Composition diary for “Anthropocene” #1

Life in the Anthropocene composition diary #1

In December when I got my acceptance letter for Mixtur, I already started slowly – but surely! – planning the composition. A title that kept recurring in my mind is “Life in the Anthropocene”. During the Autumn, I read a lot about the Anthropocene, as well as articles from the Dark Mountain Project (see here). As I see in the news today from David Attenborough talking at Davos (article here), it is easy to see that this theme is incredibly relevant. In this blog I will not go over the environmental crisis that we’re living through, but it has been a big part of the inspiration for this piece which is a duo for violin and cello.

For Mixtur, we are only allowed acoustic compositions. I have been wondering if, as an exercise in compositional process, I should only do the electronics AFTER the full composition is finished, to see how that affects the electronic processes. Having already written quite a bit of the work, I’m uncertain if I will even add electronics. It feels slightly disingenuous considering the theme of the piece.

Now for the composition… After using several weeks to think about the form, I came up with the following drawing:

Basic form graphically. First sketch of the whole piece

Sorry for my very poor drawing skills. The form is mainly an A1-B1-C-B2-A2-D if taken down to its essence. The D being a sort of coda to finish the piece. The important aspects are the differences between A, B and C which I would like to discuss. My main idea for A and C, was a deep type of polyphonic and chaotic material. B on the other hand is a type of convergence where the different voices come together, at least seemingly.

Originally, the idea of using fractals such as Bernsley’s fern for sections A and C seemed interesting. But having played around with the idea and creating certain simple prototypes, it wasn’t really the type of music I wanted. Putting several of these over each other also didn’t really appeal to me because of the composition’s theme. Therefore, the only algorithmic section is the B section which will be explored a bit more later on.

In the last few days I have also been re-writing the first A section several times. Here’s an example taken from the first few bars (notation is rough when I’m still writing). This:

Turned into, then followed by the pizzicato line which is also extended:

Ignore the lower G in bar 5, it’s from a previous idea

In my sketches I have several small “theme” and different parameters to play around with throughout the composition. At this point I’m still not completely satisfied with the A section. I feel it needs to be more chaotic in a sense, and that many of the parameters are still perhaps not clear enough for myself in how they should be changed and organized. Although I have sketches for each section (such as the drawing further up), I never tend to follow these like a slave. They really are just a springboard for exploration.

For the two B sections, I create an algorithm (which I might post if wanted) loosely based on the Bernsley’s fern which can in a way be seen as a mix between a Lidenmeyer and Markov system. The algorithmic sections only calculate groupings and articulations. The pitches are already set within my general form. They also follow a rhythmic “grid” which is also interpolated in the C section. Once again, the algorithm is not followed like a slave, but really more as a reservoir of possibilities to be mutated into something that fits the compositional desire I have.

I only have a very rough sketch of the start of the C section at this point. As mentioned earlier, some of the rhythmic ideas of the B section are then interpolated to never exactly fit together. Throughout the composition these small rhythmical fragments come back and again. They come together, and move away. This is a direct inspiration from the idea of the Anthropocene and what we have done to the planet. An example of the interpolation grid can be seen here:

Rhythmic idea
Interpolation between A and B

For the rest of the week I’m hoping to fully flesh out and become satisfied with the A section, as well as finishing a very rough sketch of the rest. I tend to have bits and pieces of the whole composition, and never compose linearly. While writing this, I’ve also come to realize how much writing on paper and not only on computer affects my ideas. I came to write on paper because of a professor I had in counterpoint, and it just became a habit. I tend to quickly move between paper and computer, both giving me different feedback and different ways to visualize that I need for the composition at hand.

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