Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Tribute to Back Pain

Here's what happened: Just before Labor Day weekend, I came down with a bug that was going around the office. It didn't last long, but left me with a persistent cough, which was bad enough that one particularly violent coughing fit a full two weeks later pulled a muscle in my back, causing me to miss work the next day, as I could barely walk. It hurt badly enough that I couldn't really concentrate on any work, whether job-related or my music. Still, I did come up with a little idea for piano that was simple enough not to require much thought, and when I played it back I heard something else that had to go with it. Apart from a couple of inevitable tweaks over the next couple of days (mostly phrasing and dynamics), this was done over the span of a couple of hours, interrupted only by coughing spells that further aggravated the back pain. It should've been posted over a month ago, but I got distracted by other pieces (and my dislike of the Windows Movie Maker software -- the Blogger interface doesn't allow for the direct posting of sound files). The cough is now gone, and the back is better (mostly).

So, here it is -- the sound of lower back pain. Enjoy...

Monday, August 3, 2015

String Quartet No. 2

This is an older piece, which I had not posted previously because I couldn't get an acceptable quality virtual performance with my old sound library. The new sound library, while not perfect, made about as close an approximation to a decent performance as possible without professional players. It's far from what I'd call a good performance, but as I don't personally know a professional string quartet, this will have to do for now. I'm not sure if the sul ponticello effects are noticeable enough but left them all in, and I didn't like the quality of the col legno sounds, so removed them.

It's a four movement quartet, based on the octatonic scale. The first movement, slow and restrained, follows it strictly, using only the notes E-F#-G-A-Bb-C-C#-D#. The second movement, fast and rather violent, adds the F, and is the only movement that maintains a single time signature throughout. The third movement, opening on a B, starts as a cello solo for about the first half, and once all the others join in picks up speed and intensity, then the instruments drop out one by one, leaving the end as a shorter viola solo along the lines of the cello's opening. This is the movement that suffers most from lack of live players. The quartet closes with another fast movement, slightly faster and more scherzo-like than the second, adding the D near the beginning and finally G# around the middle.

Overall, the entire piece is a good bit less "user friendly" than my more recent stuff, the final movement probably being the most accessible. The best thing about posting this is the encouragement it gives me to finish my SQ#3, which employs a more traditional tonality (mostly) and more regular time signatures (mostly).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Riparian Sketch for Small Orchestra

riparian - adj: of, situated, or dwelling on the bank of a river or other body of water

The body of water in question here is a bayou; specifically, Bayou Terrebonne. I've been using the name "sketch" previously to denote short, quickly written pieces that don't neatly fit into an established form. In this case, however, I mean the term a little more literally. This is a musical sketch of a bayouside scene. Roughly speaking, the strings represent the water, with the harp and winds variously portraying the sun, animals, plants and ground. The instrumentation is for a full string section and harp, with only one each of flute, clarinet, English horn, bassoon, trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba, hence the "Small Orchestra" part of the title.

I started this back in 2010, sketching out a general idea of strings slowly oscillating at different speeds, with the winds and harp slowly ascending an F major scale spread among different octaves, sometimes overlapping, sometimes leaving gaps, mostly fading in and out. The initial chord, from bottom to top, is F-C-E-D-G, which doesn't seem very F major-y, but with the stepwise back and forth motion of the string parts and their differing speeds, they occasionally and very briefly coalesce into an F major chord. I set it aside for a few years, because it wasn't very exciting; it still isn't, really, but I think it has other redeeming qualities. I think it's possible to be relaxing without being boring, and I hope that's what this piece manages to do.

Is this minimalism? I don't know, but if so, it's not intentional; this is just how the idea worked out. 

Update - 8/7: The video was cutting off around the 2:45 mark; not sure if it's been that way all along, so I re-uploaded it. If you've had it stop like that, give it another try, because you've missed the best part.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Midsummer Update

After getting off to a brisk start in January, things here seem to have slowed down quite a bit, haven't they? I really expected to have hit at least a half dozen for the year by now, but that obviously hasn't happened. 

What went wrong? Mainly, it's the usual distractions and the limited stretches of uninterrupted time available, but it's also because of working on some larger-scale pieces and acquiring a better sound library that has required a lot of tweaking of existing stuff, particularly dynamics and phrasing (my next non-piano post will use this new library). Plus, I can't turn off the spigot of new ideas, each of which I have to at least get down enough to go back to later.

I have a piano fugue in F Major that is close to being done (as soon as I feel like getting back to it), a not-quite-jazz/not-quite-rock/not-quite-Dvorak/not-quite-Bartok thing at a similar distance to completion, and have spent a lot of time over the past couple of months on the first movement of a Symphony in G Minor.

