Monday, September 08, 2008


When the world zigs, it's usually time to zag. One of my favored compositional modes is to locate territory suggested but unexplored by existing music, composing as alternative music history, if you will. The bit of neoserialism* above is a recent example, applying a mixture of (seriously unfashionable) techniques to arrive at a musical surface that is suspended ambiguously between the historical styles usually associated with the techniques. And it's precisely that stylistic suspension which has been causing this modest set of Variations to somewhat stubbornly resist getting properly finished: note the absence of phrasing, dynamics, and articulations. This absence is due to the fact that the compositional work was so focused on creating such a robust set of pitches and rhythms that any almost any system or style of attaching dynamics and articulations to those pitches and rhythms will plausibly "work". But that kind and degree of the arbitrary doesn't seem right for this piece, as the music is obviously already very much about articulation, with its fussy written-out rubato and attention to registers. Indeed, it is about an ironic articulation (the piece is, on one hand, serial bebop, atonal and ametrical, and, on the other hand, just a disfunctional series of arpeggiated major triads), and bringing off situational irony like this always requires that one jettison the unnecessarily arbitrary.** A set of dynamics that just happens to "work" is insufficient, it should either project or usefully contradict the pitch and rhythm situation and an overdone projection of one feature or another might come across as heavy-handed while an additional level of contradiction might be too distractingly complicated rather than usefully complex.

* David Feldman's term.
** "Unnecessarily" is an essential qualifier. In fact, I'm wildly interested in compositional procedures which productively distinguish between arbitrary and essential elements or processes, and my use of chance operations, for example, is always a consequence of such a distinction.

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