Friday, November 30, 2007

November the Thirtieth

For small orchestra and chorus (wordless). Ca. 3'. A PDF is here. A modest coda to the month.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Twenty-Ninth of November

For piano. PDF file (52KB) here.

Idle hands in a waiting room make for facile play. Or maybe not.

This project (30 pieces in a month with 30 days) has been, in part, about compositional efficiency in the face of a lifestyle that yields almost no "free time" to compose and what precisely the adoption of such efficiency might apply to musical quality. Entering this score, for example, into the computer (point, click) took more time than sketching the piece out (uni ball micro on the backside of a patient's information form). [Switching back to manuscript actually seems a real alternative, if speed is the only problem.] This pace has encouraged one good trend and one possibly bad trend: the good trend is that of moving toward the automation of habits, which has, paradoxically, made me more aware of, and less likely to give into, the habitual. The possibly bad trend has been a tendency to accept the first possible solution to any problem that arises rather than to be patient and wait for a better, if not the best, solution.

These have largely been unedited performances, and each is an experiment in doing something I would not otherwise have done (or at least done in public): a chorale, or a bit of classicism (neo- or not), for example. The pieces have also tended to have minimal length, to be more examples, as might be expected of experimental results, rather than finished product, but that's not automatically a bad thing. Putting the label of the experimental on this work is a bit of an alibi, I admit readily, in that it allows for both failures and successes (and much of the muddiness in-between), as well as for moving outside of one's usual proclivities, many of which are intimately associated with the professional identities that are so important nowadays.

Getting the Time Right

This story (about a group who secreted themselves into the Panthéon in Paris in order to fix the clock) touches my anarchist heart. Another hint, perhaps, that our world hasn't fall apart due to the hidden interventions of benevolent souls working outside of both state and corporate regimes and routines.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November the Twenty-Eighth

For three unison orchestras. Ca. 10'30''. PDF file (155KB) here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Twenty-Seventh of November

A three voice canon. Another 9x9-er for November. PDF file (46KB) here.

Reception History

Here's a time-lapse video by the composer Lee Weisert, assembled from samples taken every minute, of someone listening to the complete recordings of works by Ferneyhough over twenty-four hours time. It's interesting, although perhaps inevitable -- coincidentia oppositorum and all that -- that such complex music should elicit such a minimalist response.

My own youthful all-nighters usually involved minimalist musical fare, more food and drink, and were seldom done in solitaire. But then again, those days were generally more convivial, as well as better fed and better lubricated. It's sobering to consider what conviviality we have lost in a generation's time.

In any case, I predict that there will someday be a dissertation on the importance of the sofa in the reception of recorded contemporary music, importance that is second only to those exquisite Anatolian carpets, upon which guests of Morton Feldman were allowed to lounge like beached whales while luxuriating in Feldmaniana of exquisite length and aural charms.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tracing Bailey's Steps

The estimable Paul Bailey has an audio file of the first act of his opera retrace our steps (text: Gertrude Stein) online here.

Bailey has written a bit about the development of the Southern Californian minimal style associated with the Cartesian Reunion Memorial Orchestra, here and its wake. Bailey's music is very much in this spirit, which is a fine state of mind & affairs.

November the Twenty-Sixth

For eight snare drums, the audience encircling. Simple wave motion and a perfect shuffle or two (as with a deck of playing cards). PDF file (71KB) here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Twenty-Fifth of November

If I had a nickle for every piece of music that started out as a sketch on a cocktail napkin, I might not be rich, but I'd still have a lot of nickles. For string quartet. Ca. 20".

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Twenty-Third of November

For cornet with flute, bass clarinet, contrabass. A short study in near unisons, hockets, drones, once again in square root form. PDF file (57KB) here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

November the Twenty-Second

A harvest chorale. Sometimes you have to wonder if the essence of our profession is captured by the experience of eight hours spent worrying about a pair of direct fifths. PDF file (17KB) here.

