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.

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