Today my studio is officially back in working order after the extensive renovation I mentioned in my last post. Frankly, not a moment too soon. I pride myself on being able to make progress, compositionally speaking, under any circumstances, but it’s very, very nice to have my familiar ambience back again after several months of disarray.
I have four projects that I need to complete, so naturally I’ve been focused on another new idea that came out of the blue, so far off my usual plate of preoccupations that I’m afraid I couldn’t even stab it with a pitchfork. It’s a big piece, over 20 minutes of continuous music, and I’m finding myself in an unfamiliar position, weighing the overall picture vs. the details. I’ve realized that I need to squelch the desire to make decisions that are compositionally interesting to me, in order to let the purpose of the piece speak clearly. In other words, I am challenging myself not to challenge myself, to avoid doing things in the music that will make it more fun to compose.
I’m also working a whole lot more methodically than is my habit. I’m accustomed to finding a sound world for a piece and then teasing out that world’s implications via intuition, improvising with the materials to find my way. In this piece, though, I’m planning, mapping, diagramming, because the basic premise is so much a part of who I am that spontaneity isn’t an issue.
So I find myself, at the end of November, back in familiar haunts, but wrestling with fresh monsters. Ah, stability!
Someday I may learn what that means.
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I’m working on a septet for piano, horn and strings in four movements that explores various types of sanctuaries. The first movement is titled Domed and Steepled Solitude, for a sanctuary that I find particularly potent. The title comes from a letter by a young Mark Twain in which he describes his method of surviving the noise and hubbub of urban life.
Finding true solitude – not just a space of ones own, but a mental attitude that can serve as a real sanctuary from disturbance – has been a lifelong pursuit for me. The way my schedule works, it’s been a fruitful pursuit in the winter and spring, less so in summer and fall. This fall my studio has been undergoing renovations, and I’ve had to reach deep inside to gather the resources for the kind of sanctuary I need. After two months on the lam, I am feeling more pursued than pursuing.
But studio renovation will be completed soon, and personal schedules should hit winter’s pace in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I have this septet, which seems to have come along at just the right time for me.
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In my last post, I said I was getting ready to travel, but Sandy has adjusted my plans. The premiere of Seven Stories, which I wrote about here, has been postponed until the Lower East Side has an opportunity to dry itself out – Ransom Wilson is looking into a possible January date. Other things are far higher on everyone’s priority lists right now.
Given my plans to catch Seven Stories rehearsals and performance, I’m going to miss the Atlantic Ensemble’s performance of Saturn Dreams of Mercury tonight and Low and Lower’s performance of Poke this Friday night. Here’s wishing the musicians (and audiences) involved all the best.
We’re all familiar with the sensation of being in more than one place at once. For composers, it’s often a double-exposure involving our real-time environment blurred with the shadowy outlines and vivid details of whatever composition we are working on. How many times I have found myself struggling to follow a conversation while notes and timbres are chasing one another through the cracks in the dialogue? It’s a wonder I’m ever able to hold up my end of a chat with anything resembling coherence.
This past week I’ve been in triple-exposure land, thanks to Sandy. With family members still powerless in New Jersey, not to mention countless friends struggling with conditions in the region, I’ve been avidly digging through all the media coverage I can find, hoping to get a sense of what is really going on.
Of course, all of these images and statistics are seeping their way through the harmonies and contours of three different pieces I’m currently working on. They churn and slosh together, valuables mingling with debris. It’s a dizzying combination, one that may help partially explain the dumbfounded look my family has come to recognize as my more-or-less permanent expression.
Then I step outside and see the chores of a normal autumn day awaiting me, as though nothing were awry. And those simple tasks, familiar daily distractions, seem more surreal than anything I can imagine.
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Saturn Dreams of Mercury is getting its third performance this coming Monday at Western Kentucky University when the Atlantic Ensemble lands in Bowling Green. Wish I could get there from here in less than ten hours, but it’s not meant to be. Instead, I’ll be packing for another destination – more about that next time.
Meanwhile, I’ve written about SDoM here. If you’re in the vicinity, let me know how it goes.
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