Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I've finished the final (paper) draft of Version A! The aim is to start getting it down on computer tomorrow. Not much has changed since I posted the extract a couple of days ago, except that I've decided to add some extra staves whenever those octaves in the bass part get in the way. It makes the whole thing a lot less cluttered. I was going to reserve the extra staves for Version C but I've decided that I'm only going to stick to the traditional 2-stave layout for Version B. The reasons for including extra staves in Versions A and C are different, which is good enough for me. Haven't quite figured out how this will integrate into the finished Version D yet, but I'll just have to wade in and work it out when it becomes a problem!

Will photocopy the 10 A4 pages finished today and hand copies to P and to F and watch their reactions.

Listened to Saturday's (25/02/06) Hear and Now today. It was mainly a recording of Scandinavian New Music played by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, finished off with two pieces from recent CD releases, and a recording of Terje Isungset's Iceman Is, played on ice percussion, ice trumpet and voice. I think that although the quality of the work was generally high, there were some pieces better than others. Pulkkis's Encanto made me think of Messiaen (but only towards the end) but it had a nice stillness (both harmonic and rhythmic). Nordin's Arv was very nice, but I felt that the end was a little too predictable and a little too overdone. Hillborg's Mirages was just too fluent for my liking. There were too many undigested harmonic functions (don't get me wrong - I'm fine with tonality. You want to write tonality? I'm in favour. But do it in an interesting way please!) and it made me think of Vaughan-Williams and Sibelius quite a lot. Also I thought that the quotations were nauseating. Almost literally. They were just nasty and gratuitous. And too loud. Wallin's Chi had nice bits but I can't say that I was blown away by it. The overall form just didn't convince me.
The two CD excerpts, by two female composers came next. Ragnhild Berstad's Verto made me think of Lachenmann's musique concrete instrumentale and therefore I'd disagree with Alwynne Pritchard's statement about this being obviously written by a woman. Natasha Barrett's Ras was quite nice, rather like an acousmatic electroacoustic piece. The percussion certainly didn't detract from the overall effect but I was left wondering what they added. I don't want to say much about Iceman Is not because I didn't like it, but because it was a short extract full of beguiling sounds, that didn't make much sense without the rest of it.

Also I went back to listen to Hear and Now from November 26th 2005, which focused on the bmic Cutting Edge concert called Soundings. The music was by British and Austrian composers. Joe Cutler's Without Fear of Vertigo was nice and clunky, with a well-contained promise that it could go off the rails at any point and go beserk. It was fairly obvious that Ivan Hewitt had never read Italo Calvino's If Upon A Winter's Night A Traveller since he described Calvino as an aloof, learned and quietly mysterious author... (also I think that he's misunderstood the part that Without Fear of Vertigo plays within the novel). Johannes Maria Staub's Black Moon was great. Hysterical, controlled delerium? It contrasted severely with the boring, disjointed and predictable Orchestral Airs by Johanna Doderer. The only time these songs worked for me was when they were grinding to a halt and reminded me of Lars Hallnäs (shades of Mahler's Urlicht too methought). Next, Infra la neve by Marcel Reuter didn't really grab me. It was nice enough but there was nothing really there as far as I could tell. Also, the sound of the pianist's chair creaking was incredibly distracting. David Horne's Spike was sub-David-Sawyer. He even uses the term 'aural camouflage'. Just a little too British for me. The second Staub piece, Arie am Rande Alter Bücher was fairly nice, but I didn't like it as much as Black Moon. wo Lippen die Blätter zu Zeichen bewegen by Reinhard Fuchs was quite convincing, but after a while all contemporary flute music begins to sound the same to me. I'm currently in the middle of listening to the Schwerstik Twilight Music - A Celtic Serenade for Octet and went from hating it to quite liking it. I think it might be too long though... I'll let you know!