Complex Sources

I mentioned that my small item for String Quartet, November the Twentieth, was an hommage, and was then reasonably asked "to whom?". Well, it's a hommage to Sibelius, with the intervention of Douglas Leedy's remarkable String Quartet (1965-75), which bears its own dedication: I.S.I.M., and again, Sibelius is meant. Leedy's Quartet (a pdf (141KB) of the score is online here -- I'm responsible for any errors in the typesetting), is very much a part of the west coast radical tradition, with its diatonicism, just intonation, extremely long tones, and the interlocking rhythmic patterns (in this case, relatively of prime lengths) that only come out together after long cycles. The element of Sibelius's technique that Leedy and I have zeroed-in on here is his achievement of complex texture through the use of canons (especially those canons in the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies) and patterns that don't readily coincide. But such techniques are, of course, old hat: whether in early music, or in Brahms, Webern, Stravinsky, or Sibelius, good ideas are always good ideas.

The ever-alert Tim Rutherford Johnson has a brief and wise item on the performance and reception of complex music. He comes close to a point that I've long pondered, and that is the shared agenda in the experimental and new complexity communities, and the shared shut-out from mainstream performance environments. While both communities have had their own forms of détente with segments of the mainstream -- experimentalists via an openness to tonality in one form or another, and complexites via an intellectual stance that buys academic cred, the natural alliance between the two has seldom been made. The exceptions, for example in the work of the remarkable English composer Christopher Fox, are rare but illustrative of the potential for musical invention here. In many ways, Leedy's score is one of the most difficult to perform quartets in the repertoire. This is especially because of his use of extremely long and slow portamenti in the just intonation environment, a combination which creates beating phenomena both vivid and temporally disorienting, or, as one would have said a west coast generation ago, hallucinogenic.

I've decided that November the Twentieth is interesting and attractive enough that it needs to be expanded into a real string quartet (think Pinocchio becoming a real boy). Like my sixth quartet, it's part of my secret battle with the forces-that-shall-not-be-named who really don't want the words classical or minimal or experimental to have any currency beyond their negation or obsolescence. Well, bully.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Gamelan Selonding

I highly recommend this documentary film (click "Video abspielen") by the Swiss ethnographer Urs Ramseyer on the Gamelan Selonding of Tenganan village in East Java. Tenganan is understood to be a "Bali Aga" community, retaining many aspects of culture predating East Javanese immigration to Bali, and the Selonding is an "archaic" or "ritual" ensemble, treasured as a sacred heirloom, composed of metallophones assembled from large iron slabs, in a unique 7-tone tuning that accomodates a wide variety of pentatonic modes, with both pelog and slendro types included. The ensemble is modular in composition, and can be combined and recombined in numerous ways, usually with complex but efficient interlocking parts. The instruments are played two-handed with hard wooden mallets, the largest of which resemble long bones, and the players must also dampen the keys with their palms. The documentary begins with a pair of musicians rehearsing, and their simultaneous vocalizations provide underlying melodies and composite figurations. Amazing ensemble music.

(Also very interesting is this film of Iseh villagers rhythmically stamping rice -- it's probably a chicken and egg question of whether the rice-stamping patterns derive from musical patterns or vice versa, but virtuosity is virtuosity, no matter what the medium.)

Arts & Crafts

Someone recently posted a query to the Silence list about John Cage and the Arts & Crafts movement. I posted this response:

The phrase "Arts & Crafts" refers here to two related but distinct movements. The first was the well-known professional movement in architecture, the decorative arts, and to a more limited extent in gallery arts inspired by the international, and particularly British, models, but soon marked by local styles, most notably the "craftsman" (or "mission") houses and furniture and the Batchhelder tiles. Californian styles looked not only to British models, but also to colonial Californian and Asian influences. My own great-grandmother's house in Paso Robles was a typical Arts and Crafts bungalow, of white plastered adobe, red tile roof, with a mixture of decorations as much Asian as European. The second was a popular movement for homemade decorative arts, and Cage's mother presumably had a shop specializing in this market; it is often overlooked the extent to which the professional movement trickled down into amateur activities in every area from bookbinding to ceramics. While the US has hobbyists everywhere, it was truly on the west coast that the movement became an essential part of the lifestyle, and the geographical setting was especially ripe for admixtures of Asian and European elements. There was even amateur arts and crafts architecture: the house I grew up in, in the Russian neighbohood Claremont, was one of a number of houses built and designed by the owners themselves during the depression years, and assembled from local rock, torn-up chunks of pavement, and other materials salvaged from earthquake remains; the houses incorporated either "mission" or more anglophile elements. This do-it-yourself attitude was a real presence in the schools, community recreation programs, and private courses, and it's not difficult to recognize its presence in the working attitude of both Cage and -- perhaps even more so -- Lou Harrison (who is explicit about his debt to Wm. Morris, even setting Morris's Rapunzel). I would even go so far as to associate the music pedagogy of Cage's Aunt Phoebe, with whom he collaborated, with this attitude.

The Twenty-First of November

Sometimes resistance is futile (remember, these are 30 Exercises in Style & Possible Solutions to Assorted Musical Problems). A minuet and trio assembled from a dice game-in-the-making. PDF file (36KB) here.

Mumma reviewed

There's a nice review in the N.Y. Times (here) of Gordon Mumma's recent concert in the "Experiments in the Studio" series at the Merce Cunningham studios. Gordon was (and is) my teacher, and his recent work has included a proliferating series of piano pieces, many of them brief, but none insubstantial, and each compositionally elegant in one way or another. Although Mumma's focus has shifted from the analog (and early digital) technologies he developed in the 60s and 70s, the sonic focus, on resonance and balance, remains the same.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

November the Twentieth

For string quartet, an hommage. Ca. 2'50'', feels like a sketch for something much longer. PDF file (66KB) here. (The PDF score was revised slightly, so please re-download!)

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Nineteenth of November

For wind quintet. Mostly a constrained random walk across a toroid manifold. Bound and blindfolded. Or maybe not. PDF file (69KB) here.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November the Eighteenth

For piano, microphone, oscillator, and ring modulator. PDF file (60KB) here. Tempo and dynamics tbd in rehearsal.

Ten Recordings

Conductor and cellist Kenneth Woods blogs his list of ten must-have recordings. I'm now well into the must-not-have recordings part of my life and live musical experiences are always more vivid for me, but here are ten recordings which I can no longer escape, as they are an intimate part of my musical biography:

Sour Cream: The Passion of Reason. The recorder trio Sour Cream (Frans Bruggen, Walter van Hauwe and Kees Boeke) played an avant-garde repertoire stretching from the 14th through 20th centuries. The playing was always smartly anachronistic.

The Art of Courtly Love - David Munrow & The Early Music Consort of London. Scholarship and performance has now moved on from the Murow era, with vocal performances now the center of intention instead of Munrow's instrument chest, but the liveliness of the playing style and the enduring strangeness of the repertoire remain unmatched.

The old box set of lps of the Heifetz/Piatigorsky concerts. This is old white guys playing music by dead white Europeans under all the wrong circumstances and while they have some stylistic affections that can't be gotten away with anymore, it should be recognized that in these late recordings, Heifetz's musical command overrules his technical gifts and the use of portamento and vibrato is everywhere judicious, even aristocratic. Piatigorsky, on the other hand is as great as always, and should be recognized for his devotion to investigating historical performance practice (read this interview with Dimitry Markevitch for an appreciation of G.P.). This is truly fabulous chamber music. I borrowed this set from the Montclair (CA) public library so often that they had to retire it.

Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7, Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Carlos Kleiber. Two recordings that leave me speechless.

Ives: Symphony Nr. Four, second movement, conducted by José Serebrier. I owned exactly two quadraphonic recordings (the other was The World of Harry Partch, another recording that was very important to me, from the age of 13 or so) and seldom was there such a good match between technology and music -- the sound design is used perfectly to guide the listener through the architecture of the second movement, at each turn a new room, a new landscape, the listener moving through the spaces while the sounds track their own courses. I've still not heard a performance that really "gets" the transcendental fourth movement of this symphony, but the time will surely come.

