Here are my views on my Assignment 1 attempt, a day after closing and sending off the Sibelius file to OCA. I took the invitation implied in earlier projects to choose a piece freely rather than following the much more narrow (updated?) instructions to continue an existing start of a work. Mainly, I wanted to explore some ideas from the minimalist movement about phasing, and to write something that was loosely constrained by a natural process, the timing and amplitude of the tides.
The idea is so far as I know original.
I did, as suggested, pick an unconventional time signature. 25/16 seems to be a Bulgarian dance rhythm ‘sedi donka’ as 7 + 7 +11. My usual pattern of six crotchets plus a ‘skip’ semiquaver instead tries to set up the idea more clearly of phasing. I believe, with the help of Sibelius, that I have notated this as clearly and practically as I can, for example showing the beats in the bar immediately before one of the periodic gong entries.
The overall shape of loud/excited and soft/contemplative followed quite strictly the design in my earlier blog: http://wp.me/p4YTgd-2
The ending is exciting
The shifting of the claves ‘high tide’ against the triangle ‘lunar 25 hour day’ is audible and quite hypnotic in the quieter music.
The design, to bring the two back into sync on the last note, was technically followed through.
I experimented with a very wide range of cross-rhythms.
I believe the percussion parts would be technically playable, though conducting this would be tough. The triangle semiquaver at the end of every bar does at least act as a flag or anchor for the players to know when to start the next bar. Having two side drummers is a practical decision to reduce fatigue, and add interest since very often one imitates the other, though often at a different dynamic
For an unpitched percussion piece with no change in speed or time signature, or completely contrasting section of different instruments, this first serious attempt, at getting on for 10 minutes is too long to easily sustain attention if you are listening to it as a pure performance piece without also following the concept. That’s a problem with a lot of twentieth century music though e.g. Boulez ‘Le Marteau sans Maitre’ or Stockhausen ‘Cosmic Pulses’, I think around 40 minutes each. However Varese ‘Ionisation’ on 7 minutes is more interesting as a pure untuned percussion piece, if you forgive the tuning of the sirens! Oh and I think I hear the bongos playing a triad at one point….
There are too many bars in my piece with side drum semiquavers, at least when I have listened to this multiple times. Perhaps with the anticipation of fresh listening they could be said to create suspense. But really they reflect me running out of time.
Fundamentally this is over-ambitious for a first attempt. However I now know more about what it takes to score something on this scale, and the need for more than one basic concept to create variety.
Useful learning experience. I know more about some of the less classical untuned percussion; I particularly like the sound of temple blocks but used this in an earlier project so wanted to try out something different. In fact I am still curious to hear again what this ‘Welcome to Ceredigion’ sounds like. With a lot more time, I am sure I could improve the piece. So an Opus zero then not an Opus 1 !
Looking forwards to being allowed to use PITCH and all the things that brings with intervals, harmony and melody.
One influence in making so prominent a side drum part was perhaps the side drum solo ‘against the orchestra’ in the first movement of Neilsen’s fifth symphony.
Reich really pioneered ‘Phasing’ but when you analyse a number of his works, the basic rhythm within which the phasing takes place is a regular one. So for example in ‘Music for Pieces of Wood’, the only one I know apart from Clapping without tuned pitch, the repeating cell is either 6 beats, 4 or 3 beats right at at the end. I had to see that rather than hear it, so my initial idea of hearing a 25 versus 24 cross-rhythm is clearly just too demanding on the aural short term memory. The following nice visualisation of Reich’s own phasing for claves (at different pitches) makes clear to the eye, and then to the ear what is going on. I will think about that joint appreciation through both eyes and ears for some future work e.g. using stereo or even binaural synthesis. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gy2kyRrXm2g
A footnote on the ‘gong ageng’: this is the largest of the Javanese gamelan instruments and traditionally used to start and end a sequence
If not available, I imagine a tam tam would substitute, but its resonance may continue for rather long unless stopped, which can seem abrupt.