Hearing the lovely Alwynne presenting Hear and Now reminded me of the interview she conducted with me on the occasion of my one and only broadcast. I think I made a total hash of it to be perfectly honest. She asked me whether Lovesongs was an emotive piece, written from personal experience. I got flustered, stuttered a little and waffled on saying that it was expressive, but that I wasn't sure what it was expressing. I've been thinking about that again, and I think that I'm trying to almost paint a self-portrait in music every single time I write anything. This connects, for me, with the idea of expression and communication through composition, and with Ferneyhough's ideas about recreating himself with each composition. I'm not sure I'd go that far. I'd like to think that I'm exploring aspects of myself through the act of composition (and therefore changing as a result) but only in the same way that I do when I read a well-written book or poem. Maybe I should try to email her to give her my updated answer!

Crossword was by Rufus today. I got all but 4 clues. In case you were wondering.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Completed Saturday's Guardian crossword in bed this morning. Felt quite smug until I realised that I probably had just spent more time on the crossword than I was planning to spend working.

Listened to the last two editions (11/02 and 18/02) of Hear and Now from Radio 3.
The first was Park Lane Group at 50. It featured George Benjamin, Nancarrow, Kenneth Hesketh, Martin Butler, and too much Michael Zev Gordon. Actually, on the strength of that broadcast, any Zev Gordon is too much Zev Gordon. The Butler was a bit pants too. It was all so depressingly British post-'Manchester school' non-aspirational greyness. Talk about not scaring the audience away - you're going to bore them to death instead.

Read in the Guardian that Tom Adès is a 'colossus of the international music world' hence a retrospective in the Barbican. It really does make you wonder about the critical faculties of the critics in this country. I think that Adès has written some good stuff but I have a horrible feeling he's gone all George Benjamin.

Second broadcast was Mark Anthony Turnage's Blood on the Floor and I have to confess I really didn't enjoy most of it. Admittedly I wasn't particularly open-minded when I started (there's something about the whole improvising jazz musicians with fully notated symphony orchestra that's just a bit... I don't know.... fake?) and I just didn't know what to think about the auto-biographical elements. When you know the story (or at least bits of it), it's a little too emotionally coded for me. Emotive gestures. Clichés. I did find the final section quite touching (Dispelling the Fears). I heard this live at the Proms and it was good then but the commercially recorded version really doesn't do it justice - it robs it of its teeth. This live recording was great and coming at the end of the whole suite, it had more oomph.

All of which avoids the topic of my own music. Had an interesting moment this evening when I was texting D to share with him the information re:Adès (as above) and realised that a lot of this whole polyvalent form for Frisch could be seen to be coming from him. He sent me a couple of scores where the constituent parts can move around (especially in the Cello Sonata). F was the one that thought that three versions would be nice (and he hadn't seen the scores, though we'd discussed them in theory) and maybe my reaction against this suggestion was due to having seen D's own approach. Felt like a Boulez remark coming on: 'There is already enough unknown'.

Tweaked the notation around a bit. Not sure that these long 'pedal' octaves overlapping really communicates much. Will show them to F and to P and see what they think. I just wanted Version A to be the 'purest' version. We'll see...
Found a few mistakes in Version C and thus in Version B. I'll have to go back and change them. If I've gone on record saying that all four versions are the same and then they aren't...

Just got to keep plugging away. Finish this piece, do the odds and ends that need doing to US4, and then I can actually compose some new material again. Can't wait to grapple with the Dead Island Songs for strings. Caught sight of an old score and grew nostalgic about writing for more than one instrument.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

As promised in the last post, I've uploaded a graphic of the first page of Version A of Frisch weht der Wind (score is copyright John Hails 2006). This is the version of the piece that I was planning to write when I first started work on it. The dynamics, phrasing and articulation are all derived systematically from the original Satie. There are some illogical (possibly impossible) situations (see bb. 21-7 for example) that I resolve in the Versions B-D but not here. The phrasing is also slightly strange at times, but I wanted performers to solve some of the problems for themselves. The score is an 'ideal' image for the performer to aim at.

I think that it's going to be this version that I'm giving to P. I'll have to show him this page and find out if he screams.

