30 May 2018

Building a brass carillon

If you can let gravity do some of your work for you, that is an advantage, and no failing.

A bit more than 90 seconds’ worth of The Nerves yet to compose, which means that a Sunday, 3 June completion is quite possible.  The arc from here to the big double-bar is fairly clear in my mind.

Outside tasks slated for this evening and tomorrow will reduce the possibility of working in Sibelius, but there is always paper, and time on the bus.  This morning I sketched out the pitch material for the brass carillon which came to my inner ear . . . oh, I suppose it must have been no earlier than yesterday.

A brief word on my verbal sketches, such as the one which illustrates this blog post of last week.  They may come into play, or they may not.  I may act upon one of them, and then find the music ready to pursue some other (new, but in all probability related) notion;  and in all the noise of the musicworks, I may forget the ideas I wrote down, entirely.  Which is one reason I write them down.  Because:

  1. Maybe I will use them, only the “right spot” is waiting.
  2. Maybe there will be no occasion to use them, because the piece evolved in certain other ways.
  3. Even if I use few of them, there is no wastage or inefficiency – it is all part of the process.

Of those notes from when the piece was only at the 75" mark (!), “the runaway scales” and “fever fugato + bug sust. chords” (as always, adapted to actual musical requirements in the fabric of the piece) found strong use, and to a greater extent than the 15" which I initially ‘allotted’ them.

For the brass carillon pitch material, I took the “harmonic minor plus Lydian raised-fourth” scale which came in at m. 125.  I generated a series (in the simplest sense) of pitch-classes by using two transpositions of the scale, each starting at a different scale-degree;  I generated a second series, with two other transpositions, each beginning on yet other scale-degrees.  I then interleaved them irregularly:

  1. The first pitch of series I
  2. The first pitch of series II
  3. The second pitch of series I
  4. The fourth pitch of series II
  5. The third pitch of series I
  6. The seventh pitch of series II
  7. &c. &c.

What matters, of course, is not the geeky process (though the rhetorician in me, why should I deny it?, exults in this sort of thing, really) but the resulting series of highly satisfactory pitch-classes, which will be new, and yet which grew from what came before.

Another detail emerges from what is frankly a mere parenthesis to the actual creative process.  It is a tale of sonic love, loss, and bongos.

Whether it is a bug in Sibelius (which is my thought) or my limitations as a Sibelius user (a possibility I always allow), an inconsistency arose in the playback of percussion.  (I am sure that this sort of problem arose before, only I have now had opportunity to observe it more consistently in the diary-like succession of work-in-progress soundfiles I have been exporting.)  Often, I have a line of percussion in the middle of which I have the player change instruments – it is usual practice, and there is a Change Instrument utility in Sibelius.  And, normally, Sibelius processes the change in instrument fine for the playback.

Let me speculate as to the cause of the problem, from retroactive consideration of the shade of prior experience as well as trying to mend the current (trivial, happily trivial) problem:  that when a score has grown past a certain critical size (both number of instruments, and time duration) Sibelius struggles to manage the sounds.

To describe the problem itself:  at first, the playback of the bongos (which were not the originally designated instrument, but a change in the course of the score) is normal;  but later, Sibelius does not play a bongo sound, but instead a weak, pitchless “pat,” which is (a) too soft to be of any use, and (b) even if it were audible, is inadequate.

I shan’t spell out the whole multi-stage process in detail, by which I sought a work-around;  at last, at least for a faithful playback, I simply created an extra percussion line which is a dedicated bongos part.

Now, really, the whole creative point of having spelled out this footnote is, the time spent focusing on the percussion choir (which I think come across as generally strong in the piece, as is) has had the additional felicitous effect of my feeling, rather suddenly, that I want to add a subtle tam-tam stroke in there.

And that sort of thing is worth whatever (apparently “useless”) puttering on a “backstage” detail.

One more thing (for today).

A day or three ago, the thought crossed my mind of bringing back the opening;  but in fact, at that point, it did not seem right, it felt “pat.”  Here I am pleased that I “made my way” to a varied recapitulation which does not feel like a rote return, but which is (what I especially like) familiar material but new ground.

Still, I had to work to make it ‘natural,’ even here.  On Sunday night, when I began with bringing in, module by module, [some portion of] the opening (mm.1-17) at rehearsal letter [K], it appeared hard on the heels of fff repeated notes in the brass – some utterly unsatisfactory combination of abrupt, and insufficient of contrast.  The solution, though, was quite simple, eight measures of woodwind and horns, piano, in a kind of echo.

To return to the top . . . while I detailed the sourcing of the pitch material, Gentle Reader, there remains the structuring of the rhythm.  Which I believe will be the work of this afternoon’s bus ride back home.

No comments: