Friday, December 30, 2011

An unnecessary post

Feel like I should say that I realise that the human ear can only really discriminate pitch of around 5-6 cents (this must be true - I just looked it up on Wikipedia to make sure I remembered it right), and that most digital tuners are not as sensitive as my score suggests that I'm looking for.
So why include this much detail?
At the moment, I'm including it because these tunings are the exact proportional ratios that I'm looking for, and they're what I'd like the performers to aim for. When I have the first performers to work with, I'm planning to talk to them about whether they find this (aspirational?) notation ok or whether it's a problem (distracting maybe). So I'm not hopelessly naive, just hopeful.
In other news, I finally listened to Richard Barrett's CONSTRUCTION without having Oliver barking at it. I think it's amazing, and it gets better and better as it goes on. I may write more about it on another occasion, but for the time being I'm bowled over. I love Richard's music, and have done for a long time so to hear him deliver such an amazing sustained work over that duration is just wonderful.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

for three (score excerpt)

I have written the first three minutes or so of for three.
I'm not totally happy with it, but this gives a flavour (click on the image for a larger version):


Multipliers above a rest indicate that the performer should multiply that rest by that number (e.g. if a semibreve rest has a 'x 4' indicator above it, this indicates that there should be four semibreve rests).
A '+' or '-' indicator above a note indicates that pitch should be sharper or flatter (respectively) by this many cents.
At the moment, all dynamics are balanced and as quiet as possible.

About the piece:
I may reduce the speed to something more like crotchet=52 (or slower) and I'm not quite sure how I feel about the nature of these awkward durations. This may be revisited. There may also (when I complete the piece) be alterations to durations etc. down to the progression of this section from these isolated utterances to the smooth overlapping texture.

The name Petrus Abaelardus and the title of his work which includes his allegedly heretical teachings on the doctrine of the trinity, Theologia Summi Boni, have been used to structure the durations of the work. I've always been interested in Abelard. Initially, his relationship with Héloïse was what grabbed me, but as I found out more, his relationship with his son and with Bernard de Clairvaux struck me as interesting. I've been thinking for a while that I'd like to do a series of music theatre clusters around a series of figures, and had thought that they would coincide with decades in my life (An Evening with Ezra Pound was supposed to mark my 30th birthday (3 years ago), and An Evening with Peter Abelard was going to mark my 40th birthday)*. I don't really know how I feel about all of that now but I do think that there may be a cluster of pieces around Abelard and I suppose this may as well be a start. The connection came simply because of the title and the indeterminate instrumentation as related to his theoretical writings on the Trinity, which got him into such hot water with Bernard de Clairvaux.

It's beginning to get to the point that, in order for this project to have a place in my research hours, I'm going to have to come up with a performance. If I don't, then I'll carry on in my spare time, but I'll have to prioritise other projects. Sad but true.

*The final Evening with was going to be Alan Turing. We shall see.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

measuring rests (for three)

I'm trying to work out how to structure the rhythmic shape of the piece (for three).
There are going to be a lot of rests, and I'm not sure how to measure them.
I have basically three ideas:
  1. To use standard rhythmic notation;
  2. To use minutes and seconds to mark the rests (but probably use standard rhythmic notation while they're playing);
  3. To use breaths as a durational method for rests, and for the playing durations.
Idea 3. is very attractive to me, but I don't think it's for this piece. I'm thinking I want to use this in another piece. Maybe more on that later.

I think that each of these three methods of notating rests will create a marked difference for both performers and for audience. I would like to see some research on this (or I suppose I could actually research this myself I suppose). I've written pieces that use the first two methods of measuring rests and performed pieces that use all three, and I certainly feel that the experience is different.
Counting the rests creates (for me as a performer) a sense of very measured time.
Counting minutes and seconds normally involves watching a stopwatch - I would say that 'musical time' freezes and this correspondingly creates more of a sense of stasis for the audience as well.
Having the rests measured by somatic measurements creates a more intimate experience (at least as a performer - I haven't knowingly experienced this as an audience member) and I believe that this experience will be carried through to the audience.

But I don't want to do this for this piece.