Just to show that I have at least a semblance of a life, I went to a concert last week in Durham. Kate Ryder and David Appleton played Karlheinz Stockhausen's Mantra with electronics provided by Michael Young. It was nice to hear the piece live (last time (actually the first time) I heard it was at the Huddersfield Festival in 1996 with crazy Karlheinz in the audience) but I had niggles.
It was too slow in places (especially in the penultimate section) and it didn't sound like I remembered it. There seemed to be some pitches missing. Talked to M about this and she thought that maybe it was the bass frequencies... Perhaps a low-pass filter? Anyway, the electronics (sine tone generators) should be controlled by the pianists, not by a guy with a laptop! Anything else is a monkeying-around with the performer interface designed by the composer. The morse code section made me wonder if Michael Young had ever actually heard morse code before. A lot of the electronics was periodic and seemed to be based on quite short loops, which seems to go against the intuitive movements that Stockhausen requests in the score...
The experience made me want to maybe look into producing a Max/MSP patch for the piece, or at least to write about the issues involved (in the same way that I haven't quite got round to with Ferneyhough's Time and Motion Study no 2). Who knows? Maybe I'll have some time on my hands at some point.
All in all it was nice to hear it (and quite fun to see David Appleton in his leather trousers) but this wasn't what I'd call a representative performance, now if I could only get hold of my recording that I lent to Max...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

C visited over the weekend along with a couple of other friends so I haven't managed to get much done since the last post.
What I have been doing is slogging through Frisch and going through the same process for each page: first it looks like crap, then I start seeing how interesting the contrapuntal phrasing is looking and then the dynamics become fun and interesting.

Frisch weht der Wind is a piano piece lasting about 7 minutes and it will exist in four different versions (although more can be 'created' by the performer). The notes and rhythms are the same for each version. All that change are the dynamics and articulation. Each of the first three versions pursues a different strategy (with differing degrees of automation) but the fourth version moves between the first three according to a pre-composed 'route'.

In performance there are a few options:
  1. Perform version 4 (this is the only option if the piece is being performed as part of the Etudes Tristesses (Frisch weht der Wind is no. 3 in this cycle))
  2. Perform any or all of versions 1-3
  3. There are two pauses in the piece. If option 3 is being observed, the pianist must change version after each pause (only versions 1-3 and all versions must be used).
As I mentioned in my last post, P wants to play it on the 9th March. I'm a bit worried about this because I'm a little way away from producing a definitive score for any of the versions. He has the basic skeleton score (without very much by way of dynamics or articulation) but is keen to see what I'm doing right now. Each of the first 3 versions need re-drafting before they go into Sibelius: Version 1 is rather uncooked at present (phrasing needs working out), Version 2 needs its dynamics micro-managed, and Version 3 will need some extra staves to clearly elucidate the contrapuntal structure (I'm tending towards Hopkins' Piano Etudes, though not to such an extreme). Version 4 can't be written until the others are done.
Currently coming to the end of Version 3's first draft so I guess I'll just have to make a decision and redraft one of them in a format that's neat enough to copy and give to P.

I'll try to include some scanned images in the next post just in case anyone gives a damn. It'll keep me out of trouble I suppose!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Have decided to blog. Momentously egocentric but then it seems that a scary number of people are doing it so why the hell not?
The idea is that this blog becomes a diary of my progress as I write up my PhD in composition. I'll try and write it every day I do something compositionally.
Last night I dreamt that I was sitting in the audience for the performance of the piano piece that I'm writing (Frisch weht der Wind) and only realised afterwards that I hadn't noticed that the irrational bars had not been observed... Note to self - produce mock-up Sibelius score with tempo changes. Work still going quite fluently. Amazed how much there is to do. Have to get a wriggle on if I want to produce a performance score for P before too long.
Talked to Mum about my opera. I think that it's still possible one day. When I have time to produce 3 hours that, quite possibly, no-one will want to perform or listen to. It's still an important and alive concept so perhaps some day...
Maybe C's right. I have more music in my head than I'll ever be able to write.