we pause for these brief announcements

Ah, spring is nearing. the sun is shining today after another couple weeks of miserable weather. I can already feel my energy starting to pick up a bit. It's amazing what a little sun and some warmth can do for you.

Now, if only i could get my mind working creatively. Like now. On Monday's I have an open slot from about 1-5. for the first chunk i often answer emails as many roll in Monday morning. after that, it's free time. And i spent mine watching Onion videos.

I think i might have to table the trombone concerto for awhile. Sometimes the best way to make progress on something is to not work on it. Take it out of my bag, set it down somewhere, and let it sit, move onto a different project.

I've been working in CSound a great deal this semester. Learning from a "master" is pretty amazing. To get a project from James Mobberley and work through it as a class is pretty outstanding. I've also learned where the holes are in my knowledge of digital audio and programming. Editing is a huge problem for me, so misplaced numbers, commas, words (things like writing "go to" instead of "goto" for conditionals has been a major problem...) just destroy my world. Hopefully, I'll move much quicker eventually.

Finally, I'm toying with going back and revising "Cake." Upon a review of it about a month ago, i was...disturbed...there's a lot of really poor writing. a lot of things in the piano that were meant to be orchestrated (something that never happened.) Vocal lines that lead nowhere and have nothing to them...At the same time, independently, Eileen Wiedbrauk, the writer of the wonderful text, was also toying with rewriting "Cake." heh. It's amazing what a few years away from a piece and a few more years of knowledge do to you. So, perhaps, there will be a "Cake v.2." i'd be game...


Holy Wild Performances, Batman!

For the first time in my "composerly" career, i have performances lined up.

And not performances where i'm pulling everything together to do at an "end of the year" concert by the comp department for the comp department. Nope...all three are about one step up :)

I'm still nailing down all the specific specifics, but the piece is accepted, so if all goes well, i'll have 3 performances over 2 months. with real groups.

groups i don't have to fully form myself. performers who can rehearse without me.

and, in other news, i'm playing with UMKC's RAT ensemble as a part of the Zerospace Conference on Friday night, working on KcEMA's "Back to the Source Code" concert at La Esquina, Saturday, and generally working myself into a frenzy.

Finally feeling all that hard work paying off!


Milton Babbitt, take 2

First, this is one of the most lovingly created and introspective biographies i have ever seen. Considering it clocks in at just over an hour for a 94 year life, that's really saying something...


In memorial of Milton Babbitt, I am taking "Milton Babbitt listening, day 2." I original did one the weekend of his death, and am now undertaking a second.

I am listening to most of the same exact pieces and albums i hit the first time.

Babbitt was a staggering genius. His works are comical, powerful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. They are brain food.

My brain does not always "get" them. But i don't think it's Babbitt's fault. I really believe it's my fault. I'm listening incorrectly. I'm listening to him the same way i'd listen to Mozart, Beethoven, or any number of other composers throughout the ages. I'm listening for repetition, for form, for sign-posts, for a motive or theme...These do not exist as such in Babbitt.

His music is not about repetition in a strict sense. So while my ears still "don't get it" even if my mind can look at a work and perceive its structure, it doesn't mean i dislike Babbitt. I dislike Babbitt because i cannot be Babbitt. He was a genius extraordinaire. His music is deep, incredibly deep. It isn't something you put on in the background and "enjoy." This isn't music for someone who is not invested in music.

Babbitt didn't write what he thought people wanted to hear. I think he wrote what people should hear. and just like our mom's telling us "don't eat the pizza right away, it's still a little too hot," but we all did it anyway as kids and got burned. As is his music. There is beauty there, and whimsy. And slowly, i'm getting to the point of hearing it.

As one person states in the documentary "It touches my brain, and makes me think. And then through my brain it touches my heart..." (openly paraphrased from a bad memory...).

It is an odd path, reaching the heart through the brain. But then i jump with joy (literally) when i program sounds that get named "Reginald" and identified with a stodgy old Englishman with a cane and hat, opening his mouth, and these random gliding tones pop out of his mouth...so obviously my heart can be reached through my brain.

Perhaps we should all give Milton another try. and then a dozen more. And really listen. That's what i'm doing.

RIP Milton Babbitt


getting stuck again

So, as has become a general theme in my compositional life, i am, again, full of commas.

wait, no, that's not it


I'm stuck. Got about halfway through a movement, thought it was pretty good. Took it into the Dragon, and was shown various errors. Mostly pacing errors, a little bit of weak orchestration and rhythmic development. Nothing major. Since showing the piece (a fledgling little trombone concerto) at the beginning of the semester, I've done a fairly good job re-orchestrating portions, changing up the pacing a bit (basically giving a lot more room to breathe, longer calms with short high paced moments of action.), and did a little re-orchestrating. at last, i reached the point where i had finished the previous semester.

and stopped.

Confused, bewildered, full of "wtf." every day, i'd look at the score, go over all my past work, take copious notes. I drew form pictures, picked out developed themes i like, pushed around the notes of the different collections, inverted, retrograded, mirrored, made fun shapes...hell, i even toyed with making a tonnetz of the three pitch derivatives i used at the beginning.

And i'm still stuck. Usually running through all this sort of busy-work, breaking things down, moving things around, analyzing what i've done, tossing tons of material on paper and sorting through things...usually this pops me outta my funk. I redid my formal plan based on what has already happened (compared to the original plan. those never last.). I did some Theory of Maxima. (which i thought i had blogged about, and appears i have not. hmmmm....well...later...)

I took these things to the Dragon. His suggestion: write differently. Ok ok, that is really glib. What was suggested was to work out the solo line and work in short score. Then, move onto orchestration.

We all work differently. For some, melody is king and most important. for others it is the rhythm or the form. Me, it's all about timbre.

I come up with basic melodic ideas and themes at the onset. These usually remain pretty set, no matter what. From there, it's about developing those couple ideas extensively. When i come up with a variation, i almost always have an instrument in mind. working in short score has never made sense to me. The one time i've done it was with my opera, written as a piano score first with the idea to orchestrate later.

too bad i wrote it for piano at that point. whoops. turned into a pretty crazy hard piano part, but it's definitely piano-centered. i orchestrated one movement for the original intended orchestration (string quartet, flute, piano, percussion...and i think a brass of some kind. i don't remember). It's alright. but the piano is better.

Still, I am stuck. Quite stuck. So, even though it is pretty much counter to how i normally work, i will try it. I will work on it hard this week. Because i need as many tools as possible when i'm no longer in a place where i can take a piece into a lesson. Need every single different trick possible to get outta funks and write the best music i can.

And, who knows, maybe i'll do it better this time.