Sunday, October 10, 2010

V.S. Odds and Ends

I've gotten a minute's worth of music that, as of last night, seems to work. This post just to mention a few ancillary things.

Finale - I love it because it allows for my various non-standard ways of doing music notation, but that very complexity can be a problem when I can't remember how to do something, either because the latest update changes something, or because I simply forgot due to not doing that task for a year or so. Case in point is the time signature. When I was going back over Timepiece to make parts for a local quintet to read through (they liked it), noticed that I'd figured out how to have something like 3+3+2+2 all over a single 8 below back in 1996 and just had to look to see how I'd done it.

Resolution - Visually it's how many pixels per square inch. In audio it's something about how many bits per something. On tv when they pixel-ate something to obscure it, we notice the boundary of the high and low resolution. In writing music I try not to have any boundaries like that in the rhythm (no bursts of 32nd notes in a stately half note/ quarter note melody) or harmony (no sudden shifts out of key/mode. I think it also applies to other ways I judge the music I write that are tougher to write about, like gesture.

Writing for particular players/instruments - Listening to the local group read through Timepiece reminded me that I'm always thinking of what the individual players are doing, and whether or not it's interesting. Dr. Andy told me once that in the Bach B Minor Mass, in one section the cellos have the same repeated quarter note for measures on end. When I'm writing for ensembles, in my mind it's however many soloists coming together for the piece, and everyone gets some time high in the mix. In this piece it's trying to keep the harpist interested and to see just how many ways the harp (for which I've never written before) can make music.

Computer Playback - Besides not being able to write music without a keyboard, having the computer play back what I've done is essential. I don't have theory mind and simply cannot manifest the music in my head by reading a score. I've always thought the computer playback is sort of like an X-ray that clearly shows the interior structure of the piece, but that the true nature of the piece is revealed only by performance. That's part of the reason my hearing first performances of things I've written is such an amazing experience.

Attention - One of my complaints about the concert band repertoire is that most of it seems an early incarnation of the MTV gimmick of constantly shifting the image to hold the attention of an audience. I keep thinking the arrangers decide on what transitions of speed and tonality and articulation they what to teach the kids and then forage about for bits of music to put between them ;-) But I've come to realize I do the same thing, just without the shifts of speed/meter and tonality. Once I write something that seems to work for a few bars I'll often try to extend it for longer than it wants, not catching at first that it's becoming boring. Many of my deletions of the last several measures and starting over are due to this. The other deletions are, of course, trying where to go instead. It really is like some sort of glass bead game, and when it works there's a wonderful feeling being connected to something outside myself.


  1. I'm very much enjoying your account of the creative process. Keep at it - both the composing and the description!

  2. Thanks, Jonathan. Trying to talk about what I'm doing has been more fun than I'd anticipated. These days I have more musical projects underway than I did back in the 90's, when I wasn't doing as much music and composing (and learning my parts of the compositions) was the main thing I was up to. I now have to find the time, and the long pauses between composing times means there's plenty of opportunity to apply the Buddhist watchfulness of the mind to what I'm doing. Appreciate your comment which indicates I'm making some sense.

    My hope would be that all this will encourage someone like you to take the plunge. I think a lot more music being written for small ensembles like quintets would be a boon to the music making community.

    I'm amazed by the lack of solo horn music - not the kind with the equal tempered piano tinkling along with it's false harmonies, but just the horn by itself talking to an audience in the language of the harmonic series, and maybe including the flatted 7ths. Just remember you'll probably end up throwing away a bunch of early tries until something works. The issue there would be how to include a lot of silences in the flow to allow for comfortable breathing, but trying to solve that puzzle could be the springboard to creating something interesting.