Analysis, Fragments, and Construction
+ Show Spoiler [in case player is not working] +
I have been thinking of doing an analysis and construction blog on music as I thought maybe it would hold some merit, or that some people might think of it as a rather interesting look into the writing of music, from the composers perspective. With some of the recent blogs I'd been reading, I had been given a good answer to go ahead with this blog.
Setting the Stage
Recently I have been working on something that I have only ever described as 'silly'. It's not a composition of my own, e.g. a work for my catalogue, but perhaps what I would describe as a quirky video game remix/arrangement, as it is heavily entrenched in the contemporary side of things. The piece is an arrangement of a work that many of us are intimately familiar with, Listen to the Cries of the Planet from Final Fantasy VII.
Oh Final Fantasy, why do I love thee so? Oh right, cause it's kickass.
I, like many in playing for the first time, was immediately taken with the ambiance of the Forgotten Capital. It had nothing to do with the dramatism, but that certainly doesn't hurt, and we have seen some really interesting mixes/arrangements come out of working with this material. Some examples of this are:
+ Show Spoiler [remixes] +
I also recently found this, and while some of the notes are incorrect (people need to listen better t.t) the idea was cute, and fairly amusing.
+ Show Spoiler [reversion version] +
I however, decided that I was going to try to see if I could play around with Listen to the Cries of the Planet in an almost opposite structural/generative aesthetic and see what that would be like, or even if I could make it work at all.
For the last two years I have been working as a board member for the Society for New Music in my area, and we just started our 40th season. Opening the season was a concert with the seminal work by Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians. It's a 55 minute minimalist behemoth of a work, that is as amazing and energetically poignant as the impact it has had on music (rock, pop, or otherwise) since its premiere in 1976. I had been having an extended love affair with this piece, so it's no wonder the idea to mash these two sound worlds together came to me.
Being that Listen to the Cries of the Planet and Music for 18 Musicians, or maybe I should just say stylistic minimalism, are almost completely opposite in their rhythmic aesthetic, I had to figure out a way to keep the musical ideas of the first, and use the generative process of minimalist music to influence the direction of the piece. This proved to be an interesting challenge as there were two major problems, the length of the work by Reich, and the process of the work, or just rhythmically charged minimalism in general.
The first problem I had to tackle was in generating the musical interlock, or repetitive pattern that is so common in early/middle minimalism. In early Reich works such as Piano Phase and Clapping Music, a single idea is stated, and then the second performer deviates, either directly or gradually, filling in the rhythmic gaps, and creating the intricate rhythmic patterns that emerge. Using the instrumentation and formal structure of Music for 18 Musicians, I set about figuring out the process of the piece. As an added note, I tried to use every musical idea in some way from the original piece, even the smallest of cells.
The first of course had to be the main melodic line. After some tinkering I came up with this cell, which in turn forced the piece to be in 6/4, and not some other wonky time signature that I was originally trying to go for, like 5/4 or 7/4, but more on those later. Incidentally this also coincided with the Reich, though I wasn't thinking about it consciously.
With this figured out, the next step in was to complete the pattern with the next cell so that I could fill in the rhythmic gaps and complete the process . I think the obvious choice was the next most prominent structural element, the pizzicati. Using the negative space as structural points, I just finished mapping out the second cell pretty easily, adding in some rhythmic embellishments for contour or rhythmic sake. From here things get much easier because now I have the basic process set, and just needed to use an additive process in introducing new material. The rest of the procedural material, in their order are below:
Out of all of these ideas the 5th cell seems to stick out, because it isn't altered from its original in any way. That just happened to be a funny coincidence that I stumbled upon because it just, worked. The reason I named the second of these cell 1.5 is that it's just an inversion of the main cell. I figured that because of the somewhat simultaneity of the 'echo' from the original that I needed something relatively similar to fill in and reinforce the main rhythmic pattern.
At this point I started to realize that this playing around with the material was actually working, like scary working, and only fueled me to actually continue to make this work and also make it a piece, and not just some crazy/silly experiment with no obvious conclusion.
So, I had used most of the material from the original, but now needed to create direction and movement with the remaining portions. That and I had to decide how the piece would germinate. This is also where I came across my second problem.
Being that Reich's work is ~55 minutes, how was I supposed to condense this process into something more palpable for the audience while retaining the overall suspended feel and process of the piece? Mainly this just took a lot of creative decision making in cleverly shortening areas of music to their smallest possible point, whereas they still work both procedurally, but also aren't so concise that they seem non-suspended. This is where I started to make decisions that iterations/repetitions of 5 and 7 were to be the shortest periods of non-movement or progression, which conceptually was fairly neat but inadvertently, also turned out pretty well aurally. I also had to accept that this was going to be at least a 10 minute piece, in order to give enough space to the process without slighting it in any way.
The form of the piece is directly lifted from the piece by Reich, and some of the musical material is strongly influenced by it. The piece is constructed in four sections, and is loosely in arc form, where the first section is literally reversed at the end so that the piece begins and ends in the same place. The two middle sections are preceded by the Celesta, the stand-in for the Vibraphone (because somehow my VST doesn't have one...) as in the Reich, acting as structural anchors for the performers and audience to delineate the sections. In tackling the time/length issue, I decided that I would have to shorten the progression of chords to a maximum of 5 and that there would be 2 major internal sections and not 11 as with the Reich. In regards to the inner two sections, the first was designed so that 5 cells were interacting together, while the second in a more combinatorial, or additive sense uses all of the cell materials (7 in total, see the final two below). As an added note, the chords at the beginning and the progressions in the middle sections do not correlate directly as they do in the Reich, the idea was to be evocative of the structural and timbral elements, but not literally copy the structure point for point.
The result is a piece that is about 11.5 minutes in length that I think gives enough space for the generative process to happen, but is concise enough that someone unfamiliar with minimalist music wouldn't be too overwhelmed. I hope that I hit this on the head, because aside from one minor gripe (see below) I think I'm really pleased with how this quirky idea spiraled out of control into this piece.
My only somewhat negative thoughts about how this piece turned out are that I was disappointed that I don't have more realistic VST's at my disposal (the price of being poor I'm afraid). While they do approximate their acoustic counterparts fairly well, because of the recording processes of each instrument, and a lot of weird midi amplitude things, I had to make a lot of creative choices in what sounded 'best' in creating a good approximation of an amalgam, or just deal with the limitations of the VST. This I think hinders the impact of it a bit, as it's supposed to be %100 acoustic, and doesn't quite get there, but, that's a gripe I'll leave for you to decide whether or not it's super important.
One last note on the work, getting something like this played live would be inordinately difficult to do unfortunately. Reich's piece suffers the same logistical programming issues because of the instrumentation requirements (so you know, the instrumentation for this requires 2 Clarinets each doubling Bass Clarinet, 2 Xylophones, 5 Marimbas, 1 Celesta, 5 Pianos, and a Violin and Cello player), the Reich being far more difficult because, well, it's 40 minutes longer.
I hope you've found this to be somewhat intriguing, entertaining, inspiring, or perhaps informative in helping you understand the process behind this piece and how I approached it. Thanks for reading and listening.
previous music remix/arr. related blog