Further refinement to the structure of the piece
There are three 'states' of operation:
  1. Long measured silences frame statements of the three pitches (with various tunings)
  2. Very few silences as the three instruments make up a 'tapestry' of sound from the three pitches
  3. Long measured sustained single tones (staggered between the three instruments) frame statements of the three pitches
Rather than these being three different sections of the piece, I'm going to construct the whole piece in two parts. For the first part, I will structure rhythms it in two ways, using both methods 1. and 2. The finished version will progressively move from method 1. to method 2. The second half will use methods 2. and 3. in a corresponding way. This way, there are no clearly defined sections, but each moment of the piece should lead smoothly to the next.

In terms of pitch organisation, I'm hoping to have initial sketch material of the first section ready sometime tomorrow. I think that it's going to stay pretty restricted for the majority of the first section, and then start to move up and around in the second section before stabilising close to the end (although the whole range of the piece is going to be strictly within an octave - when you're exploring an expanded set of proportional tuning ratios, you don't have to gild the lily - which also serves the indeterminate instrumentation).

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Monday, December 26, 2011

intervallic content (for three)

Just done some quick analysis of the intervallic content of for three.
I've got seven different tunings for the chord (treating the two ratios given here as sort of interval vectors):
  1. 8:9 +15:16
  2. 8:9 + 24:25
  3. 9:10 + 15:16
  4. 9:10 + 128:135
  5. 225:256 + 24:25
  6. 9:10 + 25:27
  7. 225:256 + 128:135
    This gives three major seconds:
    • 9:10 (1.11111111)
    • 8:9 (1.125)
    • 225:256 (1.13777778)
    four minor seconds:
    • 24:25 (1.04166667)
    • 128:135 (1.0546875)
    • 15:16 (1.06666667)
    • 25:27 (1.08)
    and three minor thirds:
    • 64:75 (1.171875)
    • 27:32 (1.18518519)
    • 5:6 (1.2)
    Great so far. Now I need to work out how I'm going to use this in the piece's structure.
    Am I going to go through them in 'keyboard' order (ABCDAAEFBACG), or come up with a new structure based on (what I think are) interesting movements from relative consonance to dissonance and back?
    I'm in two minds.
    I also have to decide which pitch stays constant between each section (this itself could answer the question of 'material' above). I don't want it to be the same pitch, but at the same time (at least) one pitch must stay constant.
    There will also be the question of overall duration, and the proportion of silence and sound.
    At the start, I want there to be silence separating instances of the three players each playing one sustained note. In the middle I want there to be very few breaks in the corporate sonority, with tunings overlapping. At the end, a return to the texture of the beginning. Possibly.
    Overall duration could be as long as 40 minutes, but I don't know if that's crazy. I suppose it depends on the players and on how many sections and how long each section is.
    Enjoying thinking about this. Quite like the idea that the timbre of each performance could be radically different.

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    for three

    An idea for a piece:
    Three notes - tone + semitone between them - played by three instruments.
    Use whole number ratios to generate precise tunings (see below) but render these in cents, so that performers, using digital tuners, can tune their individual notes (seated as far apart as necessary to get a 'clean' reading on the tuner).
    The tunings are based on segments of a justly-tuned twelve-tone scale.
    The basis of this scale is that (identified by La Monte Young in his Selected Writings (Heiner Friedrich, 1969. 37-8)) of a diatonic major scale:
    In this scale, do:re:mi are in the expected 8:9:10 ratio; both do:so, and fa:do are in a 2:3 ratio; fa:so:la repeat the 8:9:10 ratios of do:re:mi; and te:do repeats the 15:16 ratio of mi:fa.
    There are plenty of pleasant symmetries and repetitions here to satisfy (at least my) aesthetic desires.
    In order to generate the other notes of the fabric, I took utonal relationships based on do, fa and so to create mi flat (5:6 above do), la flat (5:6 above fa) and te flat (5:6 above so). This creates possibilities for just chords based on la flat and on mi flat (both 4:5:6). By the same logic, I calculated re flat from a ratio of 4:5 with fa (just chord re flat:fa:la flat - 4:5:6). This only left me with a so flat/fa sharp to calculate, and I did this by replicating the ratio between la flat and te (64:75), which also gives a 15:16 ratio between fa sharp and so (as you would expect, given that te:do is also 15:16).
    Final ratios of all twelve tones are (in integer ratios):
    480 : 512 : 540 : 576 : 600 : 640 : 675 : 720 : 768 : 800 : 864 : 900 : 960

