sibelius, I don’t imagine anyone
actually reading and playing it by precise counting. It would have to be estimated.
This raises a question. I wonder how much
of the actual playing of these difficult-to-count passages is estimating or guessing, as opposed to accurately
counted in tempo? While there must be extremely exceptional players in the world capable of counting and
playing such passages, I would think that the majority of musicians do more approximating than anything else.
I’ve read accounts of performers doing exactly that with pieces like Le Marteau sans Maitre by Boulez,
an extremely difficult score. I have a copy of it and have tried to follow it while listening to the piece
and got hopelessly lost every time I attempted it.
This is an issue each composer and musician must deal with personally. There’s no one answer
to the question of how to accurately interpret difficult rhythmic passages and satisfy the composer’s intent. As
every work is unique, to a point, so is each musician, to a point. Where that point may be is something
that needs to be understood through a symbiotic relationship between composer and performer. It makes it
clear why certain composers teamed up with certain performers in order to successfully realize certain of their difficult
said, I don’t concern myself with that aspect of realization. My performer is a combination of the
instrument samples I use and Sibelius notation software that plays what I write with the virtual instruments I assign to each
virtual player in the ensemble. This works for me. Additionally, I will take that virtual
realization and further process it through various filters and mastering software to wind up with a ready-to-present virtual
performance; a master recording.
I’m sure many other composers do this very thing. That’s evident in the popularity
of notation software applications, like Sibelius and Finale, and the tremendous number of sample libraries
available. There’s also a number of DAWs (digital audio workstations) like Pro Tools and
Cubase that also let you put a virtual composition together using even more sophisticated and different tools then
you’d find in the notation packages alone. In fact most DAWs let you integrate the notation aspects
with the mixing and mastering aspects.
This tells me I’m not the only one doing this. Others may do it as a preliminary step in
a process that eventually culminates in a live performance. I’ve read accounts of this many times.
For the composer who has achieved a degree of success by demonstrating their abilities through commissioned works,
there is a strong likelihood they will get more commissions and, hence, more opportunities for live performances.
commissions are, by necessity, active in pursuing opportunities by staying in the social mix, networking with the right people
to get those opportunities, and always following up. In essence, they have to continuously market themselves.
There are many ways to do this but, nowadays, this means having a website and aggressively promoting it.
serves many purposes but, most importantly, it’s an online résumé of who you are, what you’ve done
and with who, and what you’re willing to do for a prospective client. Having audio examples of your
work helps tremendously. It gives a prospective client the required audition of your work so they can determine
if what you’ve done is a good fit for what they’re considering you for. Being part of a social
network is another, very effective, means of getting yourself out there. Facebook, Twitter,
LinkedIn and others are accepted vehicles for communication with like minded people, and are the places most producers
and promoters will look when searching.
All of these are things a composer needs to do to stay active in the business and promote themselves, so they can
get commissions or be offered other projects that lets them continue to compose for a living, and have access to live players
to perform their work. I would guess that the ratio of composers in this position of success is relatively
small versus the number of composers out there continually trying to make a living. There seem to be fewer
and fewer opportunities available and the competition for them is fierce.
Academia is an area most frequently looked to for finding composers.
They’re already in or otherwise associated with the universities, where they're getting or already got their
music education and, therefore, have the credentials a client thinks they’re looking for. For the
composer just starting out, this is probably the ideal entry point. It’s one of the first places
clients look for someone. But, as in business, there’s a strong perception that the recently graduated
is a better choice than the experienced candidates.
There are pros and cons about either choice. New graduates bring an enthusiasm
and fresh outlook on things often times not as evident in the more seasoned, experienced composers. This
isn’t strictly true, of course, but it’s the case more often than not. And
they’re most likely to be willing to accept smaller fees. But they’re untested and inexperienced.
They still have to go through the practical learning process of how things really are, as opposed to the impression
of things they got from academia. Life in academia doesn’t always parallel life outside the university.
They literally are in their own world.
My friend Byron is an example of how the business really works and the randomness of circumstances that lead to opportunities.
Byron attended the Sherwood school of music, in addition to studying with various influential music scholars who gave
him a solid grounding in all things music. He came away from that with sufficient knowledge to take on
any composing challenge. But it was a series of random, chance events that put him in a position to be
offered work as a composer and arranger. Some of those events were what shaped his early career.
Byron had (and still has) a gift for
accompanying vocalists in such a way that they always sound better than they would otherwise. He creates
this lush bed of harmonies and textures that so enhance the basic melody of the song, and the vocalist’s interpretation
of it, that the resulting performance is awesome. Singers love it. They all appreciate
his gift and, as a result, he’s gotten a lot of work over the years. This is a good example of where
successful experience was much more of a factor in being offered opportunities that any perceived advantages of being a newly
graduated music student.
gift Byron has was not necessarily a direct result of his formal education. It was more the result of his early influences.
Since he and I came up musically together, we listened to the same music, the same composers, who influenced both of
us but in different ways. Listening to the likes of Debussy and Ravel gave both of us an appreciation of
the harmonies and textures that distinguished their work. That’s where it all came from.
Byron’s real gift was to use these beautiful musical elements in his own work, in his own individualist style.
He simply adopted this musical language to say what he wanted to say.
But there’s another factor in all this. The music landscape
has dramatically changed. Byron’s experiences are tied to an earlier time when the music business
was different, when there were more opportunities for the kind of music he was so good at writing. There
may still be some remaining opportunities for that kind of music, but they’re few and far between. Most
of the opportunities today are much different in nature, coming from different places, some that never existed before.
For instance, writing the soundtrack for a video game is something that didn’t exist years ago when Byron was
at the peak of his career.
I decided early on not to pursue a career as a composer, in the commercial sense, none of these problems affected me.
They still don’t. I pursued a passion, not a career. I made a conscious
choice not to solicit work as a composer or arranger, although I believed I was technically prepared to do so.
I entered the corporate, business world and pursued a career there to provide for my family. I don’t
regret making that choice. I had an obligation to take care of my growing family while Byron and my other
friends did not have that responsibility and pursued their careers. Sometimes things are what they are,
and never will be what they could have been, and that’s okay. We all found the human side of life
and shared many of the same experiences, even though we went separate ways in our careers.
So, returning to the original issue of performing complexly
notated music, I don’t regard it as relevant to what I do, as I have no expectations of live performance.
Therefore, I will continue to experiment with all the techniques I find intriguing that will potentially expand my
musical language. I’ll leave the lush, rich harmonies and texture writing to my good friend Byron,
while I continue to pursue the extremes and limits of our craft. I was always the way out there one.
Monday May 9, 2011
Today, among some of the other errands and tasks I have
to do, I hope to do more work on my Gestures in Motion piece for woodwind ensemble. I want to
attempt some complex tuplet nesting because I know Sibelius is quite capable of playing it back with amazing accuracy.
Without the ordeal of hoping live players correctly interpret and count them right, I can feel free to get complicated.
I bet Stockhausen would’ve loved it if he had Sibelius back in the 50s and 60s when he was experimenting
with this sort of thing.
some of his early work, he attempted to transcend some of the counting in time that’s normally done when reading and
playing music. He also experimented with tempo, sometimes abandoning metronome markings and instructing
the players to play a passage as fast as possible and, in some cases, as slow as possible, sometimes switching back and forth
between the two within a single bar. He was attempting to redefine how music moved through time.
Actually, that’s intriguing to
me as most music and its notation are about counting as the music moves from one point to the next. To
get away from the ubiquitous counting would be one of the first real breakthroughs in notation and its interpretation, necessitating
some new markings to indicate to the player when and how to handle this. For that reason, I am going to
obtain some of Stockhausen’s early scores to see how he did it. The one assumed constant is that
music must move forward in time as it’s being realized. Even though time always moves forward, presumably
music doesn’t have to be counted in accordance with some measurement of that time.
One of the intriguing aspects of electronic music to me is
that it doesn’t use conventional notation to represent how it changes shape, form, intensity and density.
That’s also true about how it’s shown to move forward in time. These illustrations have
a more scientific appearance than musical in that they’re more graphical on some sort of timeline. Sometimes
the graph resembles a musical staff but not in a strict sense with five lines and note heads with stems to indicate pitch
and duration. The lines used are more a reference point to show how the sound moves to higher and lower
frequencies from some central point. There are sometimes multiple lines showing how one aspect of the sound
is juxtaposed against another.
These kind of graphical scores are not intended for players to play in real time. They’re
more a roadmap that shows how the sound(s) change as they move forward. Xenakis showed this in some of
the work he did on the UPIC. If you saw some of the Xenakis YouTube clips I had up on the Featured
Composer page before, you know what I’m talking about. These scores can also serve as a guide
to programming the electronic equipment to play the piece.
In my electronic work, I tend to construct it on a timeline, placing clips of
various duration on that timeline and either juxtaposing or dovetailing them to achieve the overall sound I’m looking
for. I haven’t mastered the ability to automate any of that process as yet, nor do I actually want
to. There still needs to be some intervention on my part to assure the result follows my aesthetic vision.
I still want to “compose” the piece, even if I don’t use conventional notation on a conventional
The issue I’ve
been writing about, namely notation and performance, is more about musicians being able to interpret and realize a performance
based on the notational instructions shown in the score. But if the score is only a documented
record of the composition, with no intention of it being played live, showing all its characteristics as it unfolds over time
using unconventional notations, where no other will suffice, is necessary. But I also believe, for the
benefit of the score reader, some explanation of these unconventional notations should be included elsewhere on the score, maybe
as a footnote, index or glossary.
Whether for live performance or studio realization, terms and markings, not already part of the musical lexicon,
should be defined. We have an obligation to explain ourselves to those who will read and interpret our
unconventional scores, so that our compositional intentions are understood and implemented. Taking advantage
of Sibelius’ ability to precisely playback complicated rhythmic events, I intend to incorporate some of them in Gestures
in Motion. When it’s completed, and I post a score, you can check it out to see what I’m
talking about and how I've accomplished it.
Doing what I do, the way I do it, I don’t anticipate a live performance of
my work to ever be a probability. I believe some of my scores may have been downloaded for study or to
follow along with the recorded playback I post. So I’m not always concerned with the notation-performance
dilemma I’ve been alluding to. If a live performance of my work becomes a reality, I’ll cross
that proverbial bridge when I get there. Much depends on the work itself and how complex it is.
been told that most of my work is fairly straight forward, posing no real obstacles to a professional musician.
But I’ve also been told that my work is way too difficult to play and would require a ton of rehearsal time to
get it close to right. I’m between a rock and a hard place. It’s better
that I pay no attention to either assessment of my work and continue to write what satisfies me first and foremost.
No, this is not a Babbitt Who cares if you listen thing. I do care (and actually so did
he). But I can’t satisfy all of the people all of the time, so I satisfy myself. If
you’re onboard, great! Come on along for the ride.
Besides Gestures in Motion, I’m still working on the Musique
Concrete piece, which is comprised of various sound sources, including some I’ve recorded myself. I
need to record more ambient sounds to add to it. I don’t have enough for as many layers deep as I’d
like this piece to be. This is a clear departure from what I’ve been working on and, frankly, I’m
ready for that.
Sunday May 8, 2011
Happy Mother’s Day! I wish
all the Moms out there the very best. Being a Mom is perhaps the most noble of professions.
You are entrusted with so many vital responsibilities that there isn’t enough money in the world to compensate
you. We’re all grateful you do it out of love, and we should return that love tenfold every day,
not just this one special day.
Well, last night we went to my daughter’s fitness competition in Rockford. The field of
competitors was huge and, consequently, she didn’t win anything. Not because she didn’t do
well or look great, but because when there’s that many competitors, judging becomes as much subjective as objective.
There were more variables last night than there were in her previous competition. But, as I told
her, she did it for herself, not the trophy. It was a personal goal and she achieved it. For
that, I’m proud of her.
Because she wasn’t on until the second half of the program, we sat through the men’s portion of the whole
thing. I know body builders and fitness aficionados are as passionate about what they do as anyone else
is for what they do. I wouldn’t belittle that in any way, shape or form, even though I could never
see myself doing any of that (except for comic effect). But the diet is restrictive and not necessarily
aimed at the healthy aspect of things. It’s for the enhancement of muscle development and body sculpting,
to go along with a rigorous workout. In fact, just before the competition, my daughter’s trainer
literally shut her water off.
To deny the body the natural replenishment of fluids just to enhance muscle display is something I see as excessive,
regardless of what justification is made for doing it. When we obsess about something, we manage to come
up with all sorts of justification, however irrational it seems. The other ritual that’s purely visual,
is the application of oils and tanning solution to the body. Somehow, they want to create the illusion
of being buffed and tanned, even in the dead of winter. The oil I understand highlights the muscular definition
and helps make it visible from a distance. There’s a logic in that.
But the tanning solution is another matter. Some
competitors lathered so much of it on themselves that it took on an other-worldly appearance. One guy had
such an excessive amount of this stuff on his face that it not only didn’t make him look tanned, nor did he look like
a brother, instead he looked like a minstrel singer in black face, like Al Jolson singing “mammy”.
It was freaky. Worse yet, it was such a dominant feature of his appearance that it was what you
focused on, not his physique. I don’t know how the judges could objectively assess his performance.
Maybe they’re so used to all the tanning crap that it seems normal to them.
One of the things that was bothering me last night was some
pain and discomfort from my eye surgery. I neglected to put my anti-inflammatory drops in before we left
for Rockford, so shortly after we got there, my eye was bugging me, to the point of distraction. My wife
had a vicodin in her purse (don’t even go there) and she offered it to me. I took it in the hopes
it would take the edge off. It did and then some. I was buzzed, but in a good way.
Apparently my behavior, while amusing to watch, was enough to have my son offer to drive home. The
irony here is something I must share with you.
In his youth, he was the consummate bad boy, driving his Chevelle around Hanover Park like some mad man, getting
into fender benders, terrorizing the neighborhood. I had to bail him out of the Schaumburg jail at least
once. Now, at 45, he is much more sedate and practical. So the seminal moment was my
mature, 45 year old son, offering to drive because his 68 year old father was too stoned to do it himself. Can
you see the irony here? Is this not a seminal parenting moment? Evidently on the trip
home, he found my comments amusing as I suppose any son would seeing his father wasted on prescription pain killers.
It had to be ironic for him too.
Today, my daughter and two grandsons will be coming here for dinner and a Mother’s day visit, as her boyfriend
is home horking his guts up. Apparently he had the stomach flu all day yesterday and still has it today,
therefore doesn’t want to stray too far from the facilities. So she will pick up some food and be
by this afternoon, as will my son. That’s more than cool as, frankly, I wasn’t up for coordinating
everyone’s food order, getting the food and driving out to her place with it, synchronized so that the food was still
relatively warm when I got there.
I have to share another seminal moment with you, this one regarding a CD of Boulez and Stockhausen’s music.
Way back in the late 50s, I bought an album (vinyl, of course) of Boulez and Stockhausen’s music called New
Directions in Music. I wasn’t acquainted with their music very much as I had only just read
about them. I brought the album over to my friends (Byron, Chuck, Mitch and Ray; all musicins) to hear.
This was our first exposure to serial music. For me, it was the catalyst to pursue composing
in this style. Byron was interested but not as much as I was. Chuck said, “What
is this shit?”.
in life, he had a better appreciation for twelve tone music but never really embraced it. Byron went on
to study twelve tone music with composer Paul Glass (he did the score for the 1965 movie “Bunny Lake is Missing”),
although he never went on to compose in that style. I went on to further study and compose serial
music, and still do today. So finding the re-released CD was a thrill for me, not unlike finding a toy
at a flea market exactly like the one you played with as a kid and just loved. It was a found treasure
of personal meaning to me. The damnedest things make me smile.
Saturday May 7, 2011
I read more of the Lukas Foss article from
Perspectives on Notation and Performance. For anyone interested in this subject, I would highly
recommend this book. I got it at Amazon. It’s under $20 and well worth it.
Foss made some other interesting points as he gave his views on the subject of performance and notation.
Another aspect of having a score, besides serving as the guide for the performance through reading and interpreting
its notation, is that it’s a permanent record of the performance. Any performer, even years after
the composition was written, can pick up the score and duplicate the original performance by simply following its notation.
With aleatorical, indeterminate music,
where some responsibility is given to the performer for improvising or otherwise taking some liberties as allowed, a permanent
documented record is impossible. Even with an audio recording, it’s little more than a snapshot of
that particular performance. Any subsequent performances will be different because performers are different
and the liberties they take will change. This is, by no means, a bad thing. This was
how the majority of the performances of the experimentalist’s music in the 50s, 60s and 70s were. They
were at the moment and in the moment. The intention was that every performance would and should be different.
In reference to this whole subject,
I have a copy of the score for Treatise, by Cornelius Cardew. It is 193 pages of pure
graphical representation of what Cardew imagined his music to sound like, at least I think that was what he had in mind.
It has absolutely no text-based instructions, notes or any clue to interpreting it.
Here is a website that does a great
job of explaining some of it: (http://www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu/picturesofmusic/pages/anim.html). It’s an animation or slide show you control that takes you through the explanation.
It’s actually quite good.
Another website to check out about Cardew and
Treatise is (http://www.spiralcage.com/improvMeeting/treatise.html) which is the Young Persons Guide to Treatise.
But when this was written (between 1963 and 1967), it was considered the
Mount Everest of graphical scores. In 1999, the contemporary rock group Sonic Youth performed
their interpretation of page 183 of the score. There have been other interpretations, usually of only a
few pages of the score at a time.
Finally, Cardew published the Treatise Handbook
in 1971, after listening to many complaints and comments about interpreting this monumental piece.
But even in that handbook, he says,
“The writing down of music is in process of disintegrating”. This was part of the
chapter titled On the Role of Instructions in the Interpretation of Indeterminate Music. He went
on to say, “In the notation of music today two tendencies are apparent: 1) to so reduce the flexibility of the conventions
that they become virtually inflexible (this means that and nothing else), and 2) to so increase the flexibility of the conventions
that they in fact become non-conventional (this may mean this, that or the other, and not necessarily any of these).
As an aside, Cardew started out as
an avant garde composer and performer, working with both Boulez and Stockhausen. In 1958,
after hearing performances in Cologne, Germany by Cage and Tudor, he abandoned the total or integral
serial technique in favor of the experimental, indeterminate approach. Later in life, he became an avid
Marxist, writing a scathing paper (Stockhausen Serves Imperialism). He was
killed in 1981 in a hit-and-run accident. Some speculate that he may have been killed for his Marxist views.
But Cardew’s experience with
Treatise exemplifies the ongoing dilemma of notation and performance. As composers and performers
expand their “bag of tricks” with new techniques and articulations, there always seems to follow some attempt
at notating them. My point is that I’d like to see those new notations standardized and added to
existing notations and become part of the musical lexicon.
Allow us to use that symbology as
well and have it mean the same thing, so performers will know what to do when they encounter those symbols just as they do
when they encounter conventional notations like trills, accents and the like.
If we allow each composer to devise his or her own notation symbols to mean
what they want them to mean, we effectively are letting everyone devise, not only their own language, but their own dialects
of that language. It is effectively a musical tower of Babel. Everyone will be speaking
their own unique language and no one will understand what the other is saying.
I think it’s
a far better thing if everyone understands each other and can share in what each is trying to say. We can
better learn from each other as well as be more empathetic.
The only common denominator are the recordings made of these
realizations. They give us a frame of reference. For composers and performers, it sets
up expectations as to how the piece may be notated. That comes from relating the techniques and articulations
we hear with what we already know of notation conventions.
If we actually look at the specific
score, we can see what notations were used and relate it to what we heard. But this is like reverse engineering
something, where we take the finished product and take it apart to see how it was made. It’s going
in the wrong direction. The process is more like first, see the score and second, perform it; not necessarily
the other way around.
I’m beating this thing to death but having more standardized notation, to me, helps both composer and performer.
The piece can be played by any musician trained to read and understand music notation. You don’t
need to be part of the composer’s in-crowd with whom he or she shares the key to performing the piece, nor do you have
to spend a lot of time trying to decipher all the glyphs and markings, which may not always be that intuitive, or reverse
engineer the piece by listening to it first then relating the notation to that performance.
