Monday, November 17, 2008


I was just reading the wikipedia entry for Harrison Birtwistle, who I actually met in 2003. I came across this interesting notion in the second paragraph (if it is true great, if not all the same it is an interesting notion) and I quote (that which seems to be a paraphrase)
His favourite image for explaining how his pieces work is to compare them to taking a walk through a town—especially the sort of small town more common in continental Europe than Great Britain. Such a walk might start in the town square. Having explored its main features, we would set off down one of the side streets. As the walk continues, we might glimpse the town square down different streets, sometime a long way off, other times quite close. We may never return to the square in the rest of the walk or we may visit a new part of it that was not explored initially. Birtwistle suggests that this experience is akin to what he does in the music. His image conveys the way that a core musical idea is altered, varied and distorted as the piece of music progresses. The core music forms a reference point to which everything else is directed, even when we are walking in a completely different direction. Sometimes we will be less aware that it is the same musical material we are hearing; sometimes we may have been listening for a while before realising that we have heard this music before (just as one might have been looking up the street before realising that it is the town square that can be glimpsed through the traffic). He is not, therefore, suggesting that we imagine this walk through the town as a literal explanation of what is happening in the music; he does not 'recreate' the effect in the music (as Charles Ives does in some of his orchestral pieces).

What I like is this notion that the listener holds on to the initial material in some fashion and then experiences the rest of the piece in relation to it. This works very well if the initial material is very striking, maybe not as well if that material is not. What I wonder about is the ability of the listener to carry that memory of that material forward. Is this always possible? This model works intuitively well for music that has a strong motive or theme which is then developed through out the piece and re juxtaposed as the piece progresses. Yet this model does not account for other musics (say that of a minimalist texture that evolves through the unfolding of a process). But, this definition is not setting out to explain all musics, rather it is set out to explain one persons music. Still I feel the need to follow out tangents of logic.

This mental model of a composition does do a great job of removing the strict linearity of time through the notion of moving away but still often in contact with the initial material, ie. looking back on the square having gone elsewhere. Clearly the listener is moving through time, but the time is understood to be within a limited zone, the length of the composition.

One thing I really love about this whole description is that it reminds me a description of sound the Marcus Novak once gave. He was trying to get us to understand morphology and he described the sound of a loud crowd that was nearly the entirety of a cities population gathered in one place emanating thorough the city streets as he rushed to get there. As the sound emanated portions of the spectrum were attenuated and pronounced depending on the material that it came in contact with. When it finally reached him, the sound was the result of it's journey and of it's source. Fused together, a new and rich sound emerged. This notion of the sound being changed by it's journey in conjunction with Birtwistles notion of looking back on the city center from various vantage points is quite poetic.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I was speaking with my teacher Clarence Barlow last week and he was telling me about how he used to work with punch cards to produce music. This is nothing remarkable in itself, many early electronic composers can attest to these barbaric beginnings of electronic music. What stuck out to me in our conversation was how he described the sound of a room full of people punching cards. He described the sound of this setting and how marvelous it is simply as a sound environment. I got to thinking about this sound, something I will never encounter in my life. It occurred to me that here you had a room of virtuosic card punchers who will never be assembled and practiced in this fashion again, as there is no need for this approach anymore. One could assemble a room full of people to simulate this, but they would lack the virtuosity that results from years of practice. So, another sound of the past goes undocumented and disappears quietly into the recesses of non existence.

Monday, November 10, 2008

more sailing and concerts

As if 25 mph was not enough last weekend, there was a gale warning out this past weekend and I went out for a sail. Now, I should note that I was with Doug, who took the 104 class with me and we had a good idea of what we were doing, so it wasn't suicide, yet 45mph winds made for quite an amazing and powerful ride.

me at the helm, Santa Barbara and lovely weather in the background.

Doug at the helm.

This was a bit of a get away after a very busy week (it also was practice for this upcoming weekend). The concerts last week were fabulous. On Thursday night 7 took place and it came off quite well. My piece did not work, but I was not heart broken as I felt the length the concert was where I wanted and I had presented it once before last year (an older version, but still, the same basic piece).

Laura Emmery playing James Orshers one note piano piece that I arranged.

Then on Friday, Lungen happened. This was a pretty amazing night. I was quite happy with the sound and received a lot of positive feedback on the project. Most of all it was fun to work with professionals who are just as dedicated as I am to making a really fabulous production. It was a really a great experience. There will be a DVD sometime in December or January.

The entire crew onstage post Lungen. That is Bianca and myself, center-stage.

Now time to get ready for the CREATE concert this Thursday night. I will premiere and new piece, as will Yutaka Makino, Curtis Roads and Horacio Vaggione and there will be a live performance by Kafffe Matthews. This will be an amazing night.

Monday, November 03, 2008

sailing Santa Cruz Island

at the helm, holding down 6.5 knots! What fun

Calafia, our 42 foot Catalina at anchor in Prisoners Cove.

I completed the ASA Coastal Crusing 104 Bareboat chartering class this past weekend by sailing to Santa Cruz Island. It was aa great sail with winds gusting 25-30 knots on the way back! What a ride, the boat flying along at 7 knots and bouncing about. We (our instructor captain Rob, myself, Doug and Wena) went by several amazing places learning that Tales of a Sea Captains Wife is based on sailing in this area. Can't wait to get the guide to crusing in this area and read up a bit more.

Take in the AM while anchored.

coming out of painted cave, there are a family of SeaLions that live in there and they sound amazing! I would never drive a sailboat in there, it was great to have captain Rob along to make it happen.