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If You Had 30″ To Write A Piece…

The Microscores Project…what would you do?

Okay, you get as long as you want to write the piece, but it can only last 30″. That’s the concept behind the Microscores Project, which started at CalArts and has performed all over the place.

Over the years, they’ve garnered some fascinating pieces by folks like Harold Budd and Pauline Oliveros (who wrote hers on a plane). Just before he died, James Tenney wrote them a gorgeous bagatelle.

As part of their appearance at ARTSaha! 2008, the Microscores Project are putting out a call for new music. Anyone can send them a score for violin and cello that lasts 30″, and they will select several for performance in Omaha on September 11. Submissions will also be fodder for future Microscores shows.

The full details of the call for microscores are here. Perhaps some quick-witted commenters will leave their own microscores below!

Comments

Comment from Jeff Harrington
Time: June 19, 2008, 3:28 pm

Hey Joe, I think that email is bad. Just bounced for me…

Comment from Jodru
Time: June 19, 2008, 6:24 pm

Right on! It’s ‘microscores@gmail.com’.

Forgot the ‘s’!

Thanks for the catch.

Comment from Jodru
Time: June 19, 2008, 6:25 pm

Oh, btw, did the Work Space just get overrun by porn spam? Haven’t been there in a while, but damn!

Comment from davidcoll
Time: June 26, 2008, 11:39 am

what would you do if you had 30 seconds to bake a cake?

Comment from david toub
Time: June 26, 2008, 12:51 pm

what would you do if you had 30 seconds to bake a cake?

Indeed. Or rather, what if you had sufficient time to bake the cake, but it had to be small enough for someone to consume in 30 seconds (granted, my son could probably down an entire piece of cake in 30 seconds, but I digress…)

I think the extremes of musical duration say a lot about our perceptions, and also what we’ve been conditioned to accept. Pieces longer than, say, 20-30 minutes are derided as “long,” and many performers won’t even bother with them since they require too much time to prepare, and audiences get wudgy after a half-hour in a seat. Having written a few works that take over an hour and even two to perform, I’m pretty aware of how long duration can be an obstacle to performance and even acceptance. At the same time, if one has something pretty substantial to say, I’m not sure two or more hours should be an issue. The Well-Tuned Piano wouldn’t work as well in a 30-minute condensed version, nor would Feldman’s String Quartet 2 or For Philip Guston.

I have always wondered, however, about microdurations. Many folks seem to take short works less seriously, with the possible exception of Webern’s stuff (although to be fair, most of his really short works were written around the time of the Sechs Bagatellen; the Quartet op. 28 is a pretty substantial work, as is the Trio). I’ve seen people write off short works as “trifles,” and while I don’t generally agree, I think we’re conditioned to think that short = lack of effort. Webern seems to have been the one exception to this rule. Even Satie’s piano music, which he purposely kept short so as to not “bore” the audience, was originally considered inconsequential.

I also find it interesting that one can get “typed” based on the average durations of his or her music. Webern is forever considered a composer of very brief music (even though as I mentioned, there are exceptions). Feldman is considered a composer of long works, yet that really only happened during his last decade; much of his earlier music is pretty short, even Webernian at times.

I guess what I’m struggling with is whether or not we seem to have a minimum duration that is sufficient for saying something meaningful in music. Webern is perhaps the best exception to this (he did a great job with, what, seven measures or so in one of the pieces for cello and piano), but in all honesty, when I hear very short works by some composers, they just don’t achieve much depth. Even Feldman’s A Very Short Trumpet Piece, which I like, isn’t on the same level as Three Voices (45 min-90 min). Feldman himself, I believe, also struggled with this idea, writing something to the effect that the first 10-20 minutes for him was when it was most difficult to get into the flow of a piece.

So I guess my questions are how meaningful (and I mean this seriously) can a work be when it’s less than a minute in duration, and while we’re conditioned to think that short works are generally trifles and longer works are more substantial, why is it that the latter are much less likely to be performed?

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: June 26, 2008, 4:21 pm

The Microscore team (Johnny and Jessica) gets around the shortness factor elegantly by using all the scores as a “pool”, from which they can select, string together and play end-on-end, to create a larger whole. They can shape and pace the whole thing almost like it’s all one piece (or maybe “experience”).

Comment from Johnny Chang
Time: June 29, 2008, 8:05 am

just quickly – greetings from berlin.

davidtoub. my first thoughts are that , this is precisely the kind of debate the MP attempts to stimulate – and through hearing/performing each work (the individuals who decide to take part are not limited to “composers”!) , solutions may be proposed as to the validity of such limitations. (or any limitations at all)

beside, surely the question of whether it is possible to be meaningful in any given time frame, depends on what one choses to be meaningful (in italics) about … ?

well i don’t believe there is a black&white answer to the question.

as a composer myself. when time comes for me to write something for the project, i am inclined towards presenting a set of ideas/concepts for the performers to explore. either in 30-seconds and/or possibly a longer “window of opportunity”. rather than concrete, complete strains of musical thoughts.

cheers.

Comment from Johnny Chang
Time: June 29, 2008, 8:10 am

one more thought.

i also want to disown the title of this particular post (nothing personal Joe!) – never ever will i suggest for anyone to attempt a kind of “throw-away” object , dash off a piece, so to speak. [possibly it is useful as a certain compositional brainstorm technique. but i certainly would not infect any potential collaborators in this way.]

Comment from jodru
Time: July 2, 2008, 5:26 pm

The title’s just a way of grabbing people’s attention, but it would be an interesting exercise, no? See what you can write in 30″?

At Iron Composer, we’re giving cats just 5 hours to write.

30″ is basically like writte down improvisation.

Comment from johnny chang
Time: August 14, 2008, 9:21 pm

the submission deadline for this most recent round of microsores has just passed. many thanks to the composers to sent in their music.

johnny.