…in Southampton, NY, my piece for oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, trumpet, and piano, Overbite, was premiered in an itty-bitty concert by the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players. Like many premieres, the first swing was, well, a great first try. The musicians worked their asses off on the piece, and they’ve graciously agreed to record it for reals sometime soon.
The program was really interesting: a piece by Nathan Davis, the percussionist for ICE, for triangles + MSP; a piece by local Long Island composer Greg Pfeiffer for narrator, oboe, and harpsichord; a piece by Kaija Saariaho, Près, for cello and electronics, and finally, mine.
The Davis and the Saariaho demonstrate a kind of sound world that, I totally appreciate and love, but for the life of me, I just can’t seem to compose. Here’s a performance of the Davis work, Diving Bell:
I absolutely love the different plays and sounds that you can get from just a triangle and a MAX patch. But hey, that’s what MAX is good at. Now let’s take a look at the Saariaho, with a visualization courtesy of Tim Vallier:
Both of these pieces occupy a sound world that is at once poetic, still, and achingly beautiful. I felt absolutely silly putting piece at the end of a program containing these pieces. Until I have a recording of my piece, you’ll have to settle for listening to a (fairly accurate) mockup here:
As you can hear, it’s a lot different.
And I don’t mind sounding different.
I spent years upset that my old composition teachers wouldn’t let me write music that was what I really wanted to be writing. I felt (and still feel) that a lot of new music being written has a lot of forced self-importance. You can usually tell by its title whether this piece is meant to be really important: something like Transfigurations of the Inner Sanctum, or something like that. If there’s an SAT word in your title, than it’s obviously an important piece! I struggled for years to keep from creating this sort of generic, burnt-on-the-outside-cold-on-the-inside of music.
When I got to where I am now, I was able to let loose, and my music is a lot more “fun” for me to compose, and doesn’t really take itself so seriously. I’ve had a lot more freedom to explore what I want my language to be (as opposed to “what I want my language to be if I want to get into a good grad school…you do want to get into a good grad school, don’t you?“). What I’ve found is that, just like for everyone, I bet, it’s very easy to be cynical and ironic. Real emotions, however, are hard as hell to compose!
I feel like I’m Betsey Johnson, who works with a mostly neon color palate in her designs. I don’t know if she even has anything to color her sketches in except for highlighters!
But what if Betsey Johnson had to design a dress for an inaugural ball, or a funeral or something? I’ve started working with materials that are great for more fun stuff, but I’m concerned that the language I’m using can’t create something poetic, still, and achingly beautiful, like the Davis or the Saariaho.
Some (including my current prof) simply say, “Then just change your language. What’s the big deal?” And I know that it isn’t a big deal, I guess, but I want to think that the techniques that I use can be universally applied. I’m having a hard time accepting that every piece can’t express everything, and that some pieces aren’t meant to express some things.
I hope that, by the time I want to say something without winking, shrugging, or pointing to something else, I can simply stand and deliver. Poetically, still, and aghingly beautifully.