Wednesday, 29 December 2010

New Piece: St Mary's for Organ.

Recent piece of mine above. It's the third of four 'framed pieces' I've just finished writing. It's super-brief as the score has to fit into an A3 frame and include the various matrices, arrays and geometric gubbins used in its manufacture.

As usual the harmony is a cryptogram of the title, St Mary's (all my pieces begin life like this so it seems, for various reasons, not sure if any other composers use this specific method as my cursory research hasn't turned up anything so far, I'm claming it anyway). In this case the main gesture - or melody if that isn't too unfashionable a term to use - is a direct mapping of the title: 6, 7, 0, 0, 5, 0, 6. That appears in the first section and again transposed in the second (T-1). The vertical harmony was generated via a rotational array.

I could be more specific with the registrations but I'm reasonably happy to leave that to the performer. Also it's the first piece I've written for organ so I'm at least a few country miles away from being any sort of expert in that regard.

St Mary's playing score (©Edward Lawes 2010).

These four pieces are all based on Birmingham things* as I intend to sell them in the new and most spiffing We Are Birmingham shop. (*places, buildings, mottos, all sorts).

St Mary's is a medieval church conveniently located behind my house in Moseley. The piece was written for their organ and the above recording was made there, performed by Michael Perrier (my old piano teacher as it happens, I hadn't seen him since I was 6, that was 1984. I'm taller than him now but he has more hair).

Mick at the organ.

I intend to make a longer piece out of it when I've finished designing the framed scores (taken quite a while to get used to using Illustrator and InDesign also I need to finalise a design that looks nice but is still functional, and even didactic if I can be so bold).

The idea is to make recordings of each piece so people who buy the scores can go online and hear them, and/or I might produce a CDR that comes with each score. This is all something of an experiment at this stage, whether there is much of a market for contemporary scores in this form remains to be seen (I'm not expecting a deluge of commercial action obviously, just a vaguely modest turnover, perhaps).

Thanks loads to Mick for performing the piece and to those at St Mary's for their generosity. Finally an equally gigantic thankyou to Alan Dolhasz for engineering the recording. P.S. the hiss you can hear is the sound of the air going through the organ, it's not tape noise or some other recording artifact. It wasn't that easy to record given the wide dynamic range.

Guess The Score Number 3

Click image to enlarge (you'll be able to see it more clearly then, funny that).

Right, no clues at all this time as surprisingly the previous two scores have been guessed almost straight away (credit to Dan in both cases). It's a great piece, I can say that much. I'll post a YouTube link to it when/if it's correctly identified.

Good luck.

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Correctly guessed really rather quickly by Mr Jacob Sudol. Good work sir!

Christmas Quote 2010

Ligeti: 'What did I come in here for?'**

"Ligeti doesn't ever try your patience. Few composers are so attuned to their audience's concentration threshold."
The Independent, December 1996

Quote taken from the Ligeti Facebook group. 'Like' it.

**Think I've used that pic and gag before but, what the hell.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Friday, 3 December 2010

New S21 Post: The Guerilla Orchestra

Yes, new article of mine just posted over on Sequenza21 featuring The Guerilla Orchestra who'll be performing 'flashmob' style in various UK cities next week to protest about cuts in education funding. Have a read (will repost the article here in a couple of weeks).

Friday, 29 October 2010

Information Theory, Algorithms and The Whitney Music Box (Video)

Interesting video here from Jim Bumgardner (no tittering at the back please British readers). He discusses information theory and entropy/randomness in a manner not unrelated to a previous post about brevity and non-tonal music.

Also of note is his 'Whitney Music Box' which he explains in the second half of the presentation.

Jim Bumgardner at Gel 2007 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Free Stuff!! Bartolozzi Score For 'Collage'

Page one of the book. Not included, unfortunately.

While the publisher has no plans to reprint this rather excellent book I thought as a companion to the pieces I posted previously I'd post the scores too (including the guide on the back page). Not the world's greatest scan but it's legible I think.

'DL' as a .pdf from Dropio here. If the link is dead please let me know in the comments and I'll re-upload it.

Enjoy, presumably.

Perhaps it will be reprinted at some point, why not a digital download? Lame, really.

UPDATE: Thanks to John for posting a comment about Dropio being down (it's now a discontinued service apparently). I've uploaded this score to Mediafire here. Also I'll reupload the Bartolozzi audio files from a previous post when I get time (the files are quite large).

