Sunday, January 29, 2012

Composing Music

Over in this post, Kyle Gann says the following:

It felt as firm as though I had had a math problem with an incorrect answer, and I recalculated and got the right one. It “clicked.” Every composer knows this click, or should. It doesn’t feel as though I simply “liked it better.” Even though there is no objective criterion against which I can measure a phrase in a piece I’m writing, right and wrong answers come up. Because such judgments are made in the right brain, I suspect, there are no words to justify them. When I’m about done with a piece, I put the MIDI version on a CD and play it over and over in my car as I’m driving and – this is the crucial part – try not to listen to it. What happens, as I have my mind on other things, is that every wrong note in the piece jumps out at me and attracts my attention. This works, I think, because when I’m focusing on the piece (with my left brain), I can justify to myself anything I put in it, but with my peripheral (right-brain) listening, things that are wrong become impossible to ignore. My peripheral listening catches the mistakes. My conscious, analytical brain puts these oh-so-clever ideas in, and my intuitive, unfocused brain tells me the ones that don’t work.

I'd previously come up with the analogy that for me composing is game like and puzzle like, and that when you get something right there's the feeling of winning the game or solving the puzzle, but Kyle's description is much better and goes much deeper, and I agree that listening to a piece in an unfocused way is different, but hadn't realized it until reading this.

note to regular readers - the picture for this series of posts isn't here because I'm migrating from a five or six year old iBook to a brand new MacBook Air - and going from dial-up to wireless that's now available here on the farm due to a new cell tower not to too far away - and getting every thing organized, and trying not to look at music YouTubes all day (!) has slowed blogging.


  1. Hey, Lyle. Like you, I feel that composing and arranging music is very much like putting the pieces of a puzzle together, except that there are many ways those pieces can fit together. It's sort of like playing a game for me, trying out different solutions for how to get from point A to point B.

    Thanks also for the link to Kyle's blog, it's new to me.


  2. HI, Dave! Thanks for stopping by, and very glad to get your agreement on that. As for Kyle Gann - my ears just don't get the microtonal stuff, but when it comes to thinking and writing about music, he's world class. And his Planets is the best "new music" I've heard in years.