Friday, July 31, 2009

The Orchestra, Deconstructed

While writing a wind quintet this week, the necessary downtime was spent finishing a pair of wonderful and wonderfully idiosyncratic books:  Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Inherent Vice, which arrived on Monday and not only read as quickly and smoothly as a Wild Turkey chaser but also carried the same emotional after-burn, and Henry Brant's orchestration handbook, Textures and Timbres.    I'll probably have more to say about the Pynchon later, but for now: damn! between it and Mieville's The City & The City, this has been the year for the weird-boiled detective novel.  As for the Brant, he is refreshingly modest and upfront in explaining the goal of the project in hand, which is achieving homogenous orchestral textures from mixtures of instruments. His method, through defining broad timbral categories, is a sound one and always based on years of empirical study.  Nevertheless, the real substance in the book comes in a number of verbal suggestions and in many of the Brant-composed musical examples, which, particularly regarding the differentiation of contrapuntal lines, go a great distance toward a more comprehensive theory of the role of orchestration in relationship to each of the other compositional parameters. This is reading a more abitious program between the lines of Brant's text, but I think that inventive orchestration is more or less always going to have to be read between the lines of existing practices, deconstructed even, and Brant's own music was never less than that.  

Although Brant is most famous for his works with spatially separated instruments and voices, he does not explicitly discuss space as a parameter here, but it's abundantly clear that clear that Brant understood orchestration as a necessary prerequisite to making spatial music actually work.   Brant's book thus follows his own insight: the recipe for a homogenous orchestral timbre also contains the recipe for its opposite and suggests the timbres which would maximum contrast for the projection of contrapuntal materials.  

Brant's book got me to thinking about the teaching of orchestration in general and, more specifically, his use of his own musical examples made me wonder which pieces of historical repertoire  I would choose if I were to teach orchestration.   There are really three approaches possible to the topic, one — and the tactic taken by the textbooks now most widely used — attempts to teach an optimal "mainstream" orchestration aesthetic based upon standardized instrumentations and ideals of contrast and balance; a second approach is essentially through teaching the history of orchestration, particularly in its luxurious change of focus from function to color; and the third approach is more analytical in nature, taking advantage on the one hand of a more contemporary understanding of musical acoustics and, on the other hand, considering scoring patterns as integral aspects of compostional technique. 

Although my own composition instincts are mostly those of the third approach, I think I would teach with an acoustically-informed historical approach.  I would skip around rather than hew closely to chronology.  I might start, say, with a Schumann Symphony or Overture, pieces supposedly suffering from poor orchestration, and try to make the case against that supposition: the continuous doubling of the violins by the flutes, for example, usually considered a textbook example of what not to do, may just reveal instead a unique timbral imagination and conception/ When one considers that the bowing technique of Schumann's time involved a shorter stroke, with less sustain and considerable decay,  allowing the near-sine tone of the flute to emerge from the composite tone lent the prevailing melodic surface of the music an edge for which the adjective "silver" is spot-on. Then, as a counter-example, I would take the Berlioz  Messe des Mortes, a piece I really treasure, to illustrate — if somewhat paradoxically — mastery in a less-is-more style of orchestral economy, in which a large reserve of forces is kept mostly in reserve and often, in fact, paired down to some strange and wonderful subsets (unaccompanied choir in the Quaerens me, the antiphonal brass, the mens' chorus, low reeds and low strings of the Quid sum miser, the tenor soli "solo" in the Sanctus...).   As an additional counter-example, I might use some Liszt piano pieces, as examples of exploiting the full palate of an instrument's resources as  "orchestration" without an orchestra.

Only then would begin the historical survey proper, paying special attention to the historical cul-de-sacs, as the orchestral styles not taken but well worth revisiting: whole and broken consorts (especially in Morley's Book of Consort Lessons, with its contrast between sustaining instruments and plucked metal and gut strings),  polychoral or antiphonal ensembles, the five-part string texture in Lully, and then trace the mainstream of orchestral development from continuo-based ensembles to the classical four part texture with the gradual incorporation of winds and percussion (the brass, in particular, represent an interesting bit of musical sociology as the horns came from the hunt, the trumpets from the military (each bringing their own drums) and the trombones from the church tower; the origins of orchestral percussion are often even more exotic) .  I would spend some time on the Harmonie (wind) ensemble and trace wind bands through their court, civic, military, and popular traditions.  Although I would pay some serious  attention to opera orchestration (especially Rossini, Weber and Verdi), I might just skip much about the "normative" large 19th century orchestra, under the motto "nice work, if you can find it (or if your name is Johnny Williams) and you can always read about it in Adler, Blatter or Kennan"  and focus instead on the contemporary chamber ensemble (with its "classical" but one-on-a-part instrumentation)  and the composer-led ensembles (with their frequenty amplified and electronically mixed instrumentation).




