Thursday, December 13, 2012

Same and Different

One of the qualities I value most in music is that it works for us as wholes which are marked by continuities and contrasts, and this despite the fact that we have such a weak and fluid notion of identity and difference in musical materials. The "same" audible stuff can be heard completely differently in alternative contexts; even fa plain & simple vanilla repetition, made by just shoving a bit of music a little further along in time, creates contrast by both the experience of that time shift and through the formation of a connection to the original statement.  At the same time, musical coherence depends upon being able to connect or hear relatedness between stretches of music although they many vary in detail or in substance. (All of this depends upon the related faculties of memory and forgetting, but that's a topic for another day, another day.)

I've been finishing up two pieces in which everything depends upon this fluidity between the musically same and different.  The first, a series of divisions or variations over a ground bass, is more straightforward due to the historical precedents, although my belatedness in working to a familiar ostinato (La Follia) places perhaps special pressures on the side of making differences, if not innovation altogether.  The second, 100,000,000,000,000 Pieces for Clarinet is more ambitious.  It also has a historical model, but the model, indeed its very form, is not a piece of music but rather a collection of sonnets of the same size and similar name by Raymond Queneau.  The unique problem here is that I have to write pieces with some certainly as to their balance between coherence and contrast, although I will never be able to hear the vast majority of the pieces in their entirety (indeed, at the given tempo, if played non-stop, a performance of all of the pieces would last more than 285 million years) composing only the pool of 140 ordered segments from which all of the pieces are assembled.

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