That all sounds like a lot of work
to get to the place that simply being able to read and understand the score will get you to much easier and faster.
In the reality of things, rehearsal time is expensive. The more time you have to spend explaining,
the less time you have to learn the piece. Ask any conductor. They will most likely
tell you the same thing.
I’m not saying that we should not try to be creative
or experiment with new ideas. Far from it. I would encourage any composer to be
open-minded and think out of the box (sorry about that tired old phrase). But, unless he or she doesn’t
care about anyone duplicating the performance in any future concerts or recitals, some attempt needs to be made to use common
language so subsequent performances can be realized.
I, for one, would like there to be performances of my work long after I’m gone (and
not around to explain what I meant). I make every effort to use accepted notation, text-based instruction
or a combination of the two. I feel I’ve been successful when a competent conductor can look at my
scores and know what must be done to realize them, with little or no explanation from me. It’s not
a puzzle. It’s a roadmap to performance. If the path isn’t clearly marked,
you’ll get lost. I don’t want you to get lost. I want you to find the way
to my music so you can experience and enjoy it.
On a personal note, tonight is my daughter’s fitness competition and wish her all the very best.
After winning some awards at her last competition, her first one, I know she has a lot more confidence and is better
prepared, knowing now what to expect. I will shoot some video if I can. Also, I now
have some photos of her last competition that I’ll post on my Current Events page.
Friday May 6, 2011
eye surgery presumably went well, according to the ophthalmologist, but of course he’s not the one with blurry vision
this morning. While the procedure itself wasn’t too particularly painful, the post-procedure part
of it rather sucked. I suppose I should’ve expected some discomfort, but the doctor’s characterization
was much lower key than the reality. It’s like saying to someone in the path of a tsunami that they
may experience a little moisture. I have drops to use to reduce inflammation, so hopefully that will get
things back to normal soon.
While a little scary, it would be refreshing for doctors to say “this is going to hurt like hell”,
rather than candy coat things. I know they don’t want to frighten you but, at the same time, you
don’t trust them to be truthful with you ever again. So when they tell you “this won’t
hurt...really”, you don’t believe them. That anticipation of pain can be worse that what
actually will be experienced. Honesty is the best policy, unless you’re up for re-election and, for
medical personal, that just pertains to the coroner’s office. And if and when I need his services,
I probably won’t be as apprehensive.
I had expectations that things would be back to normal by today and I could resume doing what I usually do, like
compose music. With this blurriness, that may be a problem. I do have to run out to
the grocery store this morning, so driving will be a challenge. Everyone will have to stay off the sidewalks.
Sorry for the inconvenience. I guess I wasn’t kidding when I said I sure know how to have
fun. My greater concern is that I have to have the same procedure next Thursday on the left eye and am
afraid the right eye, which was worked on yesterday, will not be healed enough, and my vision will be totally screwed up.
This has been a very enlightening experience
for me. It gives me a taste of what it would be like to have serious eyesight problems. A
composer who can’t see is a composer who can’t compose, at least by putting notes on a staff, or working with
a score, not to mention a computer. Somehow I can’t see (no pun intended) how voice recognition software
could help either. While I’m a bit apprehensive this morning, for all the reasons I mentioned and
then some, I’m confident things will improve over the next few days. But it’s a wakeup call.
Taking care of my eyes will be a higher priority going forward. Did I mention that this getting
older thing sucks?
my two grandsons will be spending the night with us and most of tomorrow. All of us, including my son,
will be going out to Rockford, Illinois tomorrow evening to watch my daughter in a fitness competition. From
there, the kids will go home with their Mom and we’ll drop my son off, then finally come home. The
following day is Mother’s Day. By the way, Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms that may be reading
this. For us, that day will be about going over to my daughter’s house, buying some food at the local
Portillo’s and just hanging out. After the stress of Saturday’s competition, I’m sure
that’s exactly what my daughter will be up for. Frankly, us too.
In spite of my bitching about my blurry vision, I’m
going to try and work on Gestures in Motion today. I actually added a few bars to it yesterday
after I got back from eye surgery, but wasn’t up for much more than that, especially after both my wife and daughter
felt that I should give my eyes a rest. This time I listened. But I did manage to post
an updated sample on my Work in Progress page, if you want to check it out. The sample has some
Klangfarbenmelodie in it, which was kind of cool to do. I definitely need to do more later in
Just got back from grocery shopping. I was delighted that my vision is improving, especially after
using the anti-inflammatory drops the doctor gave me. I’m more confident now my vision will improve
enough to write serial, avant garde music. With that type of music, it’s hard to tell what condition
the composer is in, other than mentally unbalanced. That’s good. Better to keep
them guessing. I also mailed the CD of the Symphony for Japan to the Consulate-General of Japan,
so we’ll see what comes of that.
I’ve started the next article in the book Perspectives on Notation and Performance. This
one is by composer Lukas Foss titled The Changing Composer-Performer Relationship. An
interesting observation he makes regarding performing concerns how some composers have struck up a sort of team approach by
partnering with a particular performer who became a “specialist” in their particular brand of music.
Examples he cites include Cage and Tudor, Boulez and the Südwestfunk, Berio
and Cathy Berberian and Babbitt and Bethany Beardslee. There are others but
these are the most noteworthy.
I can understand that an arrangement like this is ideal because the composer can work with the performer(s) and instill
in them a sense of what their music is all about, how to interpret it and what some of the idiosyncrasies are.
In a very real sense, this obviates the need for a more descriptive and comprehensive notation. Once
a composer’s partner-performer becomes acquainted with the composer’s unique notation language, most obstacles
are overcome that would otherwise still be a problem if each performance was by new players.
In that situation, the fast-track to
better interpreting the composer’s music is a well-defined notational nomenclature that’s straight forward and
at least somewhat intuitive. That must take the place of the time spent cultivating a single performer
in the ways and means of the composer’s musical language. It seems this team approach most likely
came about out of the composer’s frustration at not having their work interpreted as expected. I
can certainly understand this, and that approach, at least for those particular composers and their hand-picked performers,
It solved the immediate problem but left it for other composers to take this same approach for the same reasons.
There was no effort to develop a more sophisticated and comprehensive notation language that would’ve made it
easier for anyone to read and interpret a composer’s more avant garde work. It looks like that’s
still on the to-do list.
Thursday May 5, 2011
I’ve decided to send a CD of my Symphony for
Japan to the Consulate-General of Japan, at their Chicago office. My cover letter indicates that it
is a gift from me to the Japanese people as a token of my sorrow and concern in the wake of the March earthquake and tsunami
that devastated that country. It seemed like an appropriate gesture beyond just posting it on this website.
