Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Upon looking for inspiration, I listened to a little of Messiaen's organ music. In fact, I heard about 30 seconds of his Prélude pour orgue and that was enough to send me off. The stuff is so great. I took some of the opening chords, analyzed them, and concluded that they were derived from two transpositions of mode two. So, I decided to do the same in my piece.
It started out with definite shifts between the two modes, the chords are of one or the other. But as I worked on the melody, I found that the notes of one of the modes sounded irresistible over the chords of the other, and I indulged. So the piece is a progression from shifting modes to simultaneous modes. I have to admit I love that sound.
Today I had the day off from teaching, so I was able to work on this piece this afternoon - a different time than usual. It's a dark rainy day today as I was yesterday, and I found myself crabby and barely able to stay awake while making the score. After I finished, I had to title the piece so I could save it, which is most often when the title is added. I was trying to think of a word to describe light protruding from the gloom, because I find these Messiaen chords so illuminating. But nothing was coming. Then in a flash I realized that I was crabby and tired because I over ate, and was reminded of Ben Franklin's Virtues that I have recently read about in his Autobiography. I highly recommend that book. Anyway, Temperance is the first of the virtues, which are followed in order. Franklin says one must master Temperance before moving onto Silence, etc. His description for Temperance reads, "Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation." So here I was feeling the effects of ignoring the first virtue. And how fitting that this is the day before Thanksgiving, when most Americans will ignore it as well. I will make a valiant attempt to not forget Ben Franklin's first virtue tomorrow. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving. I'm thankful that you've checked out this project.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Full Spectrum is an experiment utilizing three or four of Messiaen's techniques. I'm not sure I'm entirely happy with the outcome, but I'm glad that I am comfortable enough to experiment in front of you like this.
The explanation of what I did is going to get very heady - sorry for that. There is one of Messiaen's modes that I have had trouble using. It is his fifth mode, of which the first transposition is [C Db F F# G B C]. I find this mode very limited and restricting, probably because there are only six pitches in it. But I wanted to make use of it, and I did so by creating a row out of these pitches. But rather than construct melodies and chords out of the row, I used it as a guide to determine the root of the chord I used. I used several transpositions of the row and it's inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion.
Then I created a row of chord qualities, choosing chords that are triads with added notes. These qualities include a major triad with a raised fourth added, major triad with a lowered third, major triad with a lowered second, minor with a fourth, and minor with a natural seventh. The row was a sequence of eleven of these qualities, a prime number.
Rhythmically, the piece has four symmetrical, non-retrogradable, sequences, the center of each phrase marked with a 3/8 measure with a dotted quarter note. The sequences are further defined with a different pedal point under each.
I am happy with the concept, but I might like to hear it orchestrated for an ensemble of some kind. Or I would like to have more time to practice it, getting the soprano voice to speak clearly. My dissatisfaction with the result here is mainly due to the melody being lost. It's difficult to bring out the melody when many of the chords have close intervals in the top of the structure. I'll keep trying.
Saturday, November 16, 2013
This piece is composed of the second transposition of Messiaen's second mode, the octatonic scale. I really enjoy the possibilities that the mode offers. This time I kept the mode during my improvisation, save for a couple mistakes. Improvising with these modes has gotten easier as they've gotten more familiar.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Rides is a sixteen bar blues boogaloo, using all three transpositions of the octatonic scale. I happened to find a version of this bassline while messing around, and I thought it could work nicely in a blues form. And, the bassline happens to be a palindrome, and therefor a non-retrogradable rhythm. I originally had the center note as a quarter note, in a 5/4 meter, but decided to add a dot to it, in order to create a phrase that has a prime number of beats. So this piece utilizes three of Messiaen's techniques: modes of limited transposition, non-retrogradable rhythms, and prime numbers. And what's best is that it really sounds nothing like Messiaen. If fact I can feel him shaking his head in disgust. Great!
It was difficult to compose the melody because the bassline was very damn fun to play on. I continually found myself improvising for extended periods, while I was trying to get the melody down. It's just a fun thing to play. I enjoyed it.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Another "bebopish" line, this time over the chords to Time After Time by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. I intended to use a different mode for this one, but found again that mode three worked the best for this sort of thing. In attempt to make the line oddly phrased, and just for the fun of it, I kept a trill-like idea throughout it.
A special treat this week is that you get to hear the piece with a trio. I convinced bassist Adam Hopkins and drummer Martin Urbach to let me record them when they were over for a rehearsal yesterday. It was a lot of fun for me to have some company for this recording.
If you're paying close attention, you've noticed that I posted two pieces this week. This was done in order to make up for a missed week in August. I finally had a piece ready early enough in the week that I thought I could complete another. So I'm back on schedule now. Should be pretty smooth sailing from here on out, as long as the holidays don't get in the way too badly.