Sunday, January 29, 2006

Champagne, Storms and a New Commission

... we apologise for the delay, normal service will resume, um, immediately...

Ah, what a month! A spectacular time was had by all for the silly season. Merriment and frivolity balanced equally with threatening disaster and impending doom!

Following the usual, yet always wonderful, holy-for-some days (traditionally celebrated in my household by trying to gain as much weight in as short a time as possible) the year ended well enough with a sublime evening with my darling wife and a few friends and relatives (but sans children) by the majestic Capital City Waterway. Corks flew and mobs cheered "Champagne!" as 2005 packed up its bags and set on the long journey into the history books.

Then 2006 woke up in a nasty, post-party mood to let us know that it isn't a year to be trifled with.

Wind blew and hail fell as a mighty maelstrom made mischief across the map. On attempting to make my way to retrieve my girls from the care of Mopsy and Popsy, the news came through that the Bananarama Valley ferry service had been suspended. After waiting several hours I managed to get through (on a temporarily re-opened ferry) to find Mopsy and Popsy under threat from rising waters. Whilst watching the waters rise news came through that Point Moot by the sea was also suffering with at least half a dozen houses washed away!

Let me assure you that it is a surreal, yet unpleasant, experience to watch one disaster with your very own eyes, whilst listening to news on the radio about another in your home town.

But, we were safe, and we all made it back to The Point in one piece to find our humble abode still standing with nary a water mark to be found.

Since our return I've been extremely busy keeping the Lighthouse duties under control and have found little time for musical interaction. However, a leftover, temporarily forgotten, idea from an abandoned project has just been resurrected in a new commission for the Point Moot by the sea Community Music Project Contemporary Progressive Orchestra (CPO for short). The CPO is no ordinary orchestra; membership is open to all instrumentarians of high enough calibre. So, if you play a stylophone or spoons or minimoog or ukelele or any instrument whatsoever to an exemplary level then feel free to come down for an audition. We know no boundaries.

The new CPO commission is based on two concepts which are still in the early stages of development.

The first concept involves a variable score, wherein each instrument, or group of instruments, can simultaneously start at any of a variety of places within the overall score. Think of a score written on a cylinder, with each instrument line being able to be rotated independently of the others and you might get the idea. A round, or canon, effect is the result, yet the permutations add a certain amount of chaos. Further to this, each instrumental line will feature a recurrent motif, or "head" for you jazzers, scattered unevenly throughout the piece. It is these motifs that determine the starting point for the piece in performance, and, because they are scattered unevenly, describe the phase patterns possible.

For instance, lets call our motif A and imagine a piece of music ten times as long as our motif, with A occuring four times throughout. This piece of music could be symbolised thus:


Of course, that is not the only possible example, but it will do for now.

Now, treating the structure as cyclic, take each motif A in turn as a starting point to determine the various phases possible. i.e.

First (root) phase: A/x/x/x/A/x/x/A/x/A/
Second phase: A/x/x/A/x/A/A/x/x/x/
Third phase: A/x/A/A/x/x/x/A/x/x/
Fourth phase: A/A/x/x/x/A/x/x/A/x/

This example is particularly interesting as by combining all four possible phases we end up with a score which contains the motif A in at least one line continuously throughout. In other words, the "head" will always be present somewhere in this mix.

At the present stage I am working with modified nursery rhymes (Pop Goes The Weasel is my current favourite) in this model as a study, but the intention is to write an expanded score for a performance of between 45 and 70 minutes for at least twelve instrument groups.

Once the score is complete the final performance arrangement will differ according to which phase each instrument group plays. I am yet to decide how this should be determined, but it could be something as simple as rolling dice (as many as necessary to cover all phase variations in the final piece) for each instrument group on the night. eg. Trumpets play phase nine, tuned percussion plays phase six etc.

For the final stage of the commission I hope to convince the sponsors to pay for recordings of each permutation possible, although with a lengthy score feature tens of phase variations and a dozen instrument groups the possibilities are too massive to contemplate!

The second concept for the CPO commission is to integrate "isorhythmic mapping", as defined by ethnomusicology, within the score. In this definition an isorhythm is a strict rhythmic pattern to which is plotted (single or multiple) melodic series. Many indigenous cultures use isorhythmic mapping in storytelling chant, where it is more important to preserve the rhythm than hit the right note/say the right word at any defined rhythmic point. For isorhythmic mapping to be effective it is often beneficial to have the melodic series longer or shorter than the rhythmic cycle. A modern example of this effect is in the bass line for the King Crimson piece Virtuous Circle (AKA part of The Power To Believe part II) where a seven note melodic series is established over four "beats" (in a count of seven as 2+2+2+1) creating a continuosly phasing strict pattern of notes in constant rhythm.

Phew! That took a lot out of me just to explain! I think I need to have a rest before trying any actual composition.

'til next time!