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.