Ferneyhough and Me

After writing two new pieces this summer, I've started up a third. The first two played with new (to me) pitch organization systems. The first, All Things are Not Equal, focused primarily on a spectralist approach, the second, You Can't See the Stars in the City, combined spectralism with quintal, quartal, and several fibonacci style generated scales. In the second, with it's several different scales/chords, i assigned each a number and moved through them sequentially, in a quasi-tonal style.

Both songs are "jazz." All Things derives the spectral content from the opening  chord in the guitar. Below this pitch content, i have a repetitive bass groove (focusing on the fundamentals of the chord) that switches speed and style about 60% through the piece. Stars is an interesting reinterpretation of Naima, a jazz ballad, "reharmonized."

For the third piece, what i'm envisioning is much more complex yet possibly more elegant. I'm struggling greatly with pitch organization (as I always do), and, as such, I went looking for some help. Being on a bit of a Brian Ferneyhough kick, I dug up some articles, interviews, etc with/by Ferneyhough.

The below quotes are all from
        Ferneyhough, Brian and Boros, James. "Shattering the Vessels of Received Wisdom." Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 28, No.2 (Summer, 1990) p 6-50.

The first is about the performers relationship to music, especially the process of learning a new piece. It's something I've hit on before (repeatedly, forcibly) in conversation- complex pieces are rewarding endeavors, and there is much to be gained by focusing on learning the piece. In the attempt, a performer unfolds the truest nature of the piece...
I believe that one should never start from the global effect, but rather allow it to emerge synthetically as a result of the confluence of other compositional considerations. This seems to me the sole way to legitimize, to ground sonoric innovation; everything else is bon gout. For example, there have been several quite well-known flutists who have refused to take my Unity Capsule (1975) into their repertoire with the argument that it is not worth the amount of time and effort required, since "similar" sounds can be improvised or else notated much more simply (perhaps graphically). There is no way that I can see to persuade such individuals that the approach to learning the work is an essential polyphonic strand in the final result. Only the experience of actually attempting it can--perhaps--achieve that...(7)
The next couple are about listening. The first describes a feeling I often get listening to Ferneyhough- just as I grasp a relationship, Ferneyhough has moved on, speeding through ideas at several different speeds. It's like watching Indy Car (I am from Indiana, after all...the 500 is a part of my life, whether I want it to or not). But imagine if there was an Indy Car race, at the same time as Nascar, at the same time as a drag race in the center of the track. Three races, three different speeds, three different levels of perception. It isn't easy to understand all the events at once, but the end product is one of constant motion, of energy pushing forward to brief moments of stasis that hit me like slow-mo in a Christopher Nolan film...
One thing that makes this music perhaps more difficult than some is not so much its actual density, but rather the slight disbalance I tend to build into the relationship of time-flow to complexity of individual semantically coherent units. This gives the listener the sensation of always being "behind" the flow of events, of running to catch up, as it were. Some might assume this to be a negative state of affairs; I simply utilize it as one more tool for energizing the sonic flow, for modifying its perpectival characteristics. (10)

Finally, a quote that explains how I feel about my own pieces! As I've told many friends- you may not "get" everything on a single pass, in fact I never expect that of anyone. But you can choose things to focus on, and, in that, choose an interesting path through the music. This creates a unique experience for every listener.
Some composers positively expect that the audience be essentially passive, whilst still others treat the public rather paternalistically. My own attitude is to suggest to the ear sequential bundles of possible paths through the labyrinth--paths, that is, which are mapped out in the synchronization of the simultaneous processual layers with a view to encouraging the risky undertaking of instantaneously selecting between them. (10) 

It's always good to be reminded of these things. No, I haven't gotten the information I was looking for, yet, but even these reminders give me a little renewed hope as I try to dredge through similar ideas. And if the information is enlightening, it doesn't matter if it was the information I wanted- it's the information I needed at this exact moment.

Well done, Brian Ferneyhough. Even in your words, a labyrinth is presented, and I'm taking that risky leap.

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