Please post comments about any other dead links and I'll reupload those too. Thanks. Ed.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Guess The Score No.2

Click on the image to enlarge.

Yes, here is the second entry in my already highly regarded 'Guess The Score' series.

This one's not as easy as the previous Varèse extract so I'm not expecting anyone to get it but you never know.

Some clues, the composer is male, still alive, and hasn't composed many pieces for orchestra. This is the beginning of the third movement (as you can see) and features some rather natty quintuplets at different speeds. One of my favourite pieces as it happens.

As before, don't all rush in at once.

EDIT: Congrats to Dan who got the right answer. It's Kurtag's Stele, the first page of the third movement. Have a listen below (turn your speakers up as the introduction is rather quiet).

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Complement.Inversion.Etc 'Ident'

Christmas jumper ('sweater' if you're in North America, I think).

This isn't really a 'proper' post (I won't be linking to it on Twitter and Facebook and so on). It's an 'ident' I made a ages ago which was supposed to preface some instructional vids on harmony (I wanted to explain what a complement inversion actually is, for instance. Not exactly rocket science but worth doing probably).

It's a parody of the BBC Open University ident from the late 70s and 80s and I intended to make the instructional vids in this style too for bit of a laugh (basic computer graphics/diagrams, very dry presentation style and most importantly, a chunky knit Christmas jumper with reindeers or it or something. Quite fancied growing a beard too).

The dots which appear at the end represent the pitch classes used in the rather perfunctory accompanying piece. I seem to remember using some piano chords I recorded for another project and then adding some single pitches also previously recorded (flute and me playing the violin, badly).

EDIT: The first pitch in the piece is an E (4). There's no 4 in the set shown in the animation (or its inversion) and I don't tend to transpose and reduce sets to prime forms etc which got me thinking what the reference is, it can't be the set used in the music. Think it's something to do with the name Complement.Inversion.Etc, will try and work it out if I get the time/energy.

It was some time ago though and the details have left my brain. It certainly isn't a carefully composed piece, just some odds and ends thrown together really.

I made the animation in 3ds Max and processed the video in Vegas.

Anyway, just a bit of fun. I've posted the original Open University ident below too (the music is actually pretty good for a bit of TV incidental music, apart from the distressingly consonant final chord, arguably).

Oh, and why not the classic A Bit of Fry and Laurie Open University sketch too.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Brevity Is The Soul Of Non-Tonal Music

If Shakespeare were alive today, he'd agree with me.

I've said it many times before (at a party last night for instance, fascinating company me) but now it's official.

There are exceptions that prove the rule of course (prove as in test obviously, prove as in confirm would be a bit mental) but generally speaking non-tonal music is like a cup of espresso coffee, or a shot of whisky (single malt naturally) or perhaps most cogently, a poem.

Music which has no pulse, no 'tune' and lacks a tonal centre ought to be fairly brief; unless you can find other means of parsing the material into graspable sections or moments (as Sciarrino does with silence/space or Kurtág via many short movements to cite two examples).

To break this 'rule' or to compose in ignorance of it is to run the risk of writing music which approaches a sort of entropy; so much information that the listener can't process it, can't remember it or walk away feeling like they have a clear idea of the piece. Boredom would be a more prosaic description.

More is certainly less in most cases, many a beautiful chord or flowing contrapuntal section has been ruined by suffocation.

If you're going to write a long non-tonal piece (let's say 10+ minutes) justify it, musically (not with some guff in the programme notes or commentary).

Rant over/off.

Feel free to disagree, as always.

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Saturday, 7 August 2010

Free Stuff!!: Audio For Bartolozzi's 'New Sounds For Woodwind'.

Bruno Bartolozzi: But then you knew that.

So, you've got the Bartolozzi book 'New Sounds For Woodwind' but you don't have the record in the back?

Well, now you have arguably the second best thing, lossless flac versions of the pieces. See the links below for a link to each individual piece. The quality isn't great as it was an old scratchy library record but it's listenable and arguably the surface noise adds a little, something (?).

I haven't processed the audio at all, not sure it's really necessary (obviously I'm not talking about FFT noise reduction or some crackle remover, that would be unthinkable, shudder).

