Thursday, June 20, 2013

On Writing for Dance

Collision Collective's first presentation

I've been immersed in “the dance world” for the last couple of months. Scoring this dance piece has proven to be a new kind of challenge for many different reasons. I don't want to bore whoever reads this with all of the details; only a few.

We decided early on (since one of the members of the group, Carou, plays trumpet) that we were going to use brass with effects, along with pre-recorded materials. I now realize that this may have been a bad decision, but we've had to stick to it (no offense to the wonderful brass players!!!) There was an informal presentation of our work in mid-April which went well. Afterwards there was a discussion period with the audience, which is normal in the dance and theater worlds. I'm glad that's not the norm in the musical world... I can hardly stand talking about music with those that are close to me, I can't imagine what it would be like to have a roomful of people telling me what they liked and disliked about my music!

Having used up the initial ideas that interested me when the project began, their applications have because cumbersome. What to do with 4 brass players to create an atmosphere worthy of these movements? I still don't know... The musical problem stems largely from the approach I think many contemporary dancers take when they choreograph. What is the role of the music if the dance is not based directly off of it? Does it exist as counterpoint to the dance? Does it serve as an emotional tie to the mood of the movements? Is it necessary?

A large majority of the dance pieces I've seen in recent months have consisted of scores completely lacking in harmony. This doesn't devalue their merit, but if you know me, it goes without saying that harmony is why I write music. I do play and listen to a lot of music that necessitates harmonic stagnation; I love it too. However, when I think about music I want to create, it doesn't even cross my mind to approach it another way. I've found that constant harmonic motion is less suited to the approach our group has taken, since the timings are often not in lieu of the music, but alongside them. This is the most important realization I've made since this project began. Due to time limitations, it's looking like none of the movements will be choreographed to the music – only the opposite, which is frustrating as a writer, but maybe best for this specific project.  I've heard it said from a few people that Montréal is the most avant-garde city in North America dance-wise.  Maybe I'm a classicist, but the pieces that have moved me the most have been the ones where music is inextricably linked to the movements. 

This is my favourite piece I've seen so far while researching contemporary dance. The fact that I love the music probably helps make it so.  Those Ligeti etudes!  I love the Jeremy Denk interpretations; my teacher believes they're not even CLOSE to the Aimard ones.

Meanwhile, I'm writing the piano quartet that continues where Peralta left off. He didn't write much, but there's a ton of thematic and gestural ideas to play with the music he did write. I'm hoping to finish it in the next several weeks – the plan is to get it recorded sometime this summer. While in the thick of writing, I had a recurring dream where I would run into Austin and I spend all of the time I saw him telling him he wasn't supposed to be there. I would wake up frustrated that I had used my precious dream time like that. There are 15 bars that he had fully notated, and as of now the entire piece is an exploration of those ideas. I have a hunch that he turned some of the ideas from this quartet into “Lapis”.  I brought a rough draft of the piece to my teacher, who dismantled it and left me the good parts to re-assemble.

I read David Byrne's “How Music Works”, having a hard time finishing Saul Bellow's “Humboldt's Gift” (it's a lot to take in). I've mostly been reading articles and newspapers. This one blew me away – I have to put a disclaimer on this one, it's rated R. Absolutely binge watched season 4 of Arrested Development. Have finally been watching Mad Men – I'm close to being caught up. When I took Robert Sadin's “Special Topics” at New School, during the first class he told us there was no point in attending if we couldn't appreciate the genius of the writers of “The Simpsons”. Sadin said a lot of things I wish I'd written down; another good one was about how Mozart went to “tennis school” (alluding to how tennis players are required to train innumerable hours when they're young), and that we hear that in the music; not that it's good or bad - it's just true. Anyhow, I think Mad Men gets “it” right, but I'm wondering whether it needed to be explored across more than 3 seasons regardless of how good it still is. 

Notable music I've recently seen/heard (without comments - some of these I enjoyed more than others)

Sufjan Stevens's “A Sun Came”

Dom Mekky and Arthur Hnatek's Senior Recitals at The New School

Devendra Barnhart's show at The Corona in Montreal

D'Angelo's show at The Olympia

"Gypsy" – The Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim musical.

Sam Amidon's record release show at LPR in NYC

Andrew Norman's "Companion Guide to Rome"

Schubert's Fantasy in F minor Op. 103

Wagner's "Tristan Und Isolde"

Kanye West's "Yeezus"