2011–Looking ahead

The year is now only nine hours old. Time to look ahead at what I hope to accomplish in the next 365 days.

Composition for 2 pianos and percussion. This will be my principal project for the foreseeable future. As I noted before, the commission has been “officialized” and I’m ready to begin. Work has actually already begun, but as of now, most of it is in my head as I try to come up with a broad outline for a piece of approximately 20 minutes.

One thing that’s been much on my mind recently are some of the haunting and fascinating sounds that can be coaxed from a piano by playing it in ways that it was never intended to be played. One of the best examples of what I’m talking about is the Bowed Piano Ensemble, which needs to be seen to be believed.

I had the idea of including some of these techiques in my piece, and that gave me the idea of beginning with some extended drones for bowed bass piano strings, played by the percussionists, while the pianists play normally. But there are problems with that idea. For one, two players aren’t enough to create some of the rich textures I imagine. There’s also the concern that some performance venues may not allow the insides of their precious pianos to be touched, for fear of causing damage. As well, one of the conditions of the commission is that the piece can be brought into the community and performed in places other than professional concert halls. That means that baby grands or uprights may be the only pianos available. So that idea isn’t going to work.

But I’m not giving up on it completely. I am now considering the possiblity of including an electronic component to the work–what I’m thinking of as a “soundtrack” (even though I know that’s not the most useful term)–which will consist partly of sounds derived from extended piano techniques, as well as synthesized sound. I’ve purchased and am currently downloading a package of sample libraries by Tonehammer which include some pretty wild piano sounds, and I plan to use them along with Omnisphere to realize the soundtrack.

Of course, if I do this, I’ve only traded one set of problems for another. How will the players synchronize with the soundtrack? How prominent will it be? Will it be equal to the acoustic instruments, or in the background? I have yet to make a decision on these (and no doubt many other) questions. And it’s still entirely possible that I’ll just forget the whole thing and try to come up with a different idea.

That’s about all I can say at this point. Hopefully I’ll have more to say soon.

Oh, and one other thing. I decided I needed a working title, so I came up with “Iris.” It’s better than calling it “that piece for pianos and percussion” for the time being, but I’ll probably come up with something better by the time I’m done.

I’m also planning to work on a setting, for chorus and orchestra, of Walt Whitman’s Death Carol. This is something I’ve wanted to write for years, possibly decades by now. But I haven’t been able to interest anyone else in the project, so it’s been languishing in the back of my mind for far too long. But I can’t stand not writing it any longer, so I’ve decided to go ahead and do it. As of now, I’ve gotten most of the first stanza in a rough sketch, which needs a bit of polish still. This will have to be a lower priority project, but I’m determined to continue.

There are other things on my mind as well as some smaller pieces that have been started over the past several years, but never finished. Some of them deserve to be completed, and I’m going to make an effort to rescue them from the bottom of the drawer.

Also, even though I want to put the focus on composition for a while, there are some arranging projects that I’ll be working on as well. More on those later.

Well, it looks like my little vacation is over. 2011 is shaping up to be a pretty busy year!

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3 Responses to 2011–Looking ahead

  1. gerald says:

    The “Bowed Piano Ensemble” is fascinating !
    Kind of some piano surgery leading to music from bowels…

    I love Drones* especially and i found it a good idea to think about for your piece.
    Including electronic components to the piece would be stimulating in many ways, the rest is all about thinking, directions & restrictions…

    Check these out :
    * http://thurly.net/0jmj

  2. admin says:

    My sketch for the beginning of the piece is actually based on a long, evolving drone. I haven’t yet worked out how to get out of it.

    If you think the Bowed Piano Ensemble is fascinating, I recommend their CD “Vikings of the Sunrise.” I was just listening to it in the car today.

  3. gerald says:

    Tonehammer’s demos sound good…

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