I have no expectations for how it will be received, other than the usual anticipated response from anyone not familiar
with modern, avant garde music. But I did this because I wanted to. I have no other
motives. My feelings about what took place are genuine and sincere. That’s enough
I worked a
bit more on my Dance of the Darmstadt Darlings yesterday and, when I return from having laser eye surgery later today,
I’ll work on it some more, providing I can see what the hell I’m doing. I’ve been cautioned
that my vision may be a little blurry after the procedure. Maybe that will be an opportunity for an aleatorical
approach, where I inadvertently put notes in the “wrong” place on the staff because I can’t see it that
well. It’s no less bizarre than some of the methods I’ve read about that Cage and others used.
I’m simply taking advantage of the situation at hand. I’m being creative.
After deciding on the Darmstadt title
and having considered the motivation behind it, I questioned whether I was being too critical or maybe being too reactionary
by poking fun at the dogmatic, pedantic attitude showed, or at least the accounts of that I’ve read about.
Maybe I am. But the one story I read about where students, on the train going to Darmstadt, were
seen changing the music “homework” they had written just so Boulez would be more pleased with it, rather than
leave it the way they originally wrote it, didn’t settle well with me. Anytime there is even a hint
of a repressive attitude, especially in an academic situation, my sense of outrage surfaces.
But, not having been there to see firsthand what was actually
taking place, my reaction is to a second-hand account which, I’m sure, is filtered and a bit biased. So
maybe I should reconsider the title of this piece and not be so sensitive to the myopic attitude that seemingly prevailed
at Darmstadt. The fact that there was a place where the study of modern music could be accessed was remarkable
in and by itself. Those that taught at this school were the crème de la crème of the contemporary
composers of the day. And the fact that they opened things up to others, like the experimentalists of the
United States, did show a willingness to be open-minded.
So I will change the title of the piece and remove any reference to Darmstadt.
I will call it instead, “Gestures in Motion”. I want to retain the reference
to dance and, specifically to ballet, so this new title, more or less, speaks to that. Besides, it’s
a little late in life to be that angry. It’s a wasted emotion that only serves as an outlet for your
own personal feelings. It usually changes nothing. In this instance, I learned more
from what was taught at Darmstadt than I first thought, and am grateful for that. It’s true, that
wasn’t a first-hand experience, but through the written record of the lectures and examples used, I was able to pick
up on things that eventually helped my composing.
I guess this is yet another sign that I’m maturing. I wouldn’t go so far as to say
I’m being magnanimous. There isn’t a magnanimous bone in my head. I’m
simply being more tolerant and maybe a little forgiving. In fact the dogmatic approach taken by some at
Darmstadt was a wasted effort. Total serialism eventually became passé. The majority
of music composed today is not even serial, let alone total serial. Only a few old war horses like me still
compose using the twelve tone method. But I believe it has evolved and blended with other methods to establish
a musical language much more relevant. Maybe we couldn’t have got there without what took place at
Darmstadt, so I shouldn’t be critical about it. It helped in its own way.
In retrospect, the history of the whole twelve-tone method
and the music written using it was relatively brief, in comparison to the evolution of tonality over hundreds of years.
The overall resistance to it was predictable, given the huge emotional investment people made in tonal music.
It was such a radical departure that most simply couldn’t abide it. But there had been changes
all along in tonal music from the music of Handel and Mozart to the chromaticism of Wagner. There was also
the music of Brahms, Mahler and Debussy that changed how tonality was used, with less emphasis on structure and more on color.
of anything else, tonality had evolved into a far more complex music than it ever was before. Atonality
(which I define as music having no tonal center or tendency) was an inevitable part of music’s evolution.
What differentiated the twelve-tone method was that it was a totally new method of organization bearing little resemblance
to anything tonal. But most composers in the post twelve tone world, elected not to adopt this new method
and continued the tonality evolution. In fact music like minimalism was actually an anti-serial gesture
that returned us to music with very subtle changes within what still seemed to be very repetitive patterns. With
the exception of Steve Reich, minimalism for me is ho-hum and uninspiring.
Generally speaking, I think there’s still some resistance and even rejection
of atonal, serial music by a lot of people. But there is less of that than before, so there is some progress
being made. With tonality still being the prevailing method, people haven’t been weaned off of it
quite yet, so atonality doesn’t have much of a chance. So with all of this going on, it’s sort
of silly to take shots at the Darmstadt school and those that taught there. It’s better to continue
to quietly but persistently promote twelve-tone, serial music by example, as I attempt to with this website and my own music.
To that end, I’ve switched the
featured composer (on my Featured Composer page) from Iannis Xenakis to Luigi Nono, so you can
get a taste of what that crazy fellow Italian composer was doing. It is indeed some very interesting stuff.
Wednesday May 4, 2011
I finally got started on Dance of the Darmstadt
Darlings. I will post a short sample on my Work in Progress page and, at the same time, move
over Symphony for Japan to my Music page, where my completed works can be found.
I haven’t done any more with the remix in Sonar but will probably do more on that later.
My hopes for that is to produce a better sounding mix by taking advantage of Sonar’s DAW features, but the jury’s
still out on that. The biggest problem that I see so far is that I only have a audio waveform to work with
and, in order for me to get it down to the rehearsal mark level will require very carefully adding markers on the timeline
to correspond to each one.
I will have to work with a score in hand and pause the playback at each rehearsal mark (which, in the score, is the
bar number) then add a marker on the track header, naming it the same as the rehearsal mark so I can keep track of them.
My initial objective will be to adjust volume levels where needed, either up or down, to emphasize certain passages
or to compensate for how Sibelius handled some dynamics.
But I also have the ability to adjust panning, if I feel the
need to adjust the perceived position of the instrument in the orchestra layout. But that has no practical
advantage besides possibly causing people to wonder why the oboe player is wandering around the concert hall stage while playing.
There’s something about that, however, that appeals to my sense of the bizarre. I could see
the oboe player finishing one passage, moving over to sit in the middle of the cellos and playing the next passage, then moving
over to sit with the French horns to play the next, and so on. I don’t think so.
Just because you could doesn’t
mean you should. That’s my usual mantra for all the computer tools I have at my disposal to create
a piece of music. Yes, I can make a tuba sound like a buzz saw, but why the hell would I want to?
Okay, there’s the mischief factor, and I can be mischievous. Even though I’m of a “certain
age”, I’m still unpredictable and sometimes a brat.
Tomorrow, I’m having laser surgery on my eye (do I know
how to have fun or what?), then Friday night, our grandsons will spend the night on into the next day, when we’ll all
go out to Rockford to see my daughter in her fitness competition. It’s amazing how your kids can
help you fill up an itinerary in a hurry, planning things for you that you never even thought you’d be doing.
Once you’re a parent, you’re a parent for life, and even beyond that.
I started reading the second article in that book I mentioned.
