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Finished Piece (v.1...)

The concert is on May 4th, so at some point I had to finalise the piece, though I could keep tinkering forever. Here's the full score as of 12/4/18, there will still be some minor changes I imagine; some things need tidying up, and at the moment it's missing performance instructions (most of which are in the score, but an instruction sheet will be added. Here's the structure of the piece:

Full ensemble contrasts material presented in two forms; static chords (reeds/brass/perc/cello), and falling “scales” (flutes/pno/gtr).
technique: Magic square, randomness.
Links: Opening Section + Magic Squares
Saxophone & Percussion duet
Improvised duet of sax multiphonics and bowed-cymbal harmonics. Ensemble plays Feldman-like gentle background of overlapping melodies and soft noise.
technique: Magic square.
Guitar & Piano duet
Guitar and piano play almost together, pushing/pulling each other, the ensemble play sparse additions to support or undermine the duet.
Technique: magic square [failed], random markov-chain, ghost-cubes.
116–164 (end)
Cello solo + All solo
“Prepared” cello solo with ensemble playing on the border of noise.
Technique: Ghost cubes [failed], isorhythm, magic square.
Links: cello "preparation" and generating solo

The title is Variations and repetitions transform each other, which is a fairly literal description of the piece. The piece all springs from one piece of material (the chord E, G#, D, F#, A# [and G♮]) and proceeds to repeat this through pitch transformations (based largely on magic-square technique) and timbre transformations using so-called extended techniques of the instruments: see John Butcher's discussion of the issues with the term "extended-techniques" here.

The piece is structured around solos and duets, in which the solo part was written first and then the ensemble part generated around this. See the links in the table above for blog posts that deal with specifics [more blog posts will follow to cover areas not yet discussed ... email me if there's any specific point you'd like expanded]. The sax/perc duet and cello solo are much more like my usual composition style, since they tend to begin with some unstable technique that I can map onto the pitch-material above. The guitar/piano duet is different since it's based more around specifically pitch variation, but there is some timbre manipulation in the ensemble part especially. Since the focus of the project was on using the techniques taught in level-1 composition classes, I wanted to ensure these generative techniques were the focus, but I twisted the brief back towards my own compositional interests by making allowing the generative systems to intertwine with the timbre techniques:
  • for example the cello solo is entirely generated from isorhythmic techniques, but the isorhythm parameters are based in manipulation of the prepared-cello timbre; 
  • similarly, the material for the saxophone and cymbals duet is chosen by using the pitch material (the chord E, G#, D, F#, A# [and G♮]) as the focus point for multiphonics on both instruments, but knowing that the unstable instrumental techniques will de-focus this.

Key Commentary Points:

  • It's useful to begin the commentary with an overview of the piece and the important (for you) compositional ideas. Note that the specific techniques are not foregrounded here because what's important is what the musical idea is, then the techniques are selected and fine-tuned to best realise that idea. It's enough to say what technique was used, why it was used (i.e. what it's doing and why this technique is most suitable), and provide a brief example from your piece that shows detail of how you've developed or altered it to suit your needs (relative to the models shown in class). If you need to outline the technique in detail (i.e. show the magic square or routes through it) then use an appendix to show this. 
  • For my piece, the important points are: 
    • a single piece of material forms the basis of everything (later I'll specify some varied examples of how I've done this differently, and how they were influenced by other pieces).
    • the piece is structured around solos which intertwine the abstract pitch material with indeterminate timbre techniques specific to the instruments.


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cello solo v1

Cello solo v1 The cello solo will use my prepared cello: not a million miles from a prepared piano as mentioned in previous blog post. The preparations make pitch quite indeterminate, so rather than generate a stream of pitches (like for the guitar/piano) what I wanted to generate was essentially a tablature score for the cellist to create a stream of actions that would limit the indeterminate pitches in different ways to create loose patterns. Tablature notation differs from standard notation be being more about telling the player what do (what actions to carry out, where to put fingers etc.) rather than what sound/note to make. It can be especially useful in situations where the specific pitch result is indeterminate so instead the notation deals with timing, positions etc. See Aaron Cassidy's scores and writings on this as a good example. Below is a page of his solo for any bowed-string instrument, with staves for: (top) fingerings and bowing on the four strings; (middle) fing…

Opening Section + Magic Squares

This section has no solos, it's a simple contrast of two strata: (1) descending rapid scales, and (2) sustained chords swelling and receding. Listen to the opening page (score below) here:
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The pitches for both are derived from the magic square. The chords are most straightforward, they simply read the horizontals of the square as 6-note chords. The piece starts with the uppermost vertical (the main material + high G), and works its way down.