The 25-Year Retrospective Concert of the Music of John Cage, the 1958 Avakian recording. There is an extraordinary continuity in the sound quality of Cage's music: straightforward, direct, with dry sounds directly and suddenly adjoint to resonant sounds. This live recording is a piece of its time, and the audience takes much of it light-heartedly, but that's okay.

Webern, Complete Works, conducted by Robert Craft. Musicians now play Webern with accuracy and stylistic sensitivity that were near-impossible to achieve in 1958, and Boulez's two sets are now considered the standard. But Craft's recordings were all that were available for a generation, and for all that they get wrong, they are never boring, influencing a generation of musicians. From Darmstadters to west coast minimalists-in-the-making, it was the style of these performances, which play down the Wiener Espressivo character in favor of a dry and even "objective" tone, that had decisive influence. Opinions about Craft the conductor have inevitably been colored by opinions of his other activities, and much of his conducting was done in place of or alongside another musician - Stravinsky -, and often under next-to-impossible rehearsal and recording situations, making it difficult to sort out Craft's musical contributions. Nevertheless, I believe that a dispassionate assessment of Craft is due, one that will both assert his historical importance and sort out the best of his performances.

La Monte Young: The Well-Tuned Piano. I contributed to the liner notes on this, so my bias is known. Young makes a decisive counter-argument to John Cage, in his rejection of Cage's acceptance of interpenetration between music and the world around it. I believe that Young's long-lasting impact on music making will be in the area of continuity, allowing a piece of music to stake out a particular sonic territory and then to luxuriate in it for as long as it takes.

Richard Maxfield: Electronic Music (Advance) made with a modest studio but with fabulous technique, Maxfield's pieces are alway inventive solutions to the problem of the fixed nature of a recording.

Alvin Lucier: I am sitting in a room (the original recording). The tension between the musically absolute and the psychological in music has never been made more vivid.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

November the Seventeenth

For English Horn, Contrabassoon, Wagner-Tuba, Celesta & Harmonium. ca. 1' PDF file (37KB) here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

November the Sixteenth

For winds & percussion. PDF file here. This is about four minutes and forty seconds of music, and it does some things that make me very happy, but the pressure of doing it in a few afternoon hours probably kept it from going as far as it should; it has the feel of a symphonic précis and the material here seems rich enough to be extended by another order of magnitude when subjected to the right combinations of chopping and stretching and tossing and turning and straining and churning and all those good things that composers are want to do.

No alibi

Tim Rutherford-Johnson of The Rambler points to a new blog that begins with an item about scholars whose favorite music is not necessarily the music that they study. As a card-carrying PhD in Ethnomusicology, I definitely know the problem, and I can recognize the advantages -- if not necessity -- that some dispassion brings to scholarship. Personally, however, I couldn't swallow that, as any music I'm going to engage with, I going to engage with passionately and life is too short to devote to any music other than that I like best. My engagement with music -- playing music by other, making my own, and even, yes, writing about it (Rollo sez: You call that writin'? Themz fightin' words!) is within those limits. I've played gamelan, for example, for 29 years, now, and simply can't bring myself to commit an act of scholarship about it (no loss actually, as there is such brilliant work being done by Sumarsam, Perlman, Brinner, Weiss, and many others). Or this: a lot of my friends and contemporaries come to the music they study or even the music they make with a caveat: Well, really, it's (fill-in-the-blank) that I like. And whether that blank be filled with some form of jazz or rock or hiphop or bluegrass or pseudo-polynesian lounge music, the position of their professional repertoire relative to their real-but-sort-of-secret passion is too often used as an alibi. And among composers, this is a particularly insidious alibi, in that the user can have it both ways: in Newmusicland, he or she can pass as a refugee from a more popular music who has finally seen the light, and among those less comfortable with new music, they reassure with their popular bona fides (just think of Milton Babbitt's affection for Tin Pan Alley).

