Saturday, July 23, 2011

Compositional Technique

I got hit over the head today with a couple reminders about how I compose. First there is this part of This American Life.

It really keenly addresses the emotional part of creating art. There is this interesting rendering of "Love Hurts" I noticed in there that they sing "Love Hurts" and how the guitar follows that as if it were a slapback echo. Regarding the content of the show, she points out the necessity of going through the literature. This reminds me of what a music education is, but here it is fueled through angst.

The other thing that hit me over the head is Don Casey's "This Old Boat". What I am noticing in reading this book is that he has created a method of boat restoration that is in line with my thoughts on composition. I have always had the sense that one does not create anything new, but notices unique details in the life they have and if they are a gifted artist can help others to see these details. Details that create wonder and awe. They are of course around us and very benign, but then that is also how life can be thought of. I have always thought the challenge is to see the stuff around us in life as remarkable and interesting, to pull out the facets that cornerstones to supporting the transcendental in our universe. There are many things that go into the equation of how art is created, but starting from and working with the dream aspect, that will move one further than anything else, in my humble opinion. I suppose that is the importance of the story, and the story teller and the shaman, and the poet. What is unique about art music is the sheer abstractness. We have entered an age where sound no longer need be as abstract. Media and electronic art have opened up the ability to connect the music we love and appreciate to the devices and technology that entwines with our existence in the way the vines interlace themselves in great old trees. Let us just hope that these vines recognize the relationship that they are involved in and do not squeeze to tightly. Or put another way, I hope the Robots (or maybe iRobots, or facebots or Google-bots) and the economic forces they represent (or their Martian masters?) are benevolent.

Here is some good material from Casey's book. While not exactly on the dream aspect (he does say more on that later) this get at it and more importantly adresses aesthetics in an honest and pragmatic fashion. It is part of the equation and in fact, the top of the proverbial totem pole.
Perhaps it seems odd to you that beauty leads my list of boat selection criteria. Assuming that most boat purchasers intend to sail away from shore farther than they can swim back, shouldn’t something like seaworthiness lead the list?
Let’s understand this list, shall we? The boat you select should satisfy all ten considerations, seaworthiness included. The purpose of the list is to provide an orderly sequence to the evaluation process, not unlike measure, cut, fit, and glue in the carpentry process. Similarly, every step is required.
I lead the list with beauty because, for most of us, boating—sailing in particular—fills some kind of aesthetic need. There is nothing pragmatic about pleasure boating. It is entirely a romantic endeavor. If the sight of the boat you are considering does not quicken your pulse, she will ultimately prove unsatisfactory no matter how seaworthy, commodious, or practical she is.

Regarding the aquasition of technique, the following is something that has me wishing that I was still teaching composition at UCSB. What took me a year of fumbling, he has said in one paragraph.

Even if changing the bulb in a cabin light is the most complicated task you have previously attempted, that is no reason to assume that you cannot give substance to your vision. The skills required are not difficult and we begin most of the chapters with a simple project that allows you to learn and practice those skills. For example, in the chapter on working with fabrics, we begin by constructing a simple skirt to protect the hull from the fenders. If you can sew the seams and hems required for this simple item, you can also make a bimini top; the skills required are essentially the same. Likewise, if you can cut and install a plywood shelf, you can build an entire cabinet. And if you can paint the inside of a locker, you can refinish a hull.
Clearly it is not possible to detail every imaginable enhancement project, but it is possible to address virtually all of the necessary skills. You need to master only the basic skills illuminated in the following pages to effect the transformation of a sound but tired older boat into a jewel that will turn heads in any anchorage, get you there in safety and comfort, and yield immeasurable pride—and measurable savings.
What more can you ask?

I am sure that this analogy between sailing, sailboat repair and composition, not to mention sea stories, marlinspike knowledge as Clifford Ashley puts it in "The Ashley Book of Knots", is not something that is universal, in fact, I am pretty sure that I am in a minority in this. But that is precisely part of my point. For me, sailing and music are something that I can both feel, think, and dream about. They excite imagination, emotion, intellect and the adventurous spirit that is uniquely mine. And, while others may not hold these same two disciplines in their being, each person has something, or things that they know as intimately. That is the universality, that is the shared human bond.

I am reminded of an interview with Curtis Roads where he speaks of book on LandScape Design as a great book on composition. I went back and watched this interview in order to find the moment and in video one 3:45- 4:10 stands out. I quote.
For me, composing is about the telling [a] story. The sounds are born. They live. They change. They meet other sounds. They collide. One sound destroys another. They merge together, they get married, they get divorced. They get unstable. They change identity. They mutate and then they die. So it’s all about a narrative. It’s a narrative about sounds.

"Challenge me intellectually, challenge me aesthetically."

Here is the bit on the Landscape Design Book. "The Education of a Gardner" When Curtis and I get together I often do tour the garden and it is remarkable. His compositional technique is present in both.

ANd a great finish

Miss you Max


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