The following series of blogs is something that I have wanted to do for a while, but either didn't have the motivation or was busy doing other things. This set of (probably shorter) blogs will closely follow my process as a contemporary classical composer from beginning a work through to writing through its completion. I will discuss some ideas on how I work with music temporally, timbrally, and conceptually, and while I will try to be as concise and clear about my process I should slap a big warning sign up saying that while some of my technical writing is very organized and coherent, "cataloguing the process of musical creation is sometimes very abstract, and sometimes areas where my intuition will make decisions that may not immediately make sense or that I can codify appropriately". In other words, I may go off in many directions at once and I hope you can parse it all out.
The formation of an idea in one's head can be a sometimes slow laborious process, or sometimes an immediate burst of creation. Many times when I'm beginning a new piece or shifting gears for different sections, I will immediately form the initial kernel that spawns the encompassing section (or piece) from that point onward. This piece began much this way with the first couple of minutes or so of music almost instantly forming in a state of explicit gestures and shapes, but with little temporal form. From this point my brain began to work on this idea until the idea becomes more fleshed out. Each time I leave and return to writing a new perspective is gained as my brain has already tackled some of the problems I was working on, even if I haven't done so consciously.
So I was actually given a choice of a certain instrumentation, and seeing that I had the opportunity to write for viola and cello I immediately jumped on that because, as mentioned above, I instantly formed an idea for a piece. The general kernel was to have a myriad of colors that embellished a single note or series of notes, in a sort of long form scalar figure with a shorter and more florid interpretation of the same figuration above, though slightly disconnected from the connective thread, or initial line. The initial opening of the work would focus on timbral and rhythmic embellishments of a single note within the cello, with the viola's figure slowly growing and weaving in tandem with the initial line, and then growing in complexity into its primary form, of a more florid scalar figuration of this general kernel:
based on the original pitch, however in working I decided
to move the initial pitch class to compensate for the
open string possibilities of both instruments
I should also probably note that while I originally fleshed out the above cell, that I decided that when introducing the material that I would actually begin on the second pitch rather than from the beginning. In a way this helps to create a more layered exposition in being able to reveal certain pitch classes and centers in a different way that hopefully ends up as a fresh change over the overall direction.
In working with the two voices I didn't initially envision the two parts intertwining and working with one on a delay from the other (allowing for some interesting play with the temporal placement of structural points, such as unisons or divergent paths), however as I begin to work with this piece more I'm finding that I like the idea of one part on a sort of delay from the other, so that changes in pitch or other elements can be highlighted through a series of pseudo-contrapuntal ideas (helps structurally and directionally). It could be perhaps more closely related to the heterophony of African musics, but regardless the end result is that important structural points can be enhanced with rhythmic similarities (in this case lining up pitch changes or bowings to fall at the same time). Of course the more I work with the material I may tweak things if I find they are somewhat off, so who knows.
Some other things to note about the formation of these core ideas is that I chose to restrict my intervallic materials to a set of only those contained within the original cell, which looks like the following set:
m2 M2 m3 M3 m6 M6 M7
Now whether or not I adhere to this restriction is something that I can ultimately decide as I'm going through the process however by at least adhering to it currently, I am setting up an overall harmonic or pitch structure for this section of the work (could be a nice departure if say I was to diverge into different material later, balancing one center from the other, but we'll see if I reach a place where that is an appropriate option).
So with my influences and predilections, I tend to explore color and timbre quite a lot in my works, with the overall goal as to incorporate as many "extended techniques" as possible into my general writing language. As this is the case I figured I should at least categorize some of the techniques for violin writing that I am likely to be using or have begun to already. This is of course in addition to general techniques of dynamics, string identifications, double stops, and other more rudimentary techniques.
- n.v. - non vibrato
- m.v. - molto vibrato
- v.o. - vibrato ordinario
- n.v. - non vibrato
- Bow positions
- ord. - ordinario
- s.t. - sul tasto
- s.p. - sul ponticello
- m.p. - molto ponticello
- ord. - ordinario
- Quarter Tones
- Scratch Tone (note sure about this one for this piece)
- Spatial Notation
In terms of the overall gestural material that I will be using some more florid figurations, embellishments on single notes where I'm finding that a quintuplet figuration seems to be recurring in a somewhat regular manner, scalar passages that may or may not be modified in a somewhat kaleidoscopic manner (pitch shifting) and probably some chordal or clustural material. As I'm still working through things this may change, and I will try to remember to document this as I go.
I'll be adding new entries to this series as I go, though I don't know how regular they will be. I do know however that I actually have to be done with writing the piece by the end of the month so I do have a distinct period of when I should be done, but more on that in future installments!