Last night Idyllwild, tonight REDCAT. Figments and Fragments has launched.
I’ll try to find a way to talk about it at some point, but there are a few other things to get to first.
Like, for example, this idyllic setting. I’m staying in a cabin at the Quiet Creek Inn, which, true to its name, has a quiet creek running right outside my window:
I’ve had ample opportunity to tramp about the woods, gape at the mountains and chat with the laid-back locals, which is a welcome respite from many of my customary occupations. Getting here was another story, as my GPS decided to send me 30 minutes down a dirt road that led nowhere. Let me tell you, driving in reverse for 30 minutes on an unfamiliar, twisty, bumpy road in the dark in a rental car = no fun. But good comes from anything if you look for it, and for my trouble I got the first draft done yesterday of a love-hate song called GPS Lady.
And I’ve had a chance to get acquainted with the sensational Vijay Iyer, whose work I had heard of without ever experiencing. I was able to catch a most of a talk Iyer gave on his music Friday, in which he described some of his precompositional processes. He gave the example of creating an ABABA form with a passage of 28 beats by letting A=6 and B=5. These beat groupings of 6+5+6+5+6 could then be expressed by 8th notes over the course of 2 measures of 7/4, resulting in a rich rhythmic layering.
(Comical how this kind of verbiage can easily make the music sound more complex than it is – and I’m summarizing it in extremely shortened form — and yet the verbiage is exceedingly simple from a mathematical perspective.)
Vijay was careful to make it clear that this was precompositional thinking, a way of getting into the world of a given piece, rather than music itself. And I had an epiphany: this was exactly the kind of precompositional thinking I was doing early in my career, and since abandoned. If I could express it this way, this is an example of starting with a rational construct, then exploring ways to make it musical. For the last bunch of years, I’ve been starting with an intuitive gesture or passage, then examining it to find the rational underpinnings that could be developed into a composition.
Neither approach is inherently superior, and Vijay’s talk made me want to start using rational processes up front a bit more than I have in recent years.
In any case, Vijay was here to perform in the west coast premiere of his Interventions for piano, electronics and orchestra. A self-taught pianist with prodigious and sometime unorthodox technique, he wrote this piece some three years ago on commission from the American Composers Orchestra. It’s one of those works that can seem deceptively simple, though the orchestral parts are very challenging, with overlapping meters and microtonal tunings. The electronics are middleground and background, but then a lot of what goes on in the piece is middleground and background – even the piano part — Iyer is a master of engaging the attention through understatement. A gorgeous piece.
Now it’s time to hop in the car and head for LA. Tell me your thoughts, GPS Lady, tell me your dreams.