Sunday, April 24, 2011


The whole idea of the sine waves in the piece LAMONTEYOUNG is based on the same premise as that of JAMESTENNEY. The name of the dedicatee is turned into numbers by following caballistic principles (A=1, B=2, etc.) so I end up with the numbers 12 1 13 15 14 20 5 25 15 21 14 7. This then gives me harmonics within a harmonic series (so if the base frequency is 20 Hertz, then the 'L' of Young's name is the 12th partial i.e. 240 Hertz). This gives a basic grounding to the work, a tenor of sorts. Each of these frequencies is then part of another set of partials, again based on the same number sequence. Given that the 'tenor' note can be any one of the frequencies of the complex, there are 10 possible chords (and therefore tunings) available for each 'tenor' note, giving a total of 120 complexes throughout the work. I haven't quite decided how this is going to be structured yet but I know it will be rather more systematic than the systems behind JAMESTENNEY (which can be heard on my Myspace page). I will hopefully put some sound examples of how this is developing over the next few days (not the 6.5 hour version of course!). Duration is inversely proportioned to frequency (as you would expect) so the lower the note, the longer it is.

Although I'm going to start off with the same frequencies coming from all eight speakers, I would like to develop a more 'polyphonic' approach as the piece goes on until there is a point that all eight speakers have different complexes overlaying. Ideally, I would like to make the space 'vibrate' with difference tones. I have a feeling that the tunings of Young's The Well Tuned Piano (as demonstrated by Kyle Gann) will be important for this.

The piano part will be largely improvised, but I'm going to provide myself with some notation to shape it. I also want this notation to be interpreted by others further down the line. I'm becoming more and more interested in forming a piece that can have multiple versions (sometimes multiple interpretations, sometimes multiple forms) for example, JAMESTENNEY can be performed as just the sine tones (as on Myspace), with ensemble, or with solo piano; Kinderszenen will have versions for solo piano, piano and ensemble, orchestra, solo instrument with electronics, possibly more. What I find interesting about my current approach to notation is that, whereas for a lot of my 'composing life', I was interested in finding ways that notation would provide problems for performers, and that particularly problematic relationship between performer and notation begat itself interesting and potentially exciting performance dynamics, but I would say that I'm more interested in providing the performer with notation that creates possibilities. The future for LAMONTEYOUNG is still open to potentially other versions, some of which may even be strictly notated, but I would like, especially, to produce a version for pipe organ.

Having played Javanese gamelan, and read a fair amount about other musical traditions, the idea that there can exist a notation that gives a guideline for interpretation, without fixing that interpretation has been of great interest to me. Recently listening to recordings of Young's music, I'm starting to wonder how you would notate it. It strikes me that most performances of his music will be developed in conjunction with him. I would be very interested in finding a way to notate that working method as usefully and fluidly as possible, so that ensembles can perform his work in a way with which he would be happy, without losing the freedom that he wants the performer and the sound to experience. I was very against allowing this freedom into my own music until relatively recently, but following the completion of my PhD, I'm becoming more and more interested in producing music that I can play myself and that gives me challenges and opportunities beyond a 'simple' realisation of a complex score. This has also grown out of my teaching over the last three years. I have been lucky enough to have developed a module focussed on problematic notations from the twentieth century, and the performance practice issues created. We have discussed Kagel's Ludwig van, Cage's Variations series, Stockhausen's Plus-Minus and SOLO (I'll be performing two versions of SOLO during the exhibition as well, one of which is my realisation, the other is one of my student's) and these have really drawn me to address these issues in my own work as well as in my teaching and research.

More soon I hope!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Memories of You

Big two-week installation coming up at the Edinburgh Fringe 5th - 19th August.
It will be dotted with performances as well, but the basic idea is that it will start off with very pure sinusoidal drones, and develop (almost palimpsestically) over the course of the two weeks to incorporate 'memories' of the performances that have occurred within the space. There will also be (hopefully) a grand piano in the centre of the space which I will prepare and detune during the performance, and use to 'feed' the installation with new sounds. I want there to be a couple of microphones set up to allow visitors to leave their mark on the installation as well.

Currently mulling over how the MaxMSP patch for the overall installation will work. I want to be able to add certain things to the mix myself every day, but I also want some sense of random development there - an uncontrolled element. I want it to take on new stuff but only gradually change. It's got to make sense as a patch as well, and run without being too memory hungry.

Really hoping I can get hold of enough equipment to record everything, stream it live with video and audio, have enough microphones to do everything I want to do, and have one computer running the basic patch for the show the whole time, with another one to run the piece-specific patches as I'm going along. Time to really think about this, jot down my ideal requirements, and take to our marvellous technical guys and find out what they can spare for the fortnight.

The exhibition will open from 11:00-17:30 every day at Whitespace, 11 Gayfield Square, Edinburgh, and it will open with a six and a half hour performance by me of a new piece called LAMONTEYOUNG for piano and sine waves. This will be connected to what I did (and am doing later in the show) with JAMESTENNEY but slower. I want to spread out La Monte Young's name over the whole span so that it's just very pure and sustained, but I want to create some beats between speakers as well. Haven't quite worked out how this is going to work but I've been listening to some Alvin Lucier recently that's suggested some possibilities. Once I've got the whole tape part fixed (I'm hopefully working with 8 speakers), I'll have to start really thinking hard about the structure for the piano part. It's going to be largely improvised and a homage to the soundworld of Young's Well Tuned Piano except that the piano is not going to be well tuned (quite the opposite) but I want to strike the right balance between what I notate for myself, and what I create on the fly. It's all fun stuff and I'm really looking forward to getting started. Just need to finish this marking and then I can go for it!