Thursday, April 6, 2017

A follow-up (Post-Electronic)

So, in my last blog, I revealed that I'm moving away from electro-acoustic music, and I'm quite happy about the decision.  What, then comes next?
I do need to preface the next part of this monologue:  I actually like a lot of electro-acoustic music. I'm still enamored by lots of Manoury's music, and find that Répons (Boulez) is one of the most intriguing pieces of the later 20th century.  I've just lost patience with my own production efforts.

Charles Baker mentioned that Paul Lansky is also taking a similar route, moving towards acoustic works.  And, it has been noted that the late Gérard Grisey had done that quite some time ago. Actually, a lot of composers have done so!  But, all of them have take different routes, depending on their relationship to the medium.

There are a lot of composers who wrote a few electronic pieces and then returned to their other work. Jacob Druckman and Ron Perera certainly fall into this category.  For them, having created a significant contribution to the field (Druckman's Animus series of works, and Perera's textbook) seemed to, for the most part, quench their thirst for electronic timbres.  The bulk of their work since then has been largely unaffected by their work in the studio.  [Druckman's Valentine, which is a masterful of timbres and effects for solo bass, was written during the same time as the Animus pieces, exhibit an influence of electronic music, but the same cannot be said of the works of the 1970s.]

Then there is the case of Charles Wuorinen, who has produced two significant electronic works during his prolific career  (Time's Encomium and the tape part to Bamboula Squared).  In both works Charles viewed these as extensions of his own compositional practices rather than forays into new timbral horizons, although both pieces make use of some fantastic antiphonal effects.  The tape part for Bamboula Squared is now in a 4-track version (I actually re-synthesized it in csound).

I don't see myself as going on either of these routes.  What has always attracted me to electronic music was the new timbres, the spatial aspect, the bending of acoustical principles. Grisey (and others) discovered how to accomplish all of that without electronics. Listen to his Partiels, and you'll know what I'm talking about.  There are long passages where the timbres are comprised of multiple extended instruments, and you'll swear that there is a tape part for the work.  Okay, he 'cheats' by using an accordion (which has such an unusual color) and a Hammond organ, but still...

So, the big question: where to go next?  Incorporate or reject?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Why I'm not writing Electro-Acoustic pieces (for now)

I'm quite happy to be writing music again these days. It's been a while, and it after a few false starts, I was able to produce the Concerto for Four, written for the Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra. The piece will be performed in April, 2017, and I'm exhilarated.

Part of the reason of my joy was the ease of it all. You see, for the last number of years, I've been writing electro-acoustic pieces. That meant that a considerable amount of my compositional time would be dedicated to creating an Max patch: deciding upon the effects to be utilized, integrating them all into a single patch, tinkering with the settings until the results were to my liking. That last step was where I spend most of my time, often up to the dress rehearsal.

But for this piece, I finished my composing, edited the score and parts, and I was done. There was a bit of unease - shouldn't I be doing something right now? Isn't there something I should be worrying about?

Now, this is where it gets interesting. You see, the Concerto for Four will be performed in April, and hopefully afterwards as well. I may make some changes after the first performance, and that information will be entered into the Sibelius files. As with any composition, someone will request the score and parts, and they'll be printed out and sent off to wherever the performers are. I don't have to really do anything to the parts.

And here's why I'm backing away from Max pieces. When I get a request for an older Max piece, I most likely have to recompile the software. The OS changes frequently, which means that some features don't function any longer. And, since Max itself has changed, I now have to update a number of drivers and objects. Sometimes, I have to substitute new objects for old, discontinued objects, which means that I now have to re-write a number of settings. Hence, I'm back to tinkering - on a 'old' piece.

This is where it gets frustrating. You see, if someone asks me for, say, my Improvisations for Alto Flute, I'm quite confident that the Alto Flute has not changed much since I wrote the piece in the late 1980s. And, if it has changed (instruments are always being modified), the new flute would incorporate all the features of the old flute. That is, the 'new' alto flute would be able to play more (not less!) than the 'old' alto flute. In other words, I'd send off my piece to the flute player and it would be performed.

In short, the electro-acoustic pieces are never really 'finished'. There is always some work to be done, and it turns into an awful cycle. At least that has been my experience. For now, I'm going unplugged.