• 1 •
Today's high temperature in Banff: -6. For the next two days it's -2 and 4. I think Canadians prefer Celsius because it dramatizes their outrageous weather--in C these numbers become -21, -19, -15.
Really, people. It's November. At least now I see why Thanksgiving is in early October here; in the old days people had probably run out of pumpkins and resorted to eating boot leather by this time of year.
• 2 •
Concerts, concerts, oh God, the concerts. I premiered two new piano pieces two Fridays ago, and this week had the opportunity to play some pop piano and a Dylan cover with string trio. This Tuesday I'm hosting an informal studio hang to present a few new tunes for violin, piano, and drums.
It's been an interesting foray into jazz composition these last few weeks, preparing for this show. I should really say "jazz composition" and "show," the latter because it's so informal, more like a workshop, the former because there's not much that separates this approach from any other composition of mine besides the fact that there are improvised solos and I feel justified using lazy notational practice.
From a psychological standpoint, though, there is a difference. I've never been comfortable with the assumption in classical tradition that it's all in the score; I understand it, I appreciate where it came from, but it's never felt appropriate for my music. In "jazz composition" the role of performers in shaping and fleshing out the composition in the moment is expected and integrated, which feels more natural.
Nonetheless I've learned some notational lessons, particularly regarding meters. To be specific, I'm moving away from long meters such as 11/8 and 13/8; I used these in one tune and they're just obfuscating, because what it really is in this case is 3/8 + 4/4 and 3/8 + 5/4. It isn't very helpful to write 11 or 13 when no one is feeling that number of beats. You don't feel 3 beats in 3/8 either, but there the implication is clear that you feel one large beat.
I also broke a personal rule recently in one of my solo piano pieces and, for the above reasons, used a 1/4 bar. I normally abhor 1-numerator bars and still feel slightly dirty from the whole experience.
• 3 •
I'll retreat from technical talk, but must also mention that Dal Segno is back and better than ever. Players seem really thrown when I use it, but I dig. D.S. al Coda flies in the face of recent composition in a kind of lovely little way, providing as it does direct recapitulation and recognizable material. It's a gesture to the listener as well as the player. There's something humble about using a D.S., and besides, it saves paper.
I'm still honing this "jazz composition" thing and what it means for me; but the cool thing is, while these pieces are not totally successful or refined, I'm still on my biggest compositional tear in about three years, and it feels good.
• 4 •
To the cool people list I add Sarah Rothenberg
, NYC and Houston-based pianist who puts on these fascinating concerts that draw connections between classical music and contemporaries in other art forms, also in collaboration with stage design people, lighting people, video artists, etc etc. We only saw still images of her recent show on Kandinsky and The Blue Rider, but I can see how this approach could really make traditionally unapproachable early 20th-century music come alive for people who don't have doctorates in music (and for those who do, as well). She also played us a bunch of Schoenberg and Berg as well as Scriabin's Vers la flamme
, which was totally awesome.
• 5 •
Maurice Ravel's String Quartet. ahhhhhhhhhhh. The Piano Trio, too. I'm absolutely stunned by the way the man used rhythm and meter. Time seems so freely malleable in this music. In the first movement of the Piano Trio the music is always slowing down, but it just keeps floating forward. There are large chunks of music where the meter never changes and yet the accent is always shifting, resulting in this incredible time texture.
• 6 •
The music residents had the pleasure of a personal introduction by Vancouver-based artist Geoffrey Farmer
to his ongoing piece here on campus, God's Dice
, which he calls a "sculpture play." It's on for four weeks and continuously evolving. There's a stage in the gallery with, right now, big tall mirrors and other props from the theatre department. Our day there was a live performer, whose role is also in flux. There were musical instruments in the corner. So there's this visible process, assuming you leave and come back, of the piece's development. Farmer even said he might "rehearse" with the performers or make changes while visitors are in the gallery.
At one point during our visit he decided to take on such a rehearsal with the woman on stage, so he started to make sounds with some of the instruments in the corner and let her react to them (previously there had been audio of Merce Cunningham speaking). It was funny to watch all of us music people stop and suddenly treat the proceedings as a concert
; we all got quiet and stood respectfully still, just by habit. For me, when he started playing suddenly the whole experience and their interaction became jazz music, which was fascinating. I look forward to visiting this piece frequently for the next three weeks; I'm intrigued by the role of improvisation in the whole thing. Farmer seems to have only a vague idea of where it might go. It's like an extremely long-form improvisation using space as well as visual and audio elements… cool stuff. It helps that he speaks convincingly about his work, conceptually, but avoiding empty jargon. The whole conversation was very illuminating.
It's great for musicians to talk with contemporary artists. The sort of expectations and constraints they place on themselves are so different, and always help me move through my blocks and hangups.
• 7 •
Where else do you get to eat lunch with outdoors writers who are working on book proposals about their homemade boat, their cabin on an island in northern BC, their two-month solo Arctic river trip, and then the same day witness a workshop of a brand new musical with legit Broadway performers and directors? Banff is ridiculous.