Friday, August 30, 2013
My wife and I just returned from a California trip. It was basically a drive down Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It was amazing. The Pacific Ocean has magical powers. It's unfathomable. You'll surely be reading more about the trip on this blog in the future. One of the highlights for me was an afternoon of surfing at Doheny State Beach in southern Orange County. I went to this beach on recommendation of my buddy Justin Keller. It was a special place. Gentle waves and gentle surfers. I've heard a lot about the angry territorial surfers of southern California and the strict etiquette followed at the heavily populated beaches. As a relative beginner, I was looking for a place with a more relaxed vibe, and Doheny was perfect. People were having a lot of fun, and were not concerned about dropping in. (Dropping in is basically catching a wave that someone has already caught, often restricting their route options.) They were cheering each other on. It was beautiful. For me, surfing is about connecting with nature and having fun. Doheny was the perfect place to experience both of those things.
So getting back to composing this week, I was naturally hearing something of major tonality, just to reflect the beauty of the trip. So I went with Messiaen's seventh mode, which is essentially a chromatic scale minus two pitches. I thought I would be able to extract the major tonality out of it. In this case, I was in G major and the pitches I had to avoid were A and Eb. It was especially challenging to avoid A - I was hearing it so often. I was forced to find my way around it. Just like avoiding surfers who were paddling out while I was riding a wave (if you allow me to be so corny).
Monday, August 12, 2013
I squeezed this one in between travels. Here we have two transposition of Messiaen's second mode, the beloved diminished or octatonic scale. The top voice, which was composed in it's entirety before the lower voice was added, uses the first transposition. It was composed without any rhythmic structure, but I consciously kept the opening ideas in mind as I worked. The bottom voice uses the third transposition, and did have a preconceived rhythmic structure of short eighth note phrases separated by an eighth rest. After every four measure or so one eighth note is added to the phrase length. It is kind of obnoxious, but also gives the piece a particular vibe.
The title refers to how I'm feeling today. My wife and I just spent five days in Philadelphia at the Strengthening Health Institute studying macrobiotics with Denny Waxman and Susan Waxman. We learned a lot about the philosophies behind macrobiotics and also the practical applications of it. We were served delicious food prepared with the best ingredients in the most careful and caring way. This food and knowledge has left me feeling satisfied, inspired, clear-minded, and bright. This piece was extremely easy to write because of the state of mental clarity I was in. If you are interested in improving your life, I highly recommend checking out the Waxman's and the SHI.
I'm particularly thankful for that clarity as I only had a short time to get a composition written, notated, learned, recorded, and uploaded. Unfortunately my upcoming travels will prohibit me from uploading a piece next week. As I wrote earlier, I am committed to writing fifty-two pieces for this project, so with your grace, I will upload two pieces in one week in the near future as a make-up. Happy August.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Misconnect was formed out of a transposition of Messiaen's third mode. It's very exciting for me to take a mode of his and see what chords can be formed from it. Most modes render unconventional relationships between commonly used chords. For this piece I used only major triads from that one transposition. The triads available from this transposition of the third mode are F, Gb, A, Bb, Db, D. We see that there are relationships that are more conventional; those in perfect fourths, F to Bb, Db to Gb, and A to D, and their inversions, D to A, Gb to Db, Bb to F. But what's most appealing to me are the less conventional relationships; those based in major and minor thirds, F to A, Gb to A, etc. Of course at this point in history triads moving in thirds is nothing new. I remember studying a Brahms Symphony in college and discovering many tertiary harmonic relationships. They also call to mind Bartok for me. But what's interesting and enjoyable with the Messiaen technique is that these triads are all tied together with the mode. They have a different relationship than they do in Brahms. I feel encouraged to move between them and they're supported by the melodic use of the mode. And it's all the more encouraging that the piece doesn't sound like a Messiaen piece.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Dialogues is a two voice piece which utilizes Messiaen's fifth mode of limited transposition. The upper voices uses one transposition [B C Db F Gb G], while the lower uses another [D Eb E Ab A Bb]. Combined they include every note of the chromatic scale. The mode is interesting in theory, but using it was not very easy. This one felt limiting, and I grew tired of my limited choices quickly. I felt like I was overusing all of the pitches, always returning to the same ones. Happily, the juxtaposition of two voices with two different transpositions seems to obscure that feeling in the final result. Also, I welcome challenges like this and hope that by dealing with some of these limitations I will be pushed into new territory and grow as a composer and musician.
Rhythmically, Dialogues features a superimposition of structures. The rhythm of the top voice repeats after five measures, while the rhythm of the bottom voice repeats after three. The piece is fifteen measures in total because in that time all superimpositions are realized within those patterns. The sixteenth measure would be rhythmically the same as the first.