I am now studying with Ricardo Lorenz, a composer from Venezuela who has been getting a lot of recognition in recent years. He is having me go through a few different pre-compositional processes to compose a neuftet (nonet, nine-net, 9net) that is made up of string quartet+wind quintet.
For the first week’s lesson, I brought in a few musical ideas based on the trichord [0, 6, 7] (or [0, 1, 6] in prime form). For this piece, I want to build the melodic and harmonic material using this set. I am intentionally reducing my pitch choices.
Spending some time with metacognition can help you become a better composer. Metacognition is thought on thoughts; self-analysis of your thought processes. For instance, when I was a young, spry composer, I often infused a wealth of musical ideas in one piece. As rich as this may sound, this usually creates terrible music. The error of my thinking was that I thought it was clever to entrench the audience with many many great musical ideas in one piece. Flood them with my brilliance! Show them what I can do with sounds, harmonies, rhythms, texture, etc. Wrong… what a terrible way to go about composing. The fewer good ideas the better.
It is like the amateur painter using the entire box of paints for a work rather than a few select colors. Many great artists use very few colors to create amazing works by blending, mixing and pairing colors. If they do use many colors, there are still colors that are salient. The color choice is the building block of a painting, and the composition/subject is the grand schema. Once the small-scale and large-scale framework is chosen, the artist can fill in the rest from the outside-in. This is a similar process we go through as composers. What I’m discussing in this post is the small-scale choices I am consciously making to produce material for the piece. Maybe in the next post, I can talk about the grand schema of the piece.
By choosing a small set of pitches (I may extend it to a hexachord) as the “glue,” it will make it easier to create a consistent sounding harmonic language. The melodic and harmonic material will relate, and this can be expanded to the larger structure. Professor Lorenz wants me to attempt thinking in a psuedo-Schenkerian way, where the main trichord (or hexachord; yet to be decided) becomes the skeletal structure of phrases… and in reverse.. harmonic ideas can be pulled from the initial (main) melodic idea. This will open up possibilities for harmonies in a transformative way… Pulling pitch material from the same source in order to create different sonorities. Otherwise, if I only use [0, 1, 6] for the harmonic material, the harmonies will quickly become homogenous, boring, and predictable. So this process, hopefully, keep the language consistent, yet with variety. The goal is to compose outward from a small idea.
Below is the original idea:
This idea is a series of [0 1 6] sets. Additionally, the entire contour is a [0 1 6] set as well:
Looking at this small amount of music, I plan to use permutations of this figure to produce more melodic material. Since this is a compound melody (melody with multiple layers), I will play around with the different layers in this idea.
What I’m focusing on now is forming harmonic ideas from the figure above. The following is a complete harmonic cycle using just these pitches:
From this, I can pull short melodic ideas from the voice leading. Here is one I will use: (C E Db F E)
and this one: (C Bb A C A G#)
It’s a start…. this harmonic cycle will be used in many ways. I’m starting out by using very open voicings. Later in the piece the harmony will become very close and crunchy. Also, it will be sent to the high and low tessiture.
This is what I have now. Composing is fun.