I have a recurrent and unlikely, but nevertheless scary, nightmare: a state more authoritarian than the present one (probably right wing, but in the end it really doesn't matter) arrives in full force, and in the middle of the night, I'm awoken by the music police, probably deputized from the membership rolls of the leading musicological organizations, come to check on my musical preferences. And I have no alibi. The music I write about and the music I make is all music that I actually like...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Fifteenth of November

A little Waldmusik for wind quintet. PDF file (49KB) here. I almost feel like I'm cheating here. This is hardly a stand-alone movement, more a sketch, or perhaps, together with The Thirteenth of November, a movement among several more.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise. (Blake: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell)

November the Fourteenth

For Soprano, with flute, vibraphone & piano. Text: Wm. Blake, from An Island in the Moon. PDF file (78KB) here. I have some deep uncertainties about the dynamic level of this: it could be very quiet, or matter-of-factly mezzo-something, depending, I suppose, on how one deals with the hidden soprano. But that, my friends, is a problem faced by many others, some of them much less foolish than myself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Thirteenth of November

For wind quintet. Three minutes or so, but could have gone on (and just still might go on) for much longer. PDF file here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

November the Twelfth

for flute, clarinet, harp & percussion. PDF file (69KB) here.


Pliable, of On an Overgrown Path, has a pair of posts (here and here) about contemporary Requiem settings. Personally, I can't imagine writing a Requiem and I certainly don't want a Requiem sung when I exit this plane. The idea of eternal rest as the default setting for an afterlife doesn't sit well with me. I'd much prefer some eternal unrest, to continue to agitate, to be productive in one way or another, a possibility not necessarily excluded by all theologies. At the very least, I could follow Cummings' Uncle Sol and start a worm farm, or better still, have my ashes placed in an hourglass (so that my wife won't have suffer me get out of working too easily), or best of all, there'll be a big gate to Heaven, at which you're handed your harp and your parts to the official canon of heavenly sheet music, and a second gate just next to Heaven, at which you're handed a pen that never runs dry and an eternal supply of blank manuscript paper. This Next-To-But-Not-Quite-Heaven, with its canon in the making rather than a canon alreadymade, seems like an infinitely more interesting place than Heaven itself.


I was shocked, shocked (1) to discover, this morning, that Renewable Music had entered the top ten reblog sources over at New Music ReBlog. This being a distress signal for over-production, I promise now to do my very best to return to the respectable second tier where scoundrels, artists, and the constitutionally lazy ought to reside.

The truly shocking thing about this is that I'm someone who has run hot and cold when it comes to talking or writing about music. There have literally been years when I've thought that there was nothing to be said or, at least, I had nothing to say about music. During those times, I've usually done my best to simply shut up. The Age of the Blog (2) just happened to arrived during a spell when this was not the case.

From time-to-time, in these pages, I have written things that are provocative. But so far, complaints have been limited. While I suppose that this is mostly a measure of low readership and low readability (3), I do have to wonder if in part this is because new music has entered the Age of the Blog at a time in its development when its capacity to provoke, excite, or, indeed shock, is at a low point. If so, we've simply got to get back to work.
1. Shamelessly sentimentality-betraying movie reference.
2. Shamelessly age-betraying allusion to the "Age of the Feuillton" in Das Glasperlenspiel.
3. Slight exaggeration. A reading level analysis of this blog notes that the average number of words in a sentence was 18.2, the percentage of words with three or more syllables is 17.55%, the average syllables per word is 1.62, the Gunning Fog Index is 14.32, the Flesch Reading Ease is 51.54, and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade 10.61. On the basis of the Gunning Fog Index, readership here is expected to be somewhat higher than (College) sophomoric, the Flesch Index indicates that it is slightly more difficult that the 60-70 score desired for general audiences, and the Flesch-Kinkaid grade is higher that that of the New York Times, but lower than that of Academic Papers. Okay, dudes, I can live with that.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Eleventh of November

For harp. With mixed chromatic tetrachords (suggested just intonation tuning at the end of the score). A pair of gnossiennes in greco-javanese style. PDF file (48KB) here.