It’s by Kurt Stone. But I stopped because I have another book by him that will go
into greater detail, and I’ll save my Kurt Stone reading for that book. I’ll start
on the next article, probably tonight. Actually, what I’ve been doing is revisiting some books I
want to re-read. Sometimes, I don’t get it all in the first reading and a subsequent reading usually
reveals more. That’s just another way of saying I’m slow, except it doesn’t sound as
abrupt and to the point. I am slow. In fact, the older I get, the slower I get.
There’s a benefit to all that, however. I get to savor each moment longer, and that’s
a good thing.
of revisiting, I’ve been doing exactly that with Symphony for Japan to see if where I left it when I finished
composing it is still where I should have left it. I know that sounds a bit convoluted but what I mean
is does the piece still give the same sense of beginning, middle and end that it did when I wrote it. It’s
a sort of reality check I sometimes do a few weeks after I finish a piece. Does it still have the same
magic? Does it still say the same things? If not, what do I do about it?
particularly like editing a piece after I’ve completed it, at least that long after I’ve completed it.
Since I’ve already posted it for listening and download on this website, it wouldn’t be right to change
anything now. But I still go through the revisiting process, more as a learning exercise for the next piece.
Is there something I could’ve or should’ve done differently? Did I handle the orchestration
well enough? Did the varying intensity help create the structure I intended? I guess
it’s more of a post-production analysis, to use a term from my days in corporate America.
I’d be curious to know if other composers do this.
I know from accounts I’ve read that Boulez often went back and edited and rewrote sections of pieces he already
composed, published and even recorded. I think I’m more certain about a piece after I finish it than
that. For me, I think the real impetus behind the revisits is that, while I’m composing the piece,
I’m very close to the proverbial trees to actually recognize the forest, even when I’m smack dab in the middle
at a point when my head is devoid of any remnants of the piece let’s me finally see the forest and its trees in perspective,
if you know what I mean. It’s a clearer-headed view that I may not have had while in the heat of
the composing moment. I’m usually surprised during those revisits to find that I get it right the
first time. That knowledge helps me to objectively assess my abilities as a composer. Any
composer needs to satisfy themselves first, then everyone else. If, even after multiple listenings spread
out over time, I can still feel the same sense of satisfaction about a work, then it’s passed muster. I’m
then confident that I’m putting my best efforts forward for all to experience and that it’s worthy of the time
you’ll spend listening.
Tuesday May 3, 2011
As anyone who reads this journal (even occasionally) knows,
I’ve been very concerned with the future of music notation. A book I’ve been reading (Perspectives
on Notation and Performance) is a collection of comments and observations by contemporary composers and performers.
I just finished the first of these entitled American Performance and New Music, written by Gunther Schuller.
One of the
things he comments about, that I completely agree with, is the difficulty for the performer to play some of the very complex
rhythms many contemporary composers use in their work. To that point he mentions that conductors spend
the greater part of their rehearsal time correcting poorly read rhythms.
Especially difficult are nested tuplets, where tuplets are themselves part of
a greater tuplet, all occurring within a relatively short time span, even at moderate tempos. It requires
such precise execution that only a computer can do it accurately. I know that my notation program, Sibelius,
can do it much more accurately than any human can.
But that was Schuller’s point. These kind of rhythmic
gestures are not practical if the composer’s intent is to have the piece played live by musicians. We’re
not that intuitively mathematical to be able to sense the correct timing of, for instance, a series of quintuplets nested
within a larger septuplet.
most professional caliber musicians can correctly execute tuplets on their own without the added complexity of nesting.
The unfortunate thing, as Schuller points out, is that these world-class orchestras, like the Chicago Symphony, simply
are not given the opportunity to play truly contemporary music, where more frequent use of tuplets can be found, because it’s
simply not being programmed for performance.
Fear of alienating paid subscribers is what usually drives this because they’d
prefer the safety and comfort of the classics they’ve heard time and time again. Therefore, musicians
are seldom, if ever, challenged in the concert hall. I believe, especially as a composer of contemporary
music, that this does a great disservice to these musicians, never allowing them to reach their full potential.
This is not to say that a composer
shouldn’t experiment with complex rhythmic elements or gestures like nested tuplets. When you have
a computer-based method of realization, as I and others do who use Sibelius or Finale, you can get a very accurate realization,
sometimes with only latency issues getting in the way. The point is if live performance is the intended
mode of realization, you’ve got to be aware of some of the limitations musicians may have when attempting to play these
complex rhythms. A full realization may never happen, at least to the composer’s satisfaction, if
there’s more in the score than the players can deal with. I think that’s Schuller’s point
in his article.
Another point Schuller makes concerns what I discussed in earlier journal entries, namely Klangfarbenmelodie
and its extension into Pointillism. He points out that in executing passages following this technique,
the performer’s previous role as an individualistic carrier of the melodic-expressive component is transformed into
a communal one. The player no longer bears an entire melodic burden, but is called on to share it in specific
ways with other instruments and players.
To some players, the idea of being given only one note in a series of melodic segments
is an affront to their sense of importance. The whole concept of tone-color melody gets lost in the kick
to the ego the musician feels and, consequently, may not put the right kind of effort in executing that one important note.
There’s a myriad of things to
consider when planning for a live performance. Some can be very frustrating and exasperating, others are
more of a nuisance. Much of this can be mitigated by using effective, well understood notation to clearly
explain the composer’s intent. Some can be mitigated by a human communication that maintains a level
of respect and acknowledgment of competency.
No one likes to be talked down to. Everyone wants to be treated
with respect. When conductors and composers realize this, they can better coax a good performance from
an orchestra. Having good notation helps. The example I cited earlier in this journal,
involving the New York Philharmonic and John Cage playing his Atlas Eclipticalis, illustrates this point well.
The orchestra, composer and conductor, in this instance, were all guilty of allowing human shortcomings to overshadow
good musicianship and, even more so, common decency.
As I read more articles in this book, I’ll share some of the more prominent points
with you and comment on them from my perspective as a composer. For me, doing so is part of my objective
with this journal. In discussing those things that, in some way, affect contemporary music and, specifically,
me as a composer, I hope to stimulate your thinking about it all and put it in the context of better understanding
and enjoying the music experience.
This journal is also my vehicle to promote contemporary music and encourage my readers to
listen to new music whenever they have the opportunity. You will make up your own mind as to whether or
not you like it, but hopefully will give it a chance first.
I didn’t get much done on my Dance of the Darmstadt Darlings yesterday.
It was a difficult day as far as allergy problems are concerned. I’m off antihistamines until
after my eye surgery, so all the usual symptoms are there in force, impairing my ability to focus. Today,
I couldn’t handle it anymore and took a Claritin. I’m rolling the dice but needed to get relief
so I could do some work today. I’m not happy unless I’m writing something, even if it’s
just some sketches and ideas for later use. Working at something you love is not work. I
just call it that because I can’t think of a better word. Maybe I’ll have to create a new word
to describe what I do. That’ll be difficult because most of the words that pop into my head are not
suitable for publication. What can I tell ‘ya.
Mondat May 2, 2011
Like everyone else in this country and around the world, I
have a sense of relief, hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden. It was a long time coming and many have
lost their lives at the hands of the organization he led. His death marks a milestone in the pursuit and
elimination of Al-Qaida. This, of course, doesn’t remove the pain of those who lost loved ones on
9/11, but it does bring at least some satisfaction that, at long last, justice has been served. The most
poignant image was seeing the New York fire fighters seated in a row, watching the story on TV. After so
many of their brothers lost their lives at the WTC, you sensed a feeling of quiet closure. Kudos to the
photographer who saw that moment, understood what was taking place and captured it for all to share.
After half jokingly referring to my next composing project
as a woodwind piece named after the Darmstadt Darlings, I decided that’s exactly what I would call it. The
title is “Dance of the Darmstadt Darlings” and is written for nine woodwinds (Piccolo, Flute, Alto
Flute, Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet in Bb, Bass Clarinet in Bb, Bassoon and Contrabassoon). The
Darmstadt school is where the likes of Boulez and Stockhausen taught students about Total Serialism,
which is when other parameters, besides pitch, were subjected to serialization, like dynamics and duration. Their
influence was Olivier Messiaen whom both composers studied with.
In fact, in the United States, Milton Babbitt had developed a total
serial approach to the same musical parameters and incorporated them into his work at that time. But, at
that period in history, there was a distinct separation between what was happening in Europe (the avant garde) and America
(the experimentalists). Babbitt was kind of out there on his own, doing his own thing based on
what he picked up on from Schoenberg and his pupils in Vienna. He had met Schoenberg
in New York and became taken with his music and the twelve tone system he developed.
The problem with the Darmstadt school was that they
insisted that total serialism was the one true way and the logical development of the twelve tone system, as practiced by
Schoenberg pupil Anton Webern. They were very dogmatic about it and, from accounts I’ve
read, their students felt pressured to write in this manner just to please their instructors. Of course,
anytime you establish an oppressive environment, by whatever means you do that, malicious or inadvertent, you stifle creativity.
what happened at Darmstadt. This is not to say there was nothing good that came out of there.
There was. Many prominent composers, including Americans, were guest teachers at Darmstadt,
including Morton Feldman who never followed any sort of music system whatsoever except his own intuition.
But clearly the European point of view was emphasized, almost to the exclusion of any other. In
my view, that was mostly the result of Pierre Boulez and his arrogance, along with his very myopic view of things
at that time. It’s interesting to note that, later in his life, he came to realize that total serialism was a very limited
approach and not at all the “only thing”.
The vision in my head of these Darmstadt Darlings dancing around like the all-knowing
pedagogues they believed themselves to be, inspired the title and eight short movements that will comprise this work.
Each movement’s title has something to do with classical ballet and are taken directly from the dance techniques
explained in the standard literature.
Arabesque (where the body is supported on one leg while the other leg is stretched behind the body
and extended in a straight line).
Croisse (where the dancer is standing with the legs crossed with an angle to the spectators and
the leg that is not engaged, crossed in the front or back).
Demi Plie (meaning half point where the dancer is standing high on
the ball of the feet).
Jete (is a big jump from one foot to the other, where the working leg brushes into the air, which looks as it has
Plie (here the dancer holds onto a chair or bar, straight back and pelvis tucked in, lowering themselves slowly,
while going on the toes, going down as far as possible, then slowly rising up again. The back needs to
be straight at all times during this movement).
Pirouette (meaning to whirl and the dancer turning on one foot on the demi pointe on one spot, while
the other leg can be in a range of different positions).
Releve (means raised, where the body is raised onto the ball of the
foot. This can be done in a variety of positions).
Please don’t misunderstand me. I have the utmost respect
for ballet and the many techniques that comprise the essential movements they dance. Many of the works
I admire most were performed in the context of a ballet, including Stravinsky’s famous three ballets (the firebird,
Petroushka and the rite of spring). This work is not intended as a parody of the dance, but as an almost
comic look at those prominent composers, apparently too full of themselves to realize what they were advocating was stifling,
But the music of this piece exemplifies many of the serial techniques that evolved, sometimes in spite of the Darmstadt
teachings, that I utilize in my twelve tone music today. I don’t necessarily advocate serializing
dynamics for my own reasons, mainly because I think most performers have problems executing this. But I
do serialize duration and even intensity, though this isn’t as apparent when you listen to my work. I
also make use of the technique first developed by Schoenberg called Klangfarbenmelodie. This
refers to the possibility of a succession of tone colors related to one another in a way that is analogous to pitches in a
most famous example of Klangfarbenmelodie is in the third movement of his Five Pieces for Orchestra, Opus 16.
This technique was used by Schoenberg primarily to generate motion within a piece. It scatters each
note of a motif around to various instruments to take advantage of each instrument’s unique timbre and for the motion-generating
effect of the motif seemingly coming from many different positions in the orchestra. Webern also
made use of Klangfarbenmelodie, most notably in his Concerto for Nine Instruments, Opus 24, where he divided
the melody amongst instruments of varying timbres.
A similar technique, prevalent in Europe between 1949 and 1955, was called Punctualism (also commonly referred
to pointillism or point music). This essentially was music consisting of separately formed
particles, however complexly these may be composed. Each note was assigned a value from scales of pitch,
duration, dynamics and attack characteristics, resulting in a stronger individualizing of separate tones. This,
essentially, was a component of the total serialism approach the Darmstadt people advocated.
As you see, my Dance of the Darmstadt Darlings is
both silly and serious at the same time. Silly only in the way it pokes fun at those who took themselves
too seriously, not in the way the serial techniques used are expressed. That’s the serious side of
this piece. Many of these techniques are valid and, when used sparingly and with some careful thought,
can add an excitement and variety to a serial piece of music. There is no one essential technique that
takes precedence over all others. Rather it’s a blend of many techniques that offer contrasting elements
that, if used with intelligent creativity, can bring variety to a piece of twelve tone music that otherwise might be a bit
redundant and, frankly, monotonous.
Sunday May 1, 2011
“May day, May day....” Yes,
it’s May day. No, I don’t think we should do that communist pole dance thing I’ve read
about, but we should be grateful that we’re further into spring. Thus far, I give the spring of 2011
a “5” out of a possible “20”, mostly because it’s been cold and very rainy, but also because
it’s not warmer and sunny as we’d like it to be. Yes, I’m bitching about the weather.
I know there’s no legitimate reason to do so, but maybe I’m illegitimate. Who knows?
My wife believes I’m from another planet, namely Zorb 12 (my real name is Xy, pronounced “Zee”).
Seriously. You’re laughing, aren’t you?
