Thursday, June 13, 2013
6.) Saturated June 10, 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.