Friday, September 24, 2010


This is a serial piece for brass quintet -- serial, but not 12-tone (which can be interesting, but I find its underlying ideology even more offensive than the ugly music it tends to produce) . Instead, it uses a set of tone rows generated by a random process I developed in college. Starting from an initial state consisting of a set of values, each iteration produces a new set by randomly selecting from the elements contained in the previous step. As the same element can be selected more than once, rather than producing a mere permutation of the same elements, the process gradually eliminates elements until it eventually converges to contain a single distinct value, at which point it will remain constant. I presented an AMA paper defining this process and analyzing a specific configuration of it, focusing on calculating the mean steps to convergence. The math is pretty messy, but I thought that the process itself could be useful in music -- as each iteration produces a rearranged subset of the previous step, there is an inherent continuity. I would also point out that this process is anti-darwinian, as it gets simpler over time, exactly what would happen if evolution were the actual driving force behind life.

Now about the piece -- it's not a strict run-through of this reduction process, but uses tone rows generated by it. The initial state was the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, but I start with the result of the first iteration of the process -- I actually ran it several times until I got a starting set that I liked, so even here, random chance is at the mercy of a designer. This is one of those pieces that I'm not sure I really like, although I do like parts of it; I could probably make something better with elements from the reduction process without using serial techniques, but that isn't something I'm planning at this point -- there are several better things I'm working on now.

Note: This is not a live performance with real brass players; it uses digital samples. I'm pretty happy with the sound of the tuba, trombone and horn, but the trumpets sound weak to me. It was also hard to get the dynamics exactly how I wanted them, and I'm not interested in being a sound engineer. Maybe I'd like this piece better if I could hear a live performance of it with real instruments. Maybe not.

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