Side 1

Collage for Flute (30mb) ('Bartolozzi' is mispelt in the file name for this one, so sue me).
Collage For Oboe (34mb)

Side 2

Collage For Clarinet (30.5mb)
Collage For Bassoon (75mb)
Collage For Ensemble (14mb)

They're example pieces using the fingerings and techniques he discusses in the book but they do stand up as pieces in their own right, to me at least. I think they are performed by players from the Maggio Musicale Orchestra of Florence in 1967 but the book doesn't make that entirely clear (the book was first published in 1967 so I'm inferring the recording dates, ahem).

Oh and before I forget, you can get a version of Collage for Clarinet on the excellent AGP 84, 'Italian Composers' (including Bartolozzi and Donatoni and you know, all the guys). Not sure if it's the same recording, not compared them, could be, fun.

And, thanks to Mel for transferring the record.

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EDIT 25/03/2010: The audio files have now been re-uploaded to Mediafire as Dropio is no more.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Schoenberg and Slightly More Than 100 Years of Wilful Ignorance

Schoenberg; Table tennis because Wimbledon starts tomorrow (table tennis and tennis are basically the same right? What? You mean I have to look it up?)

I suppose the great man wouldn't be surprised, over 100 years on from his (partial) break with the tonal system and people still think he's 'difficult'. So much so that often they don't even bother to do basic research when passing comment about his work as is unfortunately the case with a recent article about John Williams Luther Adams in The Observer online.

According to Peter Conrad (a teacher of literature apparently which makes his gaffe somewhat more forgivable I suppose)...

As a young man, John Williams Luther Adams upset the sedate peace of American symphonic music. His scores pulsed as relentlessly as the bass in a rock band, his noisy riffs repeated themselves to the point of madness. He enjoyed being childish: in Harmonielehre, a 1984 symphony that alludes to a crabby atonal textbook by Schoenberg, he imagined his infant daughter, Quackie, riding on the shoulders of the German mystic Meister Eckhart.

As is commonly known amongst people who know, stuff, about 20th century music Schoenberg's Harmonielehre is certainly not an 'atonal textbook' and Conrad wouldn't know whether or not the tone of the work is 'crabby' as he obviously hasn't read it. Not exactly an honest or learned beginning to an article.

Disappointing for the Guardian/Observer, if Tom Service were dead he'd be turning in his grave.

I'll shoot Chiggi a message about it, perhaps they can change the article and give Conrad one of those slaps on the back of the head that makes a satisfying 'thwap' sound.

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Tuesday, 8 June 2010

New Series! : Guess The Score! : No1 (!)

Oh yes, it's 2010 (it has been for a while apparently) and it's time for a new series of posts. The title is fairly self explanatory, I'll present a fragment of a full score and you can try and guess what it is.

It's almost like sport only without all of the physical exercise, expensive outfits and potential injuries, what's not to like?

A fairly easy one to start with (don't all rush in at once with guesses everyone). Click on the image if you want to see it more clearly.

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Saturday, 15 May 2010

Free Stuff: Sketch Scores On Your Smartphone!

A mobile phone, and some manuscript paper, amongst other things.

Yes that's right. Unfortunately I can't claim to have programmed some natty 'app' I've actually included here a very simple, almost stupid solution to something that arguably wasn't a problem in the first place.

Ever been out of the house and had a musical idea you wanted to jot down but didn't have a pen or any paper? (I did at a birthday party last night as it happens, hence my 'invention' this morning).

Well, now there's no need to worry as by using a touchscreen smartphone, a free paint package and the blank manuscript .jpg I've included a link to here you can sketch away at your leisure. You can even pretend to be Stravinsky and use different colours, and you know, stuff.

I've got a Nokia phone which uses the Symbian OS and I've been using the Paint Pad 'app' which allows you to 'paint' over a still image. I edited some blank manuscript paper to a convenient size (4 staves, didn't bother with clefs or systems etc for reasons that should be obvious) and now use that to sketch notes on top of (if you wanted to you could of course give yourself more staves or extra details, easy to do in photoshop).

Obviously it's a bit fiddly to use and sometimes accidentals and grace notes etc can be a bit tricky to draw but it does work quite well for basic sketches while you're sitting on the bus and so on.

One day perhaps your phone will play your sketches back to you (any programmers out there?)

The iPhone has a scoring 'app' available, not sure about Android or other platforms but this Paint Pad way of doing things is A: Free, B: Simple, C: Means I actually have a use for the stylus that came with my phone (this was my primary motivation obviously).

So there you go, get to it (or not).