The Job Title

I like my job title: a composer is simply someone who puts things together, an assembly worker, if you will. German, in addition to Komponist, also has Tonsetzer, tone-setter, like typesetter, perhaps an even more concrete and craftsperson-like term. But Hungarian has Zeneszerző, literally a music catcher. This suggests that the music is already out there, and is simply captured, as one would catch butterflies. I'm not a platonist, so I can't believe that an ideal form of music exists out there which our merely real music captures, channels, or reflects, but I certainly do appreciate the sentiment.

The score so far

I'm now ten pieces into the project of composing and publishing a score each day for a month. The rules are simple: each piece has to be complete and be completed within the 24 hours of its appointed day. So far, of the ten, one is for keeps. Two, maybe three pieces might, with revisions, have a life beyond this project. The others belong to the aether. And of the handful of pieces that didn't make it into the daily shuffle, most should stay sketches, but at least one is still irritating my fancy. On the whole, an average with which I can live.

One fact has been made vivid by this project: there is never enough time to compose and composing time usually gets shoved into the worst moments in my schedule. Yesterday, for example, Saturday the tenth, between the kids, the household, some translation work, and a long-postponed invitation to neighbors for dinner, exactly two hours of time in the late afternoon were left for composing, editing and publishing a piece. Much of those two hours was spent on a really wrong musical turn and then an uncooperative computer (my computing situation is far from ideal). But somehow the piece came together in its own weird way, and it may just be a keeper.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

November the Tenth

Open score for three or more instruments over a ground bass. Having archaic and eating it, too. PDF file (52KB) here.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Food Blogging, briefly

I like recipes that appear to have been given (a la Ruggles' famous chord) the test of time, compositions that come from that mysterious balance between experiment and experience. Charles Shere, composer and writer, offers his recipe for Cassoulet, and it appears to be a renewable recipe of the first order. During my time in Hungary, I became a partisan of Sólet, Cassoulet's simpler cousin, and a dish that is typical of Budapest Jewish cooking (and presumably related to the eastern European Cholent). It's dominated by paprika and garlic and topped off, in the classic version, with smoked goose leg and stuffed goose neck. (A plain but pleasant version was usually to be had on Fridays at the Kádár étkeszde on Klauzál tér). With Winter now rushing in, the idea of the perfect bean casserole has gained some urgency.

The Ninth of November

for string trio ca. 1'45''

Some old fashioned electronic music

You've got to hand it to the NASA publicity machine. A topic making it's way through the popular science press is the "similarity" between radio signals captured by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft from Saturn and Louis and Bebe Barron's 1956 electronic soundtrack to the film Forbidden Planet. I'm a sucker for old fashioned beeps-and-slurps electronic music and probably take a bit too much pleasure in both examples. But while there is a resemblance between the two, it is the product of some substantial compositional activity -- transposition upwards (44x) and editing -- on the Cassini sample and that compositional aspect is probably responsible for most of the resemblance. Similar operations with other radio signal will likely produce similar results.

It's too bad that this exercise was not used to bring more attention to the name Christiaan Huygens, which does have some real musical significance, in his investigations of the perception of sound (repetition pitch, in particulat) and his independent discovery of the 31-tone equal division of the octave, a natural extension of the meantone intonation prevalent in his time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

November the Eighth

for clavichord. PDF file (46KB) here.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Seventh of November

The theme of this week might be: write another piece that someone out there really doesn't want you to write. While I haven't gone as far as writing the piece that David Feldman really doesn't want me to write (that's a campaign theme song for John McCain, and yes, it'd be a cold summer day in Tuscon before I'd tackle that one) , writing a piece for three recorders that is simultaneously serial, diatonic (plus or minus ficta), and touched by chance operations is probably a close second. But as they say, there's still plenty of music to be written in [fill in the blank]. A PDF file of the complete score (4 pages, ca. 2', 56 KB) is here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

November the Sixth

A bit of a conceptual piece, this one, a(n) (cheap) imitation of a landmark bit of 20th century music. The inital idea was to completely level the pitch field to a single tone, retaining everything else in the music, but that idea soon gave way to replacing the pitches in the original with tones corresponding to a single harmonic series. Given that new tonal context, what sense and semblance of the original was left? This was the first piece in this project in which I have had substantial doubts, uncertain whether to put my name on the score, let alone publish it. Moreover, this was the kind of concept piece that easily gets misunderstood. But there are a couple of moments here (a cristalline chord with flute reiterations on top, and a small trumpet melody) that so favor my own musical tastes, and if there is anything that new musicians are used to, it's having no one "get" your jokes, that I've put aside the doubts. Heck, I might even do the 2nd & 3rd movements.