Monday, July 27, 2009

Merce Cunningham, 1919-2009

Why walk when one can leap?

                                                             Move as if you've forgotten everything you thought you ever knew about how to pass, kick, fall and run;

                                       Break everything down into independent constituent parts, recombine, overlay (simultaneous unisons that are not in unisons, duos that are not together, etc.); 


                    Count like a dancer, steps neither in clock-time nor in musical time; 

The dance is distributed among the spines of the dancers, the dancers distributed throughout the entire available space, "front" is wherever in space each individual dancer faces;

                                                                 Aquire movement everywhere: from animals, pedestrians, the computer, stepdance, ballet; 

                                                                                              Torsos turn.

                   Events: constant interplay between practice, composition and repertoire;

                                     Dancers, musicians, artists working simultaneously but not at the same thing;

                                                       When do you ever find time to breathe?

                                                                 Feet. Can't. Fail.

Unter Regie: Under Direction and Getting Out From Under It?

A day or two ago, the German novelist Daniel Kehlmann delivered a speech for the opening of the Salzburg Festival, where he is this year's poet in residence and director of the literature program.  He decided, in an unusually personal way, to talk about contemporary theatre, in particular the established "director's theatre."  The talk was personal because Kehlmann spoke of his father, the late director Michael Kehlmann, who he describes as "a man who, before all else, saw in the director a servant of the author," yet whose career ebbed from early successes in the face of a theatre world that increasingly expected the director to place his or her ever-larger own imprint upon productions.  Kehlmann Sr. became "old fashioned" and had frustratingly fewer opportunities to do his work.   (Kehlmann describes his own decision to keep a distance from the theatre and write novels as a choice for a career field in which no one could keep him from his work).   Kelhmann's critique of the Regietheatre is rhetorically powerful because of the combination of this personal tone, especially when coming from an author who is not a reactionary, with the fact that he never explicitly names his target.  But, all the same: Bullseye.


Classical music has been under its own form of direction since sometime in the 19th century. There was conducting beforehand — we all know about Lully's fatal beat-pounding — but it was a modest and constrained task in which keeping measure was frequently shared between the primarius and the continuo players or any soloists.  But in the 19th century, the profession of the conductor quickly moved from keeping a beat to directing more complext traffic patterns,  cheering forces on, scolding, swearing, swooning, through something called interpretation, and now into the odd combination of tourism and administration.   Technique for conducting has never been standardized in the way that technique for an instrument has been, and success as a conductor depends uniquely upon psychological factors, impossible to measure objectively (save, perhaps in box-office draw) and often up as "charisma".  For almost any work of music requiring more than two handfuls of players, a director is now assumed to be required.  The conductor, to the best of my knowledge, was a development unique to the West (unique at least until the advent of the pop music producer who plays a similar role in repertoire that exists primarily in recorded form). While there are indeed ensemble leaders in other musical traditions — for example the dance masters in numerous ensemble musics — they tend to make noises themselves rather than mime before their players, thus being more fully integrated into the ensemble as players themselves.  

Increasingly the conductor became a recognized professional, someone who led musical proceedings and intervened in all parameters between the composer's instructions and the ensemble of players.  The institution of the professional conductor happens, and not coincidentally, to date fairly exactly with the invention of what we now identify as the classical canon,  and while conductors were and continue to be gatekeepers on the admission of new works to that repertoire, their prime responsibility has always been to the interpretation of canonical works.  One now compares the performances of works under the batons of various conductors with the zeal of baseball fans comparing pitching records; heck, there are even some performances out there (take Carlos Kleiber's Fifth and Seventh, for example) for which one is tempted to retire the score altogether. 