What appears to be closest to completion at this point, however, is something I'm calling A Riparian Sketch for Small Orchestra in F Major (but not quite the same F Major as the fugue!), scored for strings, harp, and four each from the brass and woodwinds, with English horn taking the place of an oboe because its first note is a half-step below the bottom end of the oboe's range, and because I like the darker tone. I solved the last (I think) structural problem last night, and it may be done within the next couple of weeks, depending on how picky I get with it and whether I can stick to this one without going off onto other and newer ideas. I think it has my best brass writing to date (at least out of completed pieces), and as a bonus, a lot of material that I've removed from it could show up elsewhere.

So, hang in there a little longer, and I'll try to make it worth the wait.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sketches for String Quartet: No. 3 - Lacerta

Not much more to say about this one; as mentioned earlier, this was my fourth start at the third sketch. It's in 4/4, E major, and opens with overlapping double-stopped fifths, as does the nearly completed 2nd movement (or possibly 4th, depending on whether I rework the first) of my String Quartet No. 3. The difference is that the SQ3 movement is in B Major, and its opening chord is built top to bottom, and played pizzicato, while this one is built bottom to top, and bowed.

This should've been posted over the weekend, but a furniture-related adventure took more time and energy than anticipated. It'll probably be a while before the next posting; hopefully a matter of weeks rather than months. Maybe I'll dig up one or two older pieces if work on the new stuff slows down.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sketches for String Quartet: No. 2 - Passacaglia

Continuing with the series of sketches for string quartet, this is an odd little passacaglia in G minor... if it even really is a passacaglia. It is odd -- the ground bass pattern (in 3/4, as it should be) in the cello is 3 bars long rather than the more usual 4 or 8. At under a minute and a half, it's also little. The passacaglia part may be less certain, as it's not so much a series of variations over a ground bass as it is independent parts layered over it. The ground bass pattern is played a total of seven times: first, unaccompanied, then with the second violin joining in, then adding the viola, then the first violin. They all continue through the fifth time, and then the four parts come closer to playing together for the sixth, which -- the note values of the cello part being doubled -- is six bars rather than three. The seventh time through returns the voices to their previous independence, and then it wraps up with a brief coda.

So, even if this isn't a real passacaglia, I'm still calling it one, because that's what I meant for it to be. It came together the quickest of the three completed so far, all changes after the hour or so after starting it being mainly phrasing and dynamics, with just a minor change to the viola part in the coda later on. It's probably also my favorite of the three, although the soon to be posted #3 has been growing on me.

One final change that I decided not to make involves the very last chord. It's technically an inverted E-flat major chord, but is in effect G minor with an unresolved augmented fifth. I played with the idea of having the second violin move from its E-flat to D at the very end, but while it sounds nice, I decided that the unsettled feeling of holding the E-flat just fits the overall mood of the piece better.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sketches for String Quartet: No. 1 - Spring

First of all, although this piece was finished on December 28, I didn't intentionally hold it back in order to pad my 2015 numbers -- really! It's just that the Blogger format forces me to post them as videos (there's a workaround, but I don't feel like going through that, either), and I'm still getting used to the new version of Windows Movie Maker; the one on my old XP machine was so much easier to use. And then there was the problem of finding the right pictures for it; I think for the next one I'll go back to just slapping a title on a background.

This is what was initially going to be part of a single piece entitled Three Sketches for String Quartet, but around the time of my previous post, I decided to split them into separate pieces, for a few reasons. First, I'm calling them sketches rather than movements of a real string quartet due to their short length and the lack of any real relationship between them. The first two were essentially done shortly after I started them in 2013, but I made several different starts on the third, and had gotten to thinking that it might take some time for the third to let me finish it. Also, looking back at the four other starts for the third sketch, I thought I could develop one or more of them into further sketches, but I'm not sure whether it will stop at seven, or if working on these other fragments might give me further ideas, so I can't put a number on the collection yet. I'll just post them in the order in which they're finished.

As mentioned above, the first two were essentially done back in 2013, but in anticipation of posting them, I did make a few final tweaks (mainly to this one), and the third was finished on the 28th, so I'll be posting each of these shortly.

So, why post a piece subtitled "spring" in the middle of winter? Simple -- the spring in the title isn't the season; it's meant as both a verb and the mechanical device. It's in 4/4, and is sort of in C major, but with a lot of chromaticism. This rendering is not really correct, because my sound library doesn't include sul ponticello strings (the lack of snap pizzicato, col legno, and non vibrato is also annoying, and glissandi are not realistic enough). Also, on the final chord I've gone back and forth between having it bowed or plucked, along with some combinations of the two, but here it is for now: