Sunday, May 5, 2013

From May 5th 2013 to May 6 2014 I, Jesse Stacken, will compose one solo piano composition each week, that will in some way make use of Olivier Messiaen's (1908-1992) compositional techniques.  Each week by Saturday evening I will post a recording, score, and any reflections I find appropriate here on this blog.  

This project is ultimately about myself.  Although I hope you check it out and enjoy it, I am doing it as a challenge to myself, and as an attempt to learn about Messiaen's techniques and learn to incorporate them into my own composition and improvisation.  I will use the free publisher known as the Internet for accountability, as I have done in my Daily Improvisation, Weekly Improvisation, and Weekly Composition Projects.  

I decided to use this blogging platform so that you who may be interested can subscribe and get updates easier, and so that I can to update it on the go if necessary.  

From what I've studied thus far, there are two main techniques that Messiaen developed extensively.  One being the use of what he called Modes of Limited Transposition, also known as symmetrical scales.  The clearest example of a mode of limited transposition is the whole tone scale which can only be transposed one time.  If you move the whole tone scale up a half step, you have all new pitches, but if you do that again, you end up with the same pitches you started with.  Therefor it is a mode of limited transposition.  The other more well-known mode of limited transposition is the diminished or octatonic scale.  And there are more.  

The other technique is that of non-retrogradable rhythms.  These are essentially palindromes--rhythms that read the same forward and backward.  To be honest, I'm less interested in this technique than in the modes of limited transposition, and it's less clear to me how Messiaen used it and why it was important to him.  But as the weeks wear on, I'm guessing that I'll be ready to explore it at some point.  

My intention is not to recreate Messiaen's music, or add to his work, which I have nowhere near the skills to do.  Rather I aim to take his techniques and combine them with my own ideas to create something personal and perhaps even unique.   I'm sure I will use the techniques abstractly at times, and other times they might go undetected without any explanation of how I made use of them.

I will also use this project to study more about Messiaen's music and life.  

My biggest concern is the challenge of doing this every week for a year.   I fear that I will grow tired of the material, or begin repeating myself.  But it will probably be in these moments that the best things will happen. 

My other concern is that the narrowness of this project might have too strong of an influence on my total creative output.  I'm not sure if this will happen or not, but I'm confident that it will balance out eventually.  Also, I think Messiaen is a rare enough influence in the jazz world, so I'm not worried about it diminishing my individuality.  

As in all of the Internet projects I've done, I'm sure new concerns will arise throughout the course of it, and I look forward to finding out what they are.  

If any of you have any suggestions of Messiaen recordings, books, or videos to check out, I'd love to hear them.  In the meantime, I'll get busy on the first piece.  

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