Closure of a canon — whether that of German theatre (in which a very limited number of "classical" works have now dominated the serious stage programs for generations), of "Classical Music,"  or literature (of which the most familiar examples, the holy writings of the three major monotheistic religions, have been closed to a frequently tragic effect),  is inevitably a moment in which creative energies — those which would have otherwise gone into the synthesis of new works — are now chanelled into interpretation.  I believe that the problem underlying the Director's Theatre is the same which classical (and, increasingly, pop) music have suffered: not interpretation, in and of itself, but the canonical closure which  requires interpretation to impress a contemporary identity on either the plays or the music.


My own response, as a composer, to the directorial culture has been akin to Kehlman's decision not to write for the theatre:  by and large, I avoid writing for orchestra.   There are some aesthetic reasons for this (I like a certain amount of detail that smaller ensembles can do better) and the practical (orchestal commissions, when costs of engraving and part extraction are added in, rarely pay off if the performance is only a one-off).   But I don't want to give up on the attractions of the orchestra altogether.  Some of my best musical experiences and certainly many of my dreams require the services of an orchestra.  I have had some good experiences with the other obvious alternative: specifying orchestra without conductor, but that is often a hard sell for ensembles with limited rehearsal time and often for those in which the conductor is, her- or himself, deciding on repertoire and is uninterested in programming works in which she or he is visibly superfluous.    

Fortunately, there continues to be a species of conductor for whom making music, and new music in particular, is a larger cause than their own ego, among them:  Jonathan Nott, Roland Kluttig, Peter Rundel, David Robertson, Sian Edwards, Lucas Vis, and Peter Eötvös.   Conductors of this quality have the ability to be faithful to the composer's text, yet coax orchestras in interpretations which bring out more than the sum of the score's qualities, surpress its weaknesses (yes, composers are fallable), and perhaps add something complementary of their own to the mix without the work losing its identity.  We are under direction, but not yet lost to it.  


Thursday, July 23, 2009

An Orchestration Lesson from Samuel Beckett

Orchestration is a form of personel management: who plays what, when they play it, and sometime even where they play it. Composers don't always think of orchestration this way,  and it might be useful to look at other art forms in which this aspect is more explicit:  the best playwrights and choreographers, for example, manage the exits and entrances of their players supremely well.

One of my pieces-in-progress is a wind quintet, a tricky genre due in large part to the fact that continuity has to be provided by players who have to breath every once in a while, thus inviting lots of entering and exiting in a continuous stream of changing scoring patterns.  But how might those patterns be sensibly organized, in a piece, for example, in which every combination of instruments is used only once? 

I recently stumbled onto a nice solution to this suggested by a stage work by Samuel Beckett, Quad, a "frantic mime" for four players, lights, and percussion.  Beckett wanted to organize Quad on the basis of a sequence in which every combination of the four players would be used, each combination in the sequence differing from its neighbor by the entrance or exit of one player, and when a player exits it is always the player who has been on stage longest.  

It turns out that the conditions Beckett set were mathematically impossible to realize with four players (making Quad another example of an inexorable and imperfect logic at work in Beckett), but solutions to what is now known as the Beckett-Gray code have been found for other numbers, among them n = 5, which immediately struck me as an interesting premise for a wind quintet, in which the player who has played longest is most deserving of a breather.   I have long used Gray and similar codes in other pieces (I recently mentioned a piece with some "anti-gray" coding), but I'm especially taken with the way in which the Beckett-Gray can respond to particular musical problems (in this case, continuity and the need for individual musicians to pause).  I expect to use it elsewhere, and not only in orchestration. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Something Wild

Writer Michael Chabon makes the case for the place of wilderness in young peoples' lives (here). Unfortunately, Chabon (or, one supposes, the editor who titled his piece) identifies this as a male phenomena, but otherwise I agree.  Growing up near open desert, mountain spaces, gravel pits, vacant yards, abandoned houses, and even cemeteries always meant preserves for adventure and learning empirically to deal with a measure of danger.  Building rock forts at the desert/mountain edge of Cathedral City or tree forts in Mt Baldy oak trees were probably the first unsupervised creative acts of any consequence in my life, and there's a direct line in my mind from these rough constructions to any music I've ever made.  It's a real pity that kids today are increasingly kept away from similar opportunities.  I suppose the trend to protect children from childhood misadventure is unavoidable (even in the first of the Great Brain books, set in Utah in the last decade of the 19th century, the parents decide to shut down a cave entrance to protect kids from getting lost), particularly given the shrinking spaces in which people are forced to live,  but there ought to be a place in city planning for wild spaces in which kids can learn to deal with danger in a useful way rather than be artificially isolated from it and discover playthings and playgrounds in real, found objects landscapes rather than in the toys bought, and parks built, for them.  