I put together a short piece for string quartet, using the LASS samples and
controlling the dynamics with Midi controller C7, as I’ve discussed earlier. It’s only a few
bars long. I sent the score and MP3 file of the playback to Byron to give him a sense of what it’ll
sound like under Sibelius. I’ve asked him to let me know what he thinks. I can
make it work using the Midi controller and still have the score look normal. All the controller messages
and commands are hidden from view and from printout. We’ll see what he thinks when we talk next week.
I’ve also taken on the project
of importing each instrument’s part (as a converted wav file) of Symphony for Japan into Sonar 8.5 to do some
mixing and mastering, and to arrive at a better sounding playback. I’m not sure how that’s
going to work, but it’s worth a shot. There are a total of 15 tracks. If I could
tweak them to emphasize certain sections and allow others to be more in the background, maybe I could remix it on a more “professional”
level. Pro Tools would be nice to do that in, but that’s very expensive ($600 street price).
The only plus
side is that Pro Tools and Sibelius are both part of Avid and there is some built-in compatibility between the two.
That may be an eventual option for post-Sibelius processing of the audio file into a final, mastered recording.
I’m not too sure the way I do it now is the best way. Maybe Pro Tools would be a better choice
because of its compatibility with Sibelius. Maybe there’s some importing and exporting features.
I’ll have to check into that.
One thing the weather has bestowed upon us is sunshine. Amazingly, it makes you feel better, even
when you don’t feel better. I have allergies and often take an antihistamine for some relief.
But, recently, I went to an ophthalmologist at the urging of my regular eye doctor and found I have a condition that
will require a laser treatment. Everyone has, for lack of a better term, drainage areas in the eye where
fluids can circulate, cleansing and bring nutrients. There is a space between the pupil and lens where
all this goes on. Well, in farsighted people, like me, that space is sometimes smaller that it normally
is. This raises the pressure in your eye, something they check for as part of a Glaucoma test.
The danger of these smaller drainage areas (mine are virtually closed up but not quite) is that they could completely
close and cause pressure in the eye to dramatically increase and fast.
The ophthalmologist said that people have been known to rush to the emergency
room in a blizzard because the pain is so intense in a Glaucoma attack, and recommended a laser treatment where a hole is
lasered into the upper part of the eye that serves as a pressure relief port. I have to have that done
to both eyes. It’s done one eye at a time, usually a week apart. The connection
to taking antihistamines is that doing so can bring on an attack. The eye doctor who discovered the condition
wouldn’t even dilate my pupils for fear it would bring on an attack.
I’ve seen the label warnings on antihistamines and decongestants advising
people with Glaucoma to consult their doctor before taking them. I never thought that applied to me as
no one ever said anything about my having any Glaucoma-like condition. But now that I know, and realize
it could be intensely painful, I’ve decided to not take any antihistamine until I get these procedures done, which will
be on May 5 and May 12. The first thing I asked, because this is not a disease but an anatomical condition,
is why no one ever saw this before? It would have been good to know what the risks were before taking all
sorts of allergy medication.
Turns out the condition worsens with age. Let me share with you that this whole getting older
thing is becoming a pain in the ass. It’s become one more thing to work around while doing my “normal”
things. Now the prospects of having anyone laser two holes (about a millimeter in diameter) in my eyes
frankly scares me a little. It’s not supposed to be painful and that technology has come a long way
in recent years. But I still see Captain Kirk aiming his phaser at me and shooting! I
know that’s ridiculous and is just a fear-based fantasy triggered by my apprehension at getting this procedure done.
But, it’s a laser! I’ve seen what they could do in all the space and alien movies I’ve
watched. It ain’t pretty!
Also, on May 7, my daughter is in another fitness competition in the Rockford, Illinois area. She
is still in training from the last competition and is dieting and working out to stay buff. I have to admire
her for foregoing Lasagna as a regular part of her meal planning and, of course, for developing her fitness potential.
She looks great! Needless to say, I’m quite proud of her. My wife and I
will be in attendance for that competition, to be sure, as will her brother Bob, boyfriend Scott and two sons, Tyler and Vinnie.
I’m still mentally
saturated from working on the Symphony for Japan, so I haven’t thought much about another composing project.
The string thing I just did was more as an example for Byron to evaluate, not as any sort of serious piece.
The Musique Concrete piece still needs more recordings of ambient sound sources before I can begin putting
that together. That’s an ongoing thing that I’ll finish much later. I still
want to go downtown and record some traffic and street sounds, and maybe some nature sounds from a nearby forest preserve.
All of those clips then need further editing and maybe some subdividing.
As a member of the American Composer’s Forum,
I’m notified of various opportunities to submit scores to different groups and ensembles. One that
came close to being intriguing to me was for the Craig and Janet Swan Composer Prize – New Music for Wind Ensemble
from the School of Music at the University of Minnesota. The cash prize for 2011 is $2000.
No, I’m not that interested in the money, but I am in the possibility of having a piece accepted and played.
But I have a problem with, what essentially is, a competition. How can you have a competition for
music? I’ve always advocated that there is no such thing as “bad” music, or “second
rate” music. There’s only music you like or don’t like.
I’m reminded of something composer Edgard Varese once
said, “Just because there are other ways of getting there, you do not kill the horse”. There
is no one genre of music better than another, anymore than there is one composer better than another. Every
piece of music is its own thing and should be considered an entity that you, personally, either like or dislike.
It’s okay to dislike it. That’s part of being human. But it’s
not alright to say it’s a piece of crap! This has even greater implications if you are in a position
of influencing others, like a music critic or educator. Of course, music critics make their living passing
judgment on music, declaring it either worthy or not.
This is an unmitigated load of fecal matter. From the many reviews I’ve
read on various premieres of compositions, some composed by people who went on to some prominence, many music critics haven’t
got a clue. Besides, when someone works for a publication that routinely accepts money from advertisers
to fund their efforts, someone somewhere is going to exert some censorship of some kind, be it dramatic and overt or subtle
and in the background. There is a degree of ass-kissing that can cloud and often sway judgments.
I guess the same can be said for network news programs.
So the very idea of this thing with the University of Minnesota being a competition
turns me off. Therefore, I’ve overcome my initial urge to submit something and will just let it go.
I’d rather post my work on this website and have it be discovered by someone, listened to an, if liked, become
something they enjoy and maybe hear again and again. That means more to me than entering a competition
and passing muster with judges appointed for the sole purpose of deciding what’s good or bad. To
hell with that!
instead of creating a woodwind work for them, I may do it for me. That’s a worthwhile project until
Byron calls on me to start on the Adam Unsworth project, which should be soon. Until then, I’ll start
putting some ideas together for a woodwind piece. Maybe one of those Klangfarbenmelodie, pointillistic
pieces, reminiscent of the Darmstadt Darlings. That sounds like fun.