Monday, January 18, 2016

T is for Thread

I like to misuse the phrase "through-composed"; instead of referring to an opera without formal divisions (into recitatives, arias, ensembles etc.),  My misuse is idiosyncratic and more generic, using it for pieces that are composed (and subsequently performed) from a beginning to an end, without much in the way of pre-planning getting into the way, and more or less as a single continuity.  But that doesn't mean — for me at least — an actual absence of any structural substance or the guidance of planning or theory or rules, rather that this substance, and the plans and theoretical stratagems and tactical rules, simply become apparent or articulate to me during the actual composing.  And as they become apparent, they either form a set of constraints which I strictly obey in service of — let's call it — coherence, or I find myself doing things which irritate or, eventually, break my provisional sense of coherence and force a reformulation (which may be formal, notated in sketch or words, or informal, on the fly and in my head) to restore, if not an order, at least an orientation, to an apparently larger musical world that is the piece in progress.

I could characterize this project as drawing and following a line (with all regards to my teacher, La Monte Young, my lines tend to not be straight: they wander, or better meander (I've long wanted to write a piece called Meander Scar (which would refer to the long-term motion of river beds, but also the sculptural shadow drawing of Richard Tuttle))) but line is perhaps too loaded musically (and more than musically, see Paul Klee's line taking a walk in his wonderful Pedagogical Sketchbook) and I think too immediately of lines=voices in early polyphony or the long line in romantic melody, and I'm thinking here of an aspect of continuity that is much larger than tune (tune being the breadbox of musical quanta, in which a note is a bite, a measure is a slice, and a whole loaf the stuff that ends in crusts) and, so. even better, I go with thread.   Threads have length but not much width, can be held taught or lax or twisted, can be led or followed or go astray, be spooled away, dropped, broken, torn.   As a composer, I do all of these things with a thread, and as extemporaneous as each stitch may appear (or sound, in this case), this isn't automatic stitching or sewing or writing, because pulling a thread is an act of control, with a history and a forward direction.

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