Here's an early attempt at a sketch I did today, not exactly neat but I think you can work out what's going on. Extra brownie points for anyone who can tell me what 'piece' this is a fragment from.

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Thursday, 22 April 2010

Free Stuff! Streams of Feldman

Morton Feldman: Ready to pounce on a small insect perched on Db4.

Spotted this link in UbuWeb's rather useful twitter feed where all manner of interesting things pop up (like this Derrida interview on religion I just saw, I hope it's in English. I speak French fluently of course, just not right now, ahem).

Here are the details then...

Morton Feldman (1926-1987)

  1. Chorus and Instruments (II)

  2. Christian Wolff In Cambridge

  3. The King of Denmark (7:23)
    Realzed by Max Neuhaus.
    This recording should be played at very low volume - "so that you almost don't hear it."

    See accompanying text and score.
    Track 1, 2 from Extended Voices
    Track 3 From Aspen No. 5+6
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Sunday, 18 April 2010

A Brief Autobiographical Technical Encounter, In Lieu of Anything Else

Not Jamie and I discussing something, I've no idea who these people are but if they keep talking much longer they're going to get wet feet. Or are they? Perhaps the tide is going out in the picture? I've no idea but I think the purpose of this picture caption is fulfilled and I'll end it here.

Given the lack of any decent 'original' content on m'blog of late I thought I might post a brief 'discussion' about harmony which occurred on that popular 'social networking' site recently.

The two protagonists are my fine self, and the most distinguished Jamie Bullock. I lead off with a 'status update' about material from a string quartet I'm currently writing...

EL ('status update' 17/04/2010): how can two different transpositions of the same rotational array produce different pitch class sets? I must have made a mistake. Hopefully the decent bit of music I wrote using one array is the correct one of the two. Good times.

EL (comment on 'status update' 17/04/2010): Fixed. Got one line wrong when transposing to the second array somehow. Thought it was odd as the sets were of a different cardinality. Decent bit of music saved then, all is well with the world (apart from war and poverty and disease and old age and, stuff).

JB (comment on 'status update' 18/04/2010): Your compositional techniques sound so much like computer programming (or maths). (Absolutely no implicit criticism intended, BTW). Out of interest, do you ever keep stuff that works musically, but breaks the process you are using?

EL (comment on 'status update' 18/04/2010): It is basically maths I suppose. Set theory a bit but it's more like combinatorics (from what little I understand of higher mathematics anyway).

Also geometry plays a role. I plot every set on a clock face so it's mod 12 arithmetic. Transposition becomes rotation, inversion becomes reflection etc.

Re keeping stuff that isn't justified within the system, no. But more specifically I wouldn't find that material as I don't use my 'ear' for generating material. Only for auditioning material I make via the pre-compositional procedures outlined briefly above.

I have so many ways of generating material from a basic line or set I have no need to use pitches from anywhere else, and it sounds better that way to me. I don't trust my ears any more, I never think 'that would sound better if it were a semitone or a tritone' or whatever, I just accept the results of the system and if I don't like it I use different basic material.

It might sound a bit rigid or dogmatic but if you think about it tonality is just as 'restrictive'. It's only because it's an ideology that many don't see it that way, history becomes nature as Foucault might say.

You wouldn't go from a II-V- progression to a dense chromatic cluster for instance, you'd use tertiary harmony and would consider the root progression. If you list the 'rules' of tonality there is nothing 'natural' or 'free' about it.

The same process applies, one auditions the available material (an output from the system) and one chooses the 'best' stuff.

Same could also be said for our western tuning system. It's sort of amusing that we have a sort of romantic noble savage popular music culture that suggests one can 'invent' or 'create' new music 'freely' by 'ear' as a product of 'inspiration' without any 'training', when in fact the harmonic system employed is just as rigid and limited as any other and the only reason the untrained can write songs/music easily is because of the hard work of many theorists and musicians over hundreds of years.

Oh, the irony.

(this discussion continues in the comments section, feel free to join in).

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Monday, 22 March 2010

A Quotation Because It's Been Rather a Long Time

Susan Bradshaw
'The ultimate aim of any technical system must be to establish a number of stylistic premises, sufficient to liberate the composer from the need to identify himself afresh with each new work and so to free his imagination by removing the burden of absolute choice. Or this is the theory.'
Susan Bradshaw (1931-2005) The instrumental and vocal music; Pierre Boulez: A Symposium. (pg128-129)

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