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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fugue in G Minor

It's been a while since I posted anything, not because I've been doing nothing, but because I've been working on too many different pieces concurrently rather than finishing any of them right away. So, I took a little break to work out this old piece, a 3-voice fugue that I wrote before I knew the rules for writing fugues (actually, I still don't really know -- my only counterpoint class was in 16th century modal counterpoint, but anyway...). I cleaned it up slightly a while back, but there are probably still a few hidden parallel fifths in there somewhere along with other technical errors. Nevertheless, I think it's not completely horrible...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Adagio in D Minor

As with the previous piece posted here, this was also originally a piano piece that I thought might benefit from being transcribed for strings. It shares other similarities as well, but had no preset restrictions of material and is in three parts rather than four, so was adapted for a string trio. However, the mood of the piece suggested a pair of violas and cello rather than the usual combination of violin, viola and cello -- it turns out that the top part goes a half step below the bottom of the violin's range, but my decision was made before even considering that, and now it's hard for me to even think of this as a piano piece. Rhythmically, this piece features slow syncopation and variations of three against two configurations. As far as the name goes, I wanted to give it a more descriptive title, but everything I could think of was either too long or not enough; it is what it is.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Nocturne for String Quartet

This is another short, simple piece. Originally for piano, I thought that with a little tinkering it might be better suited for strings. It was done as an exercise in which the melody was to be strictly limited to a given set of notes: C, D, E, G, and A. I immediately rearranged these as C-G-D-A-E, which suggested to me a quartal harmonic structure. The changes to adapt it for strings were minimal, and true to the rules of the exercise, the first violin part consists of only the five given notes, with the other three instruments being more free, subject only to the harmonic scheme.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Most of the pieces posted here so far are ones I've described as easy, and while Scherzo #2 is a little tricky, the rhythm of Once makes it a bit of a challenge, and the Allegro requires physical strength... this one is hard. I think this little nugget of insanity is less difficult to listen to than it is to play; at least, I hope it is. The title is in part a description of the "car horn"-like sound of the chords, but mainly due to the fact that the left and right hands actually run into each other and cross over in various places.

This is one of my "mathematical" compositions, not in the sense that it uses formulas as such, but in the generation of the material. It is based on a single four-note cell, starting with C, then up a half-step, up a whole step, and up another half-step. This cell (with various permutations and subsets) is used in only three transpositions, starting on C, G, and F, presented initially as the three opening chords. If you write out these three cells, you'll see that exactly one note in the chromatic scale is omitted, and exactly one note appears twice. These two notes, D and A-flat, comprise what there is of a "counter-subject", used mainly as a sort of punctuation.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nota Brevis

This is another old piece, a short thing in the spirit of a Bach two-part invention, but more primitive -- less rigorous imitation, and modal (Aeolian) rather than strictly tonal. I'm pretty sure that the first several notes were based on either the letters in someone's name or a mathematical formula, but I don't remember which name or formula it might've been.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Waltz in D Minor

While continuing to work on some more substantial pieces, I'm also going back to some of my old ones. This is one of them, a quick little waltz -- nothing fancy, just fun. For some reason, I usually yell, "¡OlĂ©!" at the end, which would make a whole lot more sense if it sounded the least bit Spanish.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Untitled Prelude

This isn't a prelude without a title; its name is Untitled Prelude, one of my few older pieces that has actually had a title from inception, which I find mildly amusing and possibly a tiny bit ironic. Now, prelude implies that there is something to follow, and there is, something that remains unfinished after years, although I think it's not too far from being done (and perhaps fittingly, it remains unnamed, the manuscripts being labeled simply with a Roman numeral II). This little prelude is in 3/4, G minor (actually, more Aeolian mode except in a couple of spots), mildly contrapuntal, one of my easiest pieces to play, and very brief (as it is an introduction to the unfinished companion piece):

I've always thought that this might be better on organ, but I couldn't get an organ sound that I liked for it on my current setup; I did, however, find this synth sound with an echo effect that suggests a background of running 8th notes; I especially like the effect it gives during the two ritardandos:

Allegro in C

This piece is primarily a reminder that the piano is a percussion instrument, although it loses a little something on a digital piano -- or at least on this one, which softens it and lessens the impact that can be achieved on a real piano. It's a modified sonata form: The primary theme gets a full hearing, but the second theme (in G, as expected) is very brief, with the development starting before its completion (there is hardly any sense of having ever landed in the key of G), leading to a brief false recapitulation in A before the real recapitulation with the primary theme in G rather than C and the second theme in C as it should be, but inverted, leading to a coda that combines the two main themes before working its way back to the home key and ending with an echo of the opening.

