Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I wrote about transcribing some of Takemitsu's string quartet last summer.  Directly out of that exercise came Ouroboros.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rhetoric, long-listening

My teacher, Tony Brandt, talks a little bit about 'rhetorical reinforcement;' that is, the alignment of phrasal, harmonic, rhythmic effects to articulate a single rhetoric. Otherwise, the discussion of rhetoric was entirely missing from my music education. This strikes me as bizarre, since it is the feature that most contributes to music making 'sense.'

It certainly trumps harmonic language. I've been noticing an illusion lately. Maybe some of you can corroborate. I am hearing more and more serial music as tonal. I'm using the term loosely; I suppose I mean that it sounds harmonically conceived. I hear the harmony align with rhetoric of a phrase. I hear the harmony working as harmony. This effect is particularly strong at the ends of phrases, when the final chord can really linger in my ear -- it often sounds like a perfect chord for closure, and I cannot believe it was chosen out of serial necessity. I think, surely Webern cheated here.

[This is what I think is happening. First, I've been working on my listening. I'm too focused on details, and teasing out intervals, and I miss the long phrase. So I've been practicing long-listening -- don't get hung up on details, be more patient. Listen for the rhetoric. And as I let the rhetoric have more influence over what I'm hearing, it is casting harmonic detail in its own shape. If the rhetoric of a phrase creates convincing closure, the harmony I hear is one of convincing closure.]

And it certainly trumps motivic unity. How many pieces have you heard that were supposedly motivically watertight but were impossible to follow? And then compare that type of piece with these:

Brad got me hooked on Boulez, Notations for Orchestra. I don't know enough about how they're made; maybe they're working motivically too, but I can't hear them that way yet. For now they are rhetoric alone, and it is absolutely enough.

And our resident quartet, the Jasper, played Ligeti's Metamorphosis Nocturnes last week. There's a piece where the motivic consistency has a fantastic effect -- but it is reinforced by an absolutely direct and clear rhetoric.

Who is talking about this?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Endgame Study

This was my major project last fall. The big idea is this: musical styles are separate from each other only politically. Formally -- in terms of the structure and preoccupation of their rules -- they are neighbors in a continuous space. It is possible, then, to move smoothly between them. This piece, for example, modulates one rule: it gradually and systematically restricts possibilities, while concurrently restricting range-space. At times, the result resembles familiar styles, but it also traverses the space between them, of which much is beautiful.

Listen here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Around Hear

Ethan Frederick Greene is putting together a concert in Mandell park (at Richmond). I have two pieces on the program -- two duets for violin and bassoon and a round, sung to a dance by the wonderful Kate Halpern. Come and bring a blanket.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Conway Organ

I'm working on a max instrument based on Conway's Game of Life. Here's a first improvisation. Its also my youtube debut.