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Secret Ingredient Nominations

ARTSaha! 2007 LogoANALOG arts ensemble has just announced its instant composition contest, Iron Composer Omaha.

Five finalists will be selected to compete. At noon on September 11, we’ll unveil the instrumentation that they’ll be writing for and a secret ingredient. We’ve announced that the ingredient ‘could be any kind of musical raw material, such as a chord progression or a found object’. 

If you were playing the role of the Chairman, what secret ingredient would you choose?


Comment from Adam Baratz
Time: July 9, 2007, 8:57 pm

I’d suggest making “instrumentation: wind quintet” the secret ingredient, but that would be more “funny uh oh” than “funny ha ha.” Doing found objects is probably your best bet. Go dumpster diving and get something for each contestant. They could use the objects as percussion instruments, concerto soloists, signal devices for game-type pieces… You’d probably get a nice range of results by giving people something that’s not necessarily “musical” (as opposed to, “Do something with this chord!”).

Props for trying to combine new music with tacky, but good-natured, theater. Will the audience get to follow the composers as they work, or will they only see the final performances? More importantly, will the MC shout “allez musique!” or somesuch to get things rolling?

Comment from Jay Batzner
Time: July 10, 2007, 8:57 am

I’ve thought about doing this with my students. Give them 24 hours to complete a short piece. My secret ingredient would be a poem that they must set or reflect upon in their piece. Give each person a different short poem and see how they respond to it.

My big question for the Chairman is…what is he going to take a bite out of in the opening credits?

Comment from Seth Gordon
Time: July 10, 2007, 10:03 am

I tossed around the idea of setting up an “Iron Composer” type thing here in The Center Of The Universe a few years ago. Never came about, for a variety of reasons. Still, I’ve seen it done a couple times – Kalvos & Damian did one for their last show, and I remember something a year (two years?) or so ago here in the city – downtown somewhere. Composers were in little cubicles or something where people could watch them work – I don’t remember the details. Any other COTU-ers remember what I’m talking about? Was it Exit Art or some group like that?

The AAE website said they were going to reveal both instrumentation and a “secret ingredient” at the “Iron Composer” event. If I were in charge, today, I think I’d want to hear…

Instrumentation: children’s choir, untuned percussion ensemble, and Bjork.

Secret Ingredient: the melody of Ornithology.

…or something like that…

I’ll bet dollars to donuts the secret ingredient will be totally lame, like the letters “O-M-A-H-A” or something. And since the piece is to be performed by the Analog Arts Ensemble, I suspect the instrumentation will be built out of which members are available that day. So composers entering can get a head’s up on what/who they might be writing for.

Artsaha! actually looks like a cool festival, though: In C, a nine-hour performance of ASLSP, and something called The World’s First Aeolian Kite-In, described as “An interactive performance piece open to anyone with an airborne noisemaker.” – almost makes me wanna move to Nebraska.

I’ve thought about doing this with my students. Give them 24 hours to complete a short piece.

I had to do that my first day at music school. Some “lost” Cole Porter poem that he’d never set himself. I’d never written a note for voice before – turned out kind of crappy if I recall.

Comment from Peter Pearson
Time: July 10, 2007, 12:51 pm

Instrumentation = choir of armpit farts

Secret Ingredient = Demi-glace (possible substitute = fake blood)

Now that’s what I call raw.

Comment from Sparky P.
Time: July 10, 2007, 1:19 pm

I remember a couple years on the radio show, “A Prarie Home Companion”, host Garrison Keillor put the challenge to Prof. Peter Schickele and another person to quickly design a set of variations on an Elizabethan folksong for small sightreading ensembles of their choosing (I think the Prof chose a quartet consisting of, I believe, piccolo, contrabassoon, cor anglais and glockenspiel). They were given the theme at the start of the show and it had to be ready for the second hour. It was quite amusing.

(…My big question for the Chairman is…what is he going to take a bite out of in the opening credits?…) And will the Chairman also do a backflip at the beginning, amid the cloud of dry ice?

Comment from JS
Time: July 10, 2007, 1:20 pm

The most entertaining episodes of Iron Chef are the ones where the secret ingredient is something off-putting (SEEEEEA URCHIN!! TRIIIPE!!) or banal (CAAAAAABBAGE!! POTAAAAATO!), so that the chefs have to struggle to fit it into their individual style.

With that in mind, I’d suggest the chord progression I, V, I, IV, bVI, bVII, I. (Hopefully at least one of the contestants will be an unreconstructed serialist.)

If you want to inspire the composers rather than infuriate them (but why?), then have the secret ingredient be the ratio 3:2.

Comment from jeff harrington
Time: July 10, 2007, 1:37 pm

Haha fake blood… That reminds me of a description I heard about a Chris Penrose performance, I think in Japan, where he walked out on stage completely naked covered with blood with his laptop already booming.

Comment from jodru
Time: July 10, 2007, 1:48 pm

The idea is a composite of a few things. The French pedagogical method of requiring organists to improvise a preset form on themes given to them in a sealed envelope as part of their graduation recital was one key theme (like the Prairie Home bit). We first encountered the show format reworked as a composition exercise at CalArts, and with some funding, we were able to turn it into a real competition.

ARTSaha! is indeed a pretty cool festival. This year, ASLSP will stretch to 24 hours. We’ll perform the original version of Ballet Mecanique, and we’re going to blow over the changes to ‘The Rite of Spring’. If you’re near Omaha between September 8-15, you should definitely check it out.

So far, we’re leaning towards ‘armpit farts’ out of all the suggestions. Keep them coming!

Comment from Dan
Time: July 10, 2007, 2:33 pm

Secret ingredient=those whistles with the thin piece of metal sticking out of the end which you can pull to make the tone go up/down. Think Messian used it in one of the earlier movements of Turangallia.
I would love to hear Penderecki’s “Threnody…” transcribed for this ensemble–though not sure what to do about pizz

Pingback from Walk In Brain » Blog Archive » Now THIS is a great idea.
Time: July 11, 2007, 10:44 am

[…] Iron Composer. […]

Pingback from Music Blogroll #2: Sequenza 21 « Norwell High School Music Department
Time: July 11, 2007, 6:44 pm

[…] Blogroll #2: Sequenza 21 July 11, 2007 Posted by nhsmusic in Discussion, Uncategorized. trackback The second addition to our blogroll is a group-run website called Sequenza 21.  It specializesmostly in contemporary music, including a pretty entertaining mention recently of a music composition competition called Iron Composer Omaha, in which five Nebraskan student composers between the ages of 18 and 26 will be selected to compose a piece based on an instrumentation to be revealed at the start of the competition and which must include the use of a “secret” ingredient that the competition administrators will agree on before the start.  They only say that the secret ingredient can be “any kind of musical raw material,” which means it could be anything from a found object (a block of wood, toaster, etc.) to a chord progression or melodic fragment.  Cool stuff. […]