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lun Dun

I'm just back from a short trip to London.  Pleasure, no business, and tourism pure were the orders of the days.  I heard a concert in the Music We'd Like to Hear series, a perfect example of composerly initiative, self-reliance, and the pooling of resources, in which three composers — John Lely, Tim Parkinson, and my friend Markus Trunk (all roughly on the experimental side of the new music community) —  each program an evening of music.  I happened to be in town for the third and final even in this year's program, John Lely's evening, which was a portrait of Tom Johnson.  It was great to see and hear Tom and his music again  (Formulas for String Quartet, in particular, should be taken up by more groups) and also to hear a work of Lely's, The Parson's Code for Melodic Contours, which was a charming (and, in its way, post-Johnsonian) demonstration of the complexity of a simple melodic curve when projected simultaneously onto multiple pitch metrics.   The other highlights of London this trip were a reading by China Mieville, some decent Jamaican food,  a Punch and Judy show, a lot of pretty pictures in galleries unafraid of wallpaper, As You Like It in the Globe, and just enough rain to remind one that Britain is a good place to visit. And visit briefly. 

Brant's Progress

Sorting through some paperwork, I recently located an article from 1979, "Spatial music progress report" written by Henry Brant for the Bennington College Alumni magazine, Quadrille; I've recopied the text and scanned the images and this is now online at David Jaffe's Henry Brant homepage.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Summer Music

This has been another summer without much summer weather, which is mostly okay by me, a person of pallor with a low tolerance for the hot and humid.   But the weather has been stifling enough that composing in long stretches is not the order of the day so, instead, I'm composing something substantial in a number of modules,  alternating with other projects, the most rewarding of which have been copying music for some friends and doing a bit of research about some more senior American composers, some of which has ended up — should the deletionists have mercy — in either new or seriously revised Wikipedia entries.

The piece I'm composing is for out-of-doors, in a garden, perhaps, with a soloist and a number of smaller ensembles around the space.  The first module is finished: At the furthest perimeter of the space, three cyclists shall lap lazily, each lap taking the place of a Cagian time bracket into which each cyclist inserts either a bell ring or nothing, with each of the laps in which the bells ring making another step in a Gray Code non-repeating Hamiltonian circuit through a graph: 123, 213, 132, 321, 231, 312.  The sequence of ringing (or silence) in each lap is notated, as is the particular style of each ring (quick, long, long-short, anapest, sustained, muted), but the pitches of the bells are not fixed (they could be different from one another or identical) and the possibilities, within a lap, for sounds to be isolated or overlapping, are endless.  This is compositional territory that I really like, with a mixture of the calculated and specific, the arbitrary, contingent and surprising, and the elements more closely related to my own taste.  

I can already hear, in advance, that this piece is going to be highly sensitive to the maintenance of certain leisurely pace, with lots of time — and space — between sounds, but still yet inviting some sounds of portent or event.  I can't wait to hear what comes next.  


Forward Music Ltd.?

A bleg:  I bought some sheet music in the early 90's from Forward Music Ltd., in London.  (Good stuff, too: Barney Childs, John White...)  They seem to have fallen off the planet, or at least into realms that the internet doesn't reach, so if anyone has any contact information, I'd be much obliged.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Periodically on Paper

A list of journals (a) focused on new/contemporary/experimental music, (b) currently in operation, (c) published periodically and (d) available on paper.   I have not included journals by national music information centers, publishers, or membership organizations.  This list is definitely not complete; if you know of any further journals, please let me know and I'll update this item.


Computer Music Journal.

Contemporary Music Review.

ex tempore.

Journal of New Music Research.

Leonardo Music Journal.


The Open Space Magazine.

Organized Sound.

Perspectives of New Music.

Search: Journal for New Music and Culture

Signal to Noise.


The Sound Projector.

21st Century Music.


The Wire.


Circuit: Musiques Contemporaines

Revue & Corrigée



Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.


The Radical Music: Fragments of a Manifesto

Sounds articulate precise dimensions in physical space; musical sounds also articulate precise dimensions in social and private spaces.


Use the minimum of resources or means required. Less is often more.

