Somehow I can’t bring myself to set entire poems. The Maggie piece is just a couple of lines by Hart Crane (with repetition, of course). One of the reasons most “art song” (for want of a better term) is unsatisfying to me is the dutiful teleology of it— here’s the poem, set it to music, and when you get to the end, you’re done. Poetic form is almost always different from musical form, and letting one dictate the other seems to me like a huge cop-out.
This is the first time I’ve incorporated live electronics into a piece— in this case, a looping pedal. Maggie sings the piece over her own live, looped bass accompaniment. Looping Pedal Music is another one of those Niches of Modern Composition that almost always feels lacking in some way. A pretty musical loop is another crutch, like a poem, that can provide an easy form, but the music ends up a strange combination of directionless and predictable. (The huge exception to this is of course Ingram Marshall’s music, which incorporates live electronic elements in a beautifully unselfconscious and seamless way). Using a loop as the basis of a piece can be compared to using a passacaglia, or chaccone, or any other type of repeating ground, except that once you’ve set it running, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to alter it. This rules out most of the interesting things you can do with such a technique— transformations, distortions, and other deviations.
I think I’ve justified the use of loops to myself in this particular piece, but in the process, made things a lot harder on Maggie; she’ll have to set and reset multiple loops on top of each other several times throughout the piece, while singing and playing the bass, that most unwieldy of instruments. It’s going to involve some fancy footwork, that’s for sure.
My brother Guthrie has been live-tweeting the current blizzard, which I think makes him the first person in history to attempt such a feat of meteorological hilarity. Though maybe they do it all the time in New Hampshire, I just don’t know. What with all the stories of pond-skating, drift-shoveling, and snow-homunculus-making crowding all of my news sources (facebook, twitter, and nytimes.com) I’m starting to feel rather left out. We’ve been attempting our own versions of wintertime activities here: tried out the skating rink at Discovery Green, a poor showing; our attempt to build a gingerbread house turned out better, if a bit rough around the edges.
At least winter makes for much better biking here! I’m happily tooling around on a borrowed Cannondale, thankful that I need not invest in studded snow tires. Those things are expensive! Sadly, drivers in Houston are quite unaccustomed to encounters with law-abiding cyclists; even on streets with bike lanes and “share the road” signs, I hear “get off the road!” (and other choice epithets) much more often than on the supposedly-rough streets of NYC.
I’m also happy because I think I may have just found my own Niche of Modern Composition: wheel-building! I may not know how to tune my own piano, but perhaps I’ll soon learn how to achieve melodious spoke tension.