Composition diary for “Anomie” #1

After reading many different methodologies about practice-based research, I have concluded that it could be useful to start recording my compositional process while writing pieces that are relevant to my research areas. This will not be as thorough as for example Philippe Leroux’s recording of his process with the composition “Voi(rex) (2002), but should still give a clear view of my compositional process and its relationship with the use of electronics and especially synchronization methods.
This piece will be the result of Bahareh Ahmadi asking me to write a short piece with electronics for one of her concerts. She has been a good friend of mine for several years, and has gotten curious about the use of electronics in contemporary classical music after hearing a few of my own compositions. We have sent each other much music back and forth by composers like Rolf Wallin, Emmanuel Nunes, Pascal Dusapin, etc.
The limitations I have been given are that the piece should not be too difficult, or be much longer than about eight minutes. Out of pragmatism, the use of electronics should also be relatively simple and easy to set-up. This is partly inspired by reading and listening to Hans Tutshku and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay. As much as I would like to always be able to have complex systems such as those found in Manoury’s “Tensio” (2010), time and money will rarely allow it. Discussing these issues with several musicians as well as reading articles by performers has made me want to try to make something more pragmatic. Therefore I am also thinking of the possibility of only having two small speakers inside the piano for the electronics, instead of a PA.
The first idea that came to mind was inspired by reading about technical failures in mixed music. A composer (whom I sadly cannot remember the name of right now) wanted to make a piece in which the piano plays with white noise. As the pianist presses different pieces, the area around the played pitch is filtered out of the white noise. For some reason, this became technically difficult to realize at the concert and they therefore shifted to using political speeches, which in turn completely changed the message and concept of the composition.
My original idea was in many ways to reverse this concept. What if the pianist is slowly adding overtones, pitches, etc to form something in the background? After listening to a lot of Thinking Plague recently, I settled for the idea of forming some polytonal chords. A technique that I sometimes use for fun is to “hide” relatively banal tonal elements in a post-tonal context. So here for example, an element of the electronics that the piano will activate is the progression I-vi-ii-V7 but polytonal and reversed, essentially creating: I/V7-vi/ii-ii/vi-V7/I. From this idea of symmetry, I thought that the two tonalities to be used should be related by a tritone. This relatively “tonal process” is to happen in the background while the foreground is closer to traditional post-tonal writing (although with allusions to the polytonality). The main figure I have figured out so far is the cell [0-3-11-8] and all of its permutations or ways of using this cell.
I have also thought of the dynamic form of the piece and have drawn it.
The electronics that are drawn out of the piano pitches should sound like waves that do NOT fall completely synchronized with how the pianist is playing and essentially create a vibrating sound mass that moves. Other electronic processes such as the use of reverb and delays are also thought to be used to highlight certain passages.
As for the synchronization… The piano is often a difficult instrument because although it is ONE instrument, it is generally played polyphonically. Although I have had some success by using Antescofo (score following) in a piano piece, it is often slightly less reliable, especially if the music is very polyphonic. Therefore, this synchronization method is seen as less desirable. Using it would possibly confine my writing to being either less polyphonic or more based on block chords which the program manages to follow. Once again on this subject I must refer to Hans Tutschku’s ideas of triggering events in his piece Zellen-Linien. An envelope follower combined with a MIDI pedal could a good combination which allows me the compositional flexibility I want, yet be precise enough for what I want the electronics to do. Since I doubt any of the electronics will be precise rhythmic figures, short delays and errors are not necessarily as noticeable. Because of this, the use of tape could also be done, but this would make the electronics mostly non-responsive to real-time changes. The use of the pedal and for example, an envelope follower can still allow me to extract acoustic features of how the pianist is playing, and use those to affect the electronics.
These relationships are to be sketched out more today…