Find the core question or idea in a work. Choose and use your materials to best frame that question or idea.

All musical ideas and all musical instruments (save the vibra-slap) are potentially useful. None is universally useful. (Save the vibra-slap, which is never useful.)

But having practiced the virtues of economy, allow yourself, from time to time, a bit of extravangance, some conspicuous production and consumption.   In the end, the economy of musical production is like the bellows of a concertina, expansion necessarily paired with contraction.


Go to extremes, in whichever parameter you use, including extremes of moderation.

Question parameters. A parameter is someone else's way of dividing up the aural experience. Explore the edges and boundaries of and between pitch and timbre and rhythm and dynamic and form. Explore and break boundaries between music and not-music.

Music, the physics of musical sound, the psychophysics of music, and the neuroscience of music are different concerns, each with its own territory and terminology. How might they relate? How might they not relate? What unique elements of cohesion does music bring to these disciplines and how can they extend the potential for new forms of musical activity?


Follow an idea in all its consequences. Find the end of a process or pattern. Push a system to its design capacity and then push beyond it.

However, if the consequences of a process are obvious, is it necessary to carry out the process in full?

Consider the possibility of multiple versions, or realizations, of a work. Or accept the first version and move on to the next work without looking (listening) back.

Break, subvert, or invert cause and effect.


There is an indeterminant number of ways of arriving at the same musical surface and it's not possible to determine the best or most efficient or most elegant way.  Worrying about this is an ethical issue, not an aesthetic one.

Start from nothing, from first principles, without assumptions and build a better (sound) world from the ground up.  Or start with everything and scrape, sculpt, and erase away, making the real, existing (wise, tired) world better. 

Limits and rules: anything we compose could, potentially, be through-composed,  by taste and experience, but sometimes the alternative, carrying out rules applied to a limited set of materials, in the manner of a game (a music game, like a language game) carries much less anxiety and leads to surprises rather than the habitual.


The radical music is about complexity.  But not necessarily that complexity.

Complexity is an elusive quality: It can be algorithmic complexity (for all that's worth) or the complexity of acoustical phenomena when heard in greater detail or the complexity of historical or social context.  Sometimes a highly dense phenomena can only be heard coarsely and sometimes the simplest of conditions can overwhelm the senses.  A universally applicable and acceptable definition of either "sufficient" or "over-" complexity is impossible. (To paraphrase Potter Stewart, you know it when you hear it). When people make and listen to sounds, to music, one form or another of complexity is inevitable. Don't give it a second thought. No, strike that, don't give it the first thought, but keep it well in mind as a second.

Every piece of music has an element of the improvisational, extemporaneous, accidental, capricious, prejudiced or arbitrary. Is a piece of music interesting because of this? Is a piece musical because of this?  


Experiment with scale, both the smallest, most local, and the grandest, most global, as well as the most anonymous quantities in-between.

Boredom is only a function of time, and a function with several variables.


Modest work done in a serious way, leavened with levity, can carry large ambitions.

History is both a playground and a minefield, and a composer can and will write and rewrite music history with reckless disregard for the difference between a playground and a minefield.

(2007, revised 2009)

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Just an Old-Fashioned Melody

We went to Wiesbaden this evening to hear (and see) Lulu.   It's astonishing how much of a period piece it has become, with the touches of alto sax and bar-room piano in the orchestra, the redundancy and charateristic curves of the various Lulu tunes and — still, best of all, as far as I'm concerned — the silent movie in the middle.  I imagine that in the 1930's, anything remotely like Lulu would have been shocking, even dissonant, in the Neo-Baroque digs of the Hessisches Staatstheater, but now, and even with a highly stylized production (read: lots of wet paint), it's just another night at the opera, and a night without Otis B. Driftwood at that.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Stand and Deliver!

Like Health Care systems everywhere, New Music suffers from a poor delivery system. The route from composer to performer to listener is often capricious, improvised, and instable, and more often a product of repertorial lethargy and personal relationships than an open market in matching musical interests.  

The web ought to be a perfect route for moving our scores to performers and attracting listeners to performances, but the low-level of web activity for new music — I keep track of 35 or 40 new music oriented blogs via bloglines and sometimes several days will pass without new messages — suggests that the new music community has a far-from-optimal approach to the web as a resource.   (It is surprising to me that  the largest traditional music publishers  and the license-collecting agencies — who have an immediate financial interest in making their wares public — do such a very bad job of it;  title searches at these sites are slow and miserable, and I'm someone who actually enjoys doing library research.) 

