Friday, February 28, 2014

43.) Tree February 27, 2014

Tree is another piece for which I was a little less methodical during the composition process.  I selected a single transposition of a mode, this time mode 3, and just went for it.  I didn't create any other structural guidelines.  The piece sounds improvisational in nature, similar to last week's piece.  It's fun to play.

I made use of a couple of less-than-usual piano techniques.  One is a delayed pedal, after a loud bass note.  This happens right at the beginning.  The damper doesn't finish muting the string before I apply the pedal.  The effect is kind of an "injured" sustain, with different overtones highlighted.  The other technique is the silent depressing of keys, which lifts the dampers without the note sounding.  These strings then vibrate sympathetically when I play other notes.  I worked with this idea a lot in the improvisation section of the recording.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

42.) FrontBack February 20, 2014

I began the process of writing FrontBack with a little less organization that I've been using lately.  I simply started with a transposition of mode two and just went from there.  It felt pretty liberating actually, and I enjoy the openness of what resulted.  However, it's a little less natural for me to write in this way, because I usually like my pieces to be very simple, depicting one or two ideas clearly.  It's my feeling that pieces like that are good for improvisation because they suggest a clear direction.  Even the mood of this piece varies quite a bit.  But in recording, I don't think that made it difficult to choose my improvisation direction.  The ending of the piece suggests a point of departure, and the other moods in it were fun to explore after a while.    

The title comes from the Unifying Principle, the core of macrobiotic philosophy:

1.) Everything is a differentiation of infinite Oneness.
2.) Everything changes.
3.) All antagonisms are complementary.
4.) There is nothing identical.
5.) What has a front has a back.
6.) The bigger the front, the bigger the back.
7.) What has a beginning has an end.  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

41.) Gratitude February 13, 2014

Gratitude is a superimposition of two transpositions of Messiaen's third mode.  While searching around for a starting point this week, I was checking out what kinds of chords can be derived out of mode three, and I found that an augmented triad could be constructed on all scale degrees.  After discovering this, I had the idea of trying to use only augmented chords, but as I began, I found myself desiring a greater variety of chords.  I do use a lot of augmented chords and arpeggios, often with another note added.  

I also decided that I should once again make use of non-retrogradable rhythms.  Each measure features a non-retrogradable rhythm in the top staff.  At first, I scored it with time signatures, which were changing measure to measure.  Then I realized that they would be of no use to me as I played the piece, and that I was counting eighth notes in small units (three for a dotted quarter note, four for a half note, etc.) and would be completely ignoring the 13/8 marking at the beginning of the bar.  Messiaen writes about this in The Technique of My Musical Language, explaining how a composer is free to use time signatures or not when writing these rhythms.  I remember being puzzled by the missing time signatures in score of The Quartet For the End of Time, before reading The Technique.  In some instances, such as in Gratitude, time signatures are just not necessary, even when the meter is changing continually.  

The photo I used for the SoundCloud file is one of George Ohsawa, the founder of modern macrobiotics.  His writings are remarkable.  Check him out.   

Thursday, February 6, 2014

40.) Shin Do Fu Ji February 5, 2014

"Shin Do Fu Ji" means "one with nature", or "man and nature not two".  I spent a long weekend in Philadelphia at the Strengthening Health Institute studying macrobiotics with Denny Waxman.  It was a very inspiring weekend.  My wife Akiko and I will be spending about one weekend a month there this year, completing the Master Your Health program.  We're really looking forward to it.  Anyway "Shin Do Fu Ji" was one of the things we studied.  It's essentially a benefit that we humans as a group can attain if we live a natural way of life in accordance with the laws of nature.  I thought the phrase made a nice title.  

For this piece, I used Messiaen's second mode (the diminished scale), in a slightly different way.  One of the things I love about mode two is the combinations of triads that can be formed, particularly major triads.  So I made an organized list of all of the major triad combinations, in all the three transpositions:

Then, I decided to number the columns randomly (notated on the bottom).  I used the numbers as a sequence, like a row, freely choosing among the three transpositions.  In this way, I had three choices for each chord, and was free to use any inversion of those chords.  Most often, the melody guided my decisions.  After I had a nice piece of music, I decided to repeat it and ornament it with another layer.  The second layer follows the same formula.  

I think the sound is nice.  These are some of my favorite sounds that Messiaen used himself.