Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Greetings from the New York Summer Music Festival in Oneonta, NY. I've managed to get something posted here, and actually quite early in the week. Being a little paranoid with the uncertainty of my schedule, I decided to take advantage of the time I've had free and get to work.
Doing this without my usual setup was a bit frustrating, but I've made do. As I suspected, the recording quality is not as good. I'm recording directly into Soundcloud with my telephone. And I'm making the scores on an iPad app called Notion. They're on the right track with Notion, but there are many things that I can't get to look exactly how I would like. And the only way I could figure out how to get it to google docs was to take a screen shot and upload a jpg. Hopefully it's still readable.
Anyway, moving onto the music. I went looking through Messiaen's modes to find one that could be manipulated into a bluesy sound, and I found that the blues scale is entirely represented in mode four with the exception of the fifth scale degree. It was very interesting how badly I wanted to use that fifth degree when composing the melody. But avoiding it probably pushed me into some new territory, and that's what this project is all about, so...good.
It's beautiful up here in Oneonta. Clear clean air. Quiet. It's nice to spend some time on a real college campus again; makes me want to practice more.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
As I've made use of Messiaen's modes of limited transpositions both in this project and prior to it, I've noticed that their use alone does not guarantee my work to sound like Messiaen's. I'm happy about that. But I'm also curious as to what makes his music sound like it does. It seems to have a radiant, gleaming quality to it, while I've found that many of my pieces sound dark. I think Messiaen's harmonic choices have a lot to do with it, but his rhythmic choices must not be overlooked either. Often times he wrote successions of chords in the middle-high register of the piano with faster rhythm that leave me hearing and feeling the mode and its overtones in totality. Ante Meridiem is an attempt at lightening my work a shade or two.
In The Technique of My Musical Language there is a chapter about added notes, meaning notes that he added to more traditional chords. And in the chapter about the modes themselves, he gives each mode as a scale, and then shows a harmonized scale (the harmony being composed of notes in the mode). Many of these harmonized scales feature chords with added notes. The harmonization of mode two is an alternating between a major triad with an added augmented fourth, and a dominant seventh chord with the fifth being replaced with the sixth. I used both of these chords in Ante Meridiem, especially the major plus augmented fourth, which has a shimmering quality in my opinion. I also attempted to use a faster harmonic rhythm to bring some lightness, while keeping in mind that I had to learn to play this piece in just a few days.
The pitch material is entirely from the seventh mode of limited transposition, first transposition. It's essentially a chromatic scale without an E-natural, or B-flat. I first came up with the melody, which fit the scale, and then harmonized each note with chords of mode seven. It was actually quite challenging to avoid Es and B-flats, and I kept finding mistakes throughout the whole process. I think I fixed all of them. But there was a considerable effort on my part to limit my harmonic spectrum even further than the mode did naturally. There were a number of chords that I used and transposed to different keys. Most of them ended up being a triad with an added note.
Things will get interesting and perhaps challenging now because I am heading out of town. For four weeks I will be teaching jazz piano at the New York Summer Music Festival. I'm hopeful that my schedule will not interrupt this project. However I will be without some of the technology I use for it at home, so it might not be as easy. Although I've got a plan to make it work, the recording quality and the quality of the scoring may suffer a bit. And I really am not sure how intense my teaching schedule will be. After NYSMF, I will be in and out of town for the rest of the summer. But again, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to maintain the project. I'm committed to getting fifty-two pieces written, but you'll have to cut me a little slack if a couple of them are posted late this summer.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
A few years ago I was shopping at the Downtown Music Gallery, which is an amazing place to find recordings of all kinds of creative music. As I was browsing, they were playing a recording that I found extremely interesting. It was a solo piano composition that featured repeated chords at a very slow tempo. Every so often,= one of the notes would be different. And every so often a chord would be rolled. But what blew my mind about it was that it didn't change for the whole twenty minutes that I was in there. I kept thinking, "Okay, this has to go somewhere else soon. It has to develop into something else." But it didn't. It turned out to be Tyshawn Sorey's first record, entitled That/Not. The piece playing was Permutations for Solo Piano, which is actually about forty-five minutes long! The owner of the store, Bruce said that it was Tyshawn's tribute to Morton Feldman.
The twenty minutes I spent in that store that day were a turning point. It completely changed my perception of the piano. Naturally I bought the record, listened to it, and then immediately began checking out Morton Feldman's music. I began hearing the piano in a different way. There are so many interesting sounds happening in the sustain of a good piano, or even a bad piano. It's especially brought to light by repetition of short phrases with the sustain pedal held down, because it allows the listener a chance to hear beyond the fundamental pitches and pay attention to the overtones. I supposed we could always be listening in that way, but it seems like upon first hearing a phrase, we're paying more attention to basic pitch and rhythm material.
I also learned a great deal about memory from Feldman's music. He often repeats a short phrase several times, which creates expectations in the listener. I begin to expect these pitches that are coming up, and enjoy them when they happen. Quite often Feldman will use rhythmic augmentation for later repetitions, which delays the arrival of these pitches that I so look forward to, making the expectation and enjoyment even more intense. Check out his String Quartet No. 2 to hear what I'm talking about. The solo piano piece For Bunita Marcus also used this.
I've emulated this sort of thing in some of my previous work. Time Canvas I recorded with my trio on the record Magnolia. There is a piece from my previous weekly composition project called Commune.
Saturated began with me dropping my hands on the keyboard. I landed on a chord that I liked, and I examined it to see if it would fall into any of Messiaen's modes. It fell into mode 7, but that mode is almost a chromatic scale, I and wanted to find a mode that would limit my pitch choices a little more. So I changed one note and found that the chord fit perfectly into mode 4. This chord is the one you see in measure five if you look at the score.
After I found this chord, I began repeating it and then changing notes, while staying within mode 4. I found that it worked nicely to create melodies with the inner voices. At that moment, the piece was basically composed. It was just a matter of getting it out. After getting it out, I revised it a bit, adding the single notes before each written section, adding the textural diminution (boy am I proud I just wrote that ) at the end. I also changed some of the melodic phrases so that they were not all four measure repetitions.
We've had some rain lately. A lot of it actually. And more is coming today. The monotony of Saturated seems to fit with this weather.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Grandiflora is a layering of two transpositions of Messiaen's mode two, also known as the diminished or octatonic scale. The treble staff melody is composted entirely of the third transposition, while the left hand chords are entirely derived out of the second transposition, assuming I didn't make any mistakes. I love the sound of these modes together. Combined they contain all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale, so technically I could have created any kind of harmony with this combination. But there's something about the strength of each of them alone. The chords are so interesting to me, and so are the melodic shapes found within the scale. So I rarely thought about the melody adding a different quality to the chord. Rather, the melody seemed to float over the strength of the harmony. In fact, for the second half of the piece, I simply took the phrases from the first half and transposed them up or down in minor thirds so that the intervals remained the same and the pitches were still from the same mode. That resulted in some unusual notes, but I thought they still worked nicely. I also employed Messiean's technique of non-retrogradable rhythms in the rhythm of the chords.
The title refers to the variety of many of the roses that are planted in our yard. They are beautiful this time of year with fresh blooms and minimal disease and insect damage. In fact the whole garden is looking pretty happy right now. June is good.