Here is one small proposal to help remedy this situation:  How about a blog or site dedicated to publicly registring new scores?  With probably several thousand active "serious" composers in the US alone, if only a couple hundred were to join such a registry, announcing each of their new title immediately upon composition, detailing and cross-indexing the resources required and how to obtain performance materials, one would presumably have a web page with many daily updates, thus both offering a useful way of matching performers with new scores and better mirroring the liveliness of our community.


Monday, July 06, 2009

The Fermata

A discussion at between two philosophers with interests in environmental issues, Jay Odenbaugh and Craig Callender, raises some serious questions about conservation and even the re-introduction of extinct species.  A proposal to conserve or revive any particular species is a non-chronological privileging of one particular historical moment or era over others, establishing the particular constellation of climate, fauna and flora of one moment as a benchmark against which any other state is less valued. This is an enterprise which strikes me as ultimately rather arbitrary, however immediately attractive any particular configuration may appear.  (I find their example of a restored Cave Lion population roaming Los Angeles is an especially nice addition to the long tradition of destruction-of-L.A.-narratives (see Mike Davis's City of Quartz for several more)).

It occurs to me that, in the modern invention of the "classical" music repertoire, with the predominance of late 18th through early 2oth century western European music in that repertoire, that a similar experiment in privileging one era over others — including our present era — has, in fact, already been carried out.  While it is true, on the one hand, that there has been a steady admixture of new composition and historically-informed recreations of early repertoire nipping at the edge of the trunk repertoire as well as occasional tributaries to more distant traditions, and, on the other hand, one can recognize certain qualitative benchmarks in the classical style — among them in the variability and complexity of the tonal language, the flexibility of ensemble textures, and the relationship between notation, oral transmission, and individual interpretation — one can also readily imagine a musical world in which some other, perhaps very different, repertoire or slice through repertoires had gained a similar level of prestige, and that other slice would as certainly have its own set of qualities to recommend it (moreover, the qualitative benchmarks to one musician's or listener's tastes may well be heard as deficits by another musician or listener).  

AFAIC, the problem here is not in the choice of musics to be privileged but rather in the phenomena that one music can aquire such privilege — often institutional in nature, and sharing the material power of that association — to the disadvantage of other musics.  I certainly have my own preferences and distastes and I have no problem that you do, too.  (In fact, that's what I value most about you.)  But I do have real problems when the choice has essentially been made for both of us by prohibiting the successful cohabitation of a diversity of musical materials, methods, styles, and traditions through some artificial institutional constraints on musical practice.  Unlike the streets of L.A., in which a decision to allow coyotes and mountain lions — or even genetically re-engineered mamoths, sabre tooths or cave lions — will have inescapable and immediate consequences to life, limb, environment and economy, it is the inherent advantage of music that there are no neccessary disadvanges to the cohabitation of a diversity of musical forms.  

Sunday, July 05, 2009

More free scores

TauKay Edizioni Musicali has a large number of free-to-download scores online, yet another example of the way the winds are blowing for sheet music.   While there will likely remain a role for sheet music printed on paper and physically delivered to musicians and libraries — and a particular niche for elegant editions — the time and cost efficiencies of direct downloads are increasingly hard to ignore.  Sheet music, on its own, for new and experimental music, is not an especially profitable business, the larger profit is in commissions and licensing for performances, broadcasts, and recordings; sheet music is an instrument in realizing performances, broadcasts, and recordings.  If traditional sheet music publishing is either slow or expensive, it runs the risk of leading to fewer rather than more performances, which makes publishing more of an obstacle than an assist to the music.

Sheet music in the form of scores and parts for choral groups, bands, and orchestras which becomes widely used (especially by educational institutions) can be profitable as a sale or rental operation.  The individual composer must decide whether he or she can handle such operations on their own, the profit expected covering his or her costs in time and materials, or be willing to share  license fees in return for allowing a traditional publisher to carry and promote their work, or to go the download route instead.  At present, I can well imagine many composers using a tactical mix of publication methods, with solo and chamber works largely issued online and ensemble works intended for institutional use promoted via online perusal/study scores but available as rental or purchase sets of scores and parts.