    Whoopee. Good for me.
    Why do I want to turn this into a piece?
    I like the idea that these three notes can appear in different rhythmic configurations (like in late Feldman, a persistent and fruitful inspiration) and also in different tonal (here, I mean tonal as in proportional) configurations. When studying temperament, the characters of individual keys in temperaments such as well temperament are emphasised, and the idea of presenting a sample of a tuning like this in close-up, so that you're almost sitting in these two proportions for a period of time, is (for me at least) rather an attractive endeavour.

    The instrumentation (and octave displacement) is variable (although all instruments must be at the same octave displacement). I haven't decided how dynamics are going to work, but I suspect they will either be equally balanced and as quiet as possible (whilst maintaining stability of tone), or there will be different dynamic configurations as well (within a pppp, ppp, pp, p band).

    The title is currently for three.
    If anyone is interested, do drop me a line. I am 100% more likely to finish it if someone wants to play it.

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    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    I've been meaning to...

    Over the last few months, there have been experiences that I've meant to blog about, but it's come to it and I just haven't. Haven't had the energy or given enough of a crap to actually put it in words.

    What have I achieved lately?

    I'm quite pleased with some of the teaching I've done this term. There are parts I need to tighten up, but I think I did an ok job.

    I went on strike, which I think was important, and it was a good experience. It highlighted for me how out my depth I am when contemplating my role as a public sector employee apart from anything else.

    I haven't written enough music. I hashed together a few things for my installation, but I don't think I've finished work on them really. I wrote a nice open form piece for the Museum of Modern Art (called CRAGG), which we performed out in the open air with voice, clarinet, flute, percussion and guitar. The notation needs fixing, but I'm planning to revisit the notation (the actually notes themselves are good) and record it with a few more players (I'm thinking at least two of each of those instruments). My duet for bass clarinet and piano (DUO2) didn't quite work - too much happening too fast, but not enough variety to maintain the duration that I was looking for. I think that the version of the piece that was lovingly performed by Sarah Watts and Antony Clare was nice in itself, but it wasn't what I was aiming for. Think I'm going to salvage it (there are, again, a few notational quirks to iron out) as a separate piece and start the DUO piece again from scratch.

    On my desk (apart from the obligatory marking) at the moment are a piece called kinderszenen, which is for any forces, but I'm looking to create a version for flute and pre-recorded flutes for Richard Craig at the moment. We haven't yet worked out exactly how we're going to approach the task yet, but it's going to be fun. I'm also looking at finally engaging properly with the piece for clarinet in A that I've been meaning to write for Carl Rosman. No title yet (and I think that lack of an identity for the piece is what's making it so slippery at the moment) but the sound of the piece is beginning to crystallise in my head.

    I think I'm doing ok off anti-depressants. There are difficult times, but mostly I feel happier and stronger than I have done in a long time. I have further to go in some areas than others but it's all improvement so far.

    I've given a couple of papers at conferences: one on Stockhausen's Aus den sieben Tagen and one on relating a chunk of Cardew's output (1969-76) to Deleuze & Guattari's rhizome principle (is that even the right word). Very very happy with the Cardew paper, but the Stockhausen wasn't bad by any means, just unfocused. I am planning to write them up (and my informal guest paper on Partch I gave at Edinburgh University) and try to get them published.

    Big question is why am I writing this? I guess I'm mainly writing it for me. I'm taking stock at half-past midnight in the week before Christmas. I'd like to get back into the habit of writing this blog, but I still haven't quite worked out what I want to write and for whom. I have a few thoughts - that I should just write everything (personal, musical, food-related, dog-related) that occurs to me and use tags to order them; that I should just focus on composition (as I have in the past); that I should just focus on a personal blog as a way to vent. I'm not sure it actually matters in the long run. Perhaps a sort of order will work itself out.