A PDF file of the score (92KB) is here.

Talking in parallel

One fascinating aspect of musical reception is the variety of ways in which different approaches to music use alternative vocabularies. A trained musician, a recording engineer, a physicist, and a cognitive or neuroscientist each has her own set of terms, and although there are often parallels, they are often interesting divergences. Timbre, for a musician, for example, is not precisely and not just spectra for a physicist, but rather represents an interactive complex of physical attributes. This page, at Stereophile, is a glossary of subjective audio -- the evaluation of recorded sound quality -- and I have found reading the whole thing to be quite useful in clarifying my thoughts about the evaluation of the related, but in many ways very different, situation of live music. Richard Parncutt's book Harmony: A Psychoacoustical Approach is a superb introduction to the psychoacoustics of music and the full text is online here.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Fifth of November

miniature for violin and piano. PDF file (43KB) here.

Twelve-tone who?

The evil twelve-tone establishment is a running trope in Newmusicblogtown. Tempers these days tend decidedly to run hot against both them and their works and deeds.

My own take on this trope has been that, despite a certain prominence in very narrow circumstances and for only a brief time, there were never actually very many of them, and many of those turned rapidly apostate from any twelve-tone orthodoxy in their beliefs and practices. While a few twelve-toners rose to institutional prominence, they'd never really occupied that many seats of power in aggregate and while there were probably a few in those seats who did abuse the power they had, this was probably not done in greater proportion than elsewhere, in other seats with other aesthetic or technical agendas.* I happen to like some twelve-tone music very much, and even think that it's altogether possible that plenty of good music is still to be written in some version of the technique. But generally I find that there is a great distance between a Babbitt, on one hand, with an uneven but sometimes brilliant catalogue, and his camp followers, on the other. But getting to that sometimes brilliant music, is often very difficult because of (a) the atmosphere of intellectual hubris with which it has been smothered, especially the claim -- sometimes implicit, sometimes not -- that twelve-tone technique carried with it a unique musical and intellectual cache and (b) yes, the exclusionary musical politics played (whether in dishing out fellowships, Fromm funds, or BeeMee prizes) was often so loud that you couldn't hear the music.

All that said, here's my bleg: Who, exactly, are the leading or prominent believing and practicing twelve-toners nowadays and from which places of power and influence do they abuse and scheme? I want names. Besides Babbitt, Wuorinen, Roger Reynolds...

*Quoting myself: Tragic but true: when the smoke had cleared, the new music wars had been won not by towners up or down or coasters east or left, but by a rear guard of trained symphonic band composers from big state universities in the middle of the country. The surviving rebels were exiled, retrained, or forced into dayjobs in data processing and direct telephone sales.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

November the Fourth

[Click to enlarge the jpeg image.] Preterite: n. lover of the past, one passed over. Assembled from chorale residua, anti-parsimonious, voice leading errors dispatched accordingly. Singing words as if you mean them sometimes requires setting words as if you have forgotten any meaning they might once have had.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Unknown Harry Partch

You would have thought that the superb scholarship of Bob Gilmore and Philip Blackburn had exhausted the subject of Harry Partch. Well, apparently, not. Read here for all about Harry Partch and the Deathly Hockets.

(Why is musician humor so geeky?)

The Third of November

for three instruments, two treble, one bass (e.g. clarinet, muted trumpet, bassoon) ca. 2'10''. PDF file (67KB) here.

Friday, November 02, 2007

November the Second

Out-of-doors music for five flutes or multiple quintets of flutes. 10'12''. PDF file (153KB) here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The First of November

For (any) clarinet.
Click image to enlarge (jpeg). PDF file (76KB) available here.