One reminder to performers:  if you download a work and perform it, identify the piece accurately on your program and also let the composer know about the performance directly.  In many cases, institutions pay blanket fees for to licensing organizations, so the particular performance will not cost you anything more and the main obstacle to the composer from eventually getting her or his fee is a lack of reporting.   Reporting is the least that you can do when the composer has provided the performance materials for free.



Friday, July 03, 2009

Henry Brant as composer and orchestrator for films

It's well-known that the late composer Henry Brant had an active parallel career as on orchestrator and composer for film, but a lot of his work took place under- or uncredited, which is standard practice in film music.  During his life, Brant was always modest about his work as an orchestrator for the scores of colleagues, characterizing it as always implementing the style and preferences of the composer rather than in his own.  Mr Brant's musical executor, Kathy Wilkowski, has been kind enough to share the following list of films on which he worked.  

First, his collaborations as orchestrator:

for Virgil Thomson:  The River (1937), The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936), Louisiana Story (1948; the score won Thomson the Pulitzer Prize in Music, Brant was credited as "music technical assistant".)

for Aaron Copland:  The City (1939)

for George Antheil:  The Scoundrel (1935)

for Marc Blitzstein: at least two films.

for Douglas Moore: Power on the Land (1940) , Youth Gets a Break (a WPA-related film; Brant stated: "it was for full orchestra; he left it to me."

for Alex North: The Misfits (1961), Cleopatra (1963), Cheyenne Autumn (1964),  Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff (1966), Africa (ABC-TV documentary, 1967),  2001: A Space Odyssey (the score was not used in the released film), The Devil's Brigade (1968),  Carny (1980; includes two compositions by Brant which were organ solos extracted from Brant's 1956 opera The Grand Universal Circus), Dragonslayer (1981), Good Morning Vietnam (1987)

for Gordon Parks: The Learning Tree (1970)

Brant's own work as a film composer was also extensive, particularly for documentary and independent films.  It includes:  Playing Fields of America (aka Sport Film) (1943), Capitol Story (aka Public Health, for the OWI)(1944), the Pale Horseman (OWI)(1944), Journey into Medicine (1946), Osmosis (1946), Outbreak (1947), The Big Break (1951), Ode to a Grecian Urn (1953; an avant-garde film to which Brant improvised on dulcimer, double-flageolet, ox-bells, double-ocarina, celesta, bass recorder, and Persian oboe), The Secret Thief (1956),  Your Community (1956), Dr. "B" (1957), Endowing our Future (1958), Fibres in Civilization (1958), Peace Music for U.N. Day (1959), a “Wind quintet film” (1960), Early Birds (1961),  Fertility & the Physician (1965), Jack Levine (1966), Chartres Cathedral (1970), Marcel Duchamp (1978; improvised by Brant), The Trappers (1981), and Noch Ist Polen Nicht Verloren (1991)

See also these posts about Brant: On the Nature of Things, and Brant on Orchestration

Billiard balls made of cellulose nitrate would occasionally explode on contact

Archiving your music is not easy:  try to keep it in several media at once (as paper originals and copies, as data on permanent and non-permanent formats), make multiple copies of each, and distribute the storage (i.e. one copy at home, one copy for the safe deposit box, one sent home to Mom).   Think plastics will last forever?  Think again:  here's a new aticle  on the degrading of plastics.  

Thursday, July 02, 2009


It's time for the annual notation reboot.  In addition to setting up new template files for the new edition of Finale, my primary engraving software, I've been doing practice runs to keep up some facility with the other notation software on my computer.  In addition to Finale, I have Lilypond, Sibelius, Turandot, Graphire Music Studio, and have recently downloaded Berlioz  (a commerical program now turned into freeware) and MuseScore (free and open sourced) to try.  Each product has useful features and a distinct workflow and I find that it's useful to have several approaches available to solving the same problem.  The new Finale (2010) doesn't have any dramatic changes, but does have two features that were worth the upgrade: an easier way of working with percussion and more possibilities for the import and export of graphics.

But don't get the impression that I'm spending all my composing time with my computer: a fresh box of black uni-ball micros has arrived,  I've ultra-sounded my Rapidographs and calligraphy pens completely clean, and have even purchased a fresh Noligraph, my favorite five-lined staff writer.   I'm now ready to compose with or without electricity and on the backs of envelopes or cocktail napkins should inspiration hit.  There are no more excuses: time to write.