While it is in C Major, the harmony is based more on 4ths and 5ths (and by extension, 2nds and 7ths) than 3rds and 6ths. Also, the meter is fairly chaotic -- apart from one stretch of 5 bars in 2/4, the time signature doesn't remain constant for more than three bars at a stretch, shifting more or less constantly between 2/4, 5/8, 3/4, 6/8 and 7/8, but not in any particular order. Texturally, it varies between contrapuntal, statement and response, a few brief passages of actual single-line melody with accompaniment, but it's mostly just pounding out chords. It's fun to play -- not so much technically difficult as it is physically demanding; playing it (correctly) after being away from the piano for a while makes my forearms hurt.

Hmm... this description is almost as long as the piece itself. Enough talk; here it is:

Edit: I tried a different movie maker and got this:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


This isn't one of my earliest pieces and it isn't among the newer ones, either, but this treatment is new. Originally a piano piece, I've always imagined the melody being played by an oboe, and now I don't have to imagine it. What I like about this piece is that while the melody is very expressive, the accompaniment follows a logical, almost mechanical, progression that was like working a puzzle, and yet they seem (at least to me) to fit together pretty nicely. My mom actually prefers it with a flute, so here are both versions:



Sonata in E Minor

This wasn't exactly easy to write, but it went much quicker than most of my pieces. It's a straightforward sonata in E minor with a very traditional harmonic language, the distinguishing feature being its time signature (11/8), which along with the tempo remains constant throughout, the apparent slowdowns being accomplished by the use of consecutive dotted eighth notes.

Why 11? For one thing, I like prime numbers. Second, I have some still unfinished pieces in 5 and 7, so 11 is the next step in that progression. Finally, I saw it as a challenge: to write something coherent in such an inherently unstable time signature. Complex time signatures can generally be broken into subgroupings of 2's and 3's -- 5 is either 2:3 or 3:2; 7 is 2:2:3,2:3:2, or 3:2:2; 11 bumps the possible combinations up to nine. I finished this one before the 5 and 7 pieces even though I started it much later; the decision early on to use the sonata form for this piece helped push it along. I still think the little fugue section in the development could be longer, but I like the transition out of it and don't want to mess with that.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Scherzos...

... or should that be Scherzi? If I was Italian, I might care about that. The word "scherzo" is Italian for "joke", and is the name of a musical form denoting light, humorous pieces, usually in triple time.

Scherzo #1 is one of my earlier pieces, and although it's in 2/4 and in G minor, I always thought it had the spirit of a scherzo even if it's not entirely typical. The form is a simple AABAA, with slight variations in the inner A sections. It employs a dissonant ostinato -- in the right hand throughout the A's and in the left for the B -- but the harmony is very traditional. I've always considered this fun to play but very simple, yet for some reason this is one of the pieces that other musicians seem to like. Here it is:

Scherzo #2 (subtitled "Oops!", my original description of the opening), while showing signs of having the same paternity, is much more recent, having been completed late last year. This one is in 3/8, also in G minor, but much more aggressively dissonant, less formally structured, and a bit more difficult. All of the material is derived from the first 12 bars, the components being (1) the opening "Uh, oh!" idea, (2) stacked fourths, (3) alternating half-step 16ths, (4) repeated 16th note clusters, (5) a chromatic "unwinding" pattern derived from 3, and (6) a slow idea that is a combination of 2 and 5, accomplished not by a tempo change but by shifting from 16th and 8th notes to 8ths and quarters. The ending kind of snuck up on me -- I was working on it during lunch at work one day and when I got to that point, it just hit me that I'd gotten to the end. Here's the piano version:

And here's a synthesizer version that I believe softens the harshness of the dissonance while accentuating the comical nature that may be less obvious in the piano version:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Cimarron Way

The new stuff isn't quite ready yet, but this is almost like new, as up until now this piece existed -- in rough form -- only on a single cassette tape recorded straight from an old Fender Rhodes electric piano. While playing around with my new digital setup, I stumbled upon the electric piano sound and was immediately reminded of this old thing. I didn't even go looking for the tape, just worked it out from memory and finished it.

My problem with a lot of jazz is that it's too long, rambling and lacking structure; whatever other faults this piece may have, I think (hope) that I've avoided at least these. It's not Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck or even Cedar Walton, but it is jazz, and it's mine:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Here's one of my old piano pieces. It's pretty simple stuff, played with only the right hand, but I think it sounds kind of neat with this sound. The title is pretty lame, but I had to name the file something, and "That Harp-Thing", which is what I've always thought of it as (the original manuscript has no title on it, as with most of my music) is even dumber.

I'll probably be posting a more substantial and much more recent piece once I've worked out a few final details in articulation.