Thursday, January 12, 2006
This is a sample from a recent etude for solo keyboard instrument, American Trees & How To Climb Them. It was written under a considerable set of constraints, chosen to force myself to work against habits. This section uses a row, the row was selected by chance operations, and the whole piece is in a rather unusual tuning, with 15 tones to the octave (notated pragmatically as c c# db d d#=eb e f f# gb g g#=ab a a# bb b).
There's nothing less fashionable these days then 12-tone or serial techniques, and the 15-tone technique used here owes more to the eternally unfashionable Hauer than to the frequently unfashionable Schoenberg. (I was once attacked online with some brutality for being a "serialist"; I happen to have defended the rights of serial composers to do their thing although at the time I had never myself done anything even remotely serial, so inventing something this lyrical under these particular constraints has been an especially satisfying experience.)
One passing thought about serial technique: Isn't it ironic that the current digital technology is nearly ideal for realising total serial pieces? Any composer can have a RCA synthesizer equivalent in their bedroom (or wherever) , but composing serially is just about the last thing that anyone wants to do these days. (To be slightly evil and paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld: "You make music with the instruments you have, not the instruments you want".)
The 15-tone equal division of the octave is strange, but offers some interesting features -- usable triads and seventh chords, a familiar augmented triad, a semi-familiar anhemitonic pentatonic, and some surprising modulation potential. I like it that the best fifth is the (octave reduced) sum of three 640 cent "tritones" and that it's melodically quite clunky with a small semitone and two sizes of whole tone, one closer to 3/4 tone, the other wide like slendro.