Wednesday, September 8, 2010

StormSound Bugs

This posting probably won’t be that interesting except to people who are really fascinated by the process of composition itself. Anyone else may want to skip to my next posting, coming, well, I don’t know when yet…

Though it seems like a long way off, May 21st 2011 (the tentative date of the performance of the entire StormSound Cycle) is approaching fairly rapidly. Before even worrying about that, there are still some bugs that need to be worked out in the music itself.

One of these is what to do with “Malacandra”, (#12 in the Cycle). The third of a set of essentially drone pieces for prerecorded sounds and solo percussion, it needs to be modal and relatively melodic, but still open-ended as the others are. I’ve somewhat decided on a series of motives without meter, which the performer fleshes out into a kind of melody – but it needs to be longer than the other moments of this type in the Cycle. Vibraphone will be the best instrument for this.

Another problem is the noisiest piece – the "Day Signals" (#19 in the set). This is the climax, describing a day in the life of that grand spoiler of nature, Homo sapiens. Here, the prerecorded nature sounds morph into traffic and hints of warfare. The piano part requires virtuosity quite beyond my skill. David Mesler has said he'd take a look at it, but the score is far from complete at this point. I think there will be open-ended variations on Takemitsu’s “For Away” (always one of my favorite piano pieces), played in the much louder, more staccato, “free-jazz” style of Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X. The end of the piece resolves into the mystical C-chord that haunts much of the Cycle, and here the piano part could give way to a more or less conventional jazz piece (though it will “freak out” at the end, in contrast to the – now calm – prerecorded sound).

Earlier in the Cycle comes the “Night Signals” (#14 in the set). I’ve played this before as a piano piece with Dean Moore on gongs – but it would work better as originally conceived, for 4 recorders and percussion. (There are too many long piano pieces in the Cycle otherwise, and the recorders blend better with the prerecorded animal sounds.) However, the recorders have, in the past, been a difficulty. I took a shorter piece based on material from the Cycle to a recorder group (of which my Dad is a member) – they did well on the Canon (a short, traditionally notated composition, and not part of the Cycle) but they fell apart when they got to a free improvisation on a graphic score (“Points and Curves in a Silence that is not Silent”). This piece was only seven minutes long – the hour-long “Night Signals” would be much harder.

With that in mind, I reworked a shorter recorder piece based on the last part of the Cycle, “Consort of Voices”. Here, I used the same melody-without-meter that I’d used for “Phase Transition” (see my 9/1/2010 posting) and an earlier version of part of the Cycle in concert (with Stuart Dempster and Neal Meyer). I took the resulting score over to my Dad’s place to have looked at by the recorder group – and at least some of them seemed enthusiastic (though they didn’t get a chance to try to play it). They do, however, want to (possibly) perform it and (certainly) the Canon in a Composers’ Salon sometime (either in November or January) so I’ll see where that goes.

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