Saturday, 28 December 2013

Getting it right the first time, and every time

Over the past year one thing I have been working on in all aspects of my horn playing is getting it right the first time, and every subsequent time. It is something then when I write it out it seems like common sense, but more often than not it seems that the process of “learning” invites in the possibility to make lazy mistakes. Expanding on what I wrote about last week in regards to interpreting the music into digestible and accessible fragments, this week when I took what I had learned and placed it back into the context of Nebadon I had to be very active in making sure I only allowed good habits and thoughtful actions into my playing.

What I mean by the above statement is that when I have a piece of music under control I will shift my focus to be more on musical elements, allowing the technical things to be driven more by the work that has been done to establish them. As I am still early on in the process of learning this work I have to be mindful to make sure that though I am pursuing musical things I cannot let mistakes happen, I have to remain in control and in anticipation of what could go wrong.

This is a concept I have worked on a great deal in my etude work this year that is having a great carry over to repertoire. To repeat, it is the process of being aware of my playing in a way that allows me to anticipate something coming up so I can act before the mistake happens. An example of this could be as such: My mid-low register is not responding as quickly as usual, so in my approach I need to take this into account so I can adjust the equation of air/attack/volume/etc. to make sure that the notes come out.

There could be an argument made (as I have heard it made in the past) that we should always be striving for musicality. I agree with this 100% but, that can’t be an excuse to allow mistakes to happen, if you have a great phrase and you chip a couple notes and are out of tune I do not believe that your musical line will come across. All things in balance.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Reaching into the bag of tricks.

So this week brought forward some interesting challenges while practicing. One that I focused on and feel that I personally learned from is with being flexible and creative in how I practice material. I have never fallen into a routine of how I practice music, I try to approach things from many angels to find solutions and to make sure I learn and understand the music on a deeper level. In Stockhausen, this has been more of an issue than in other works. The challenge is in regards to how the music exists on a “musical” level and the interaction that is has with the electronics, this poses a few challenges the most notable being:

     How to learn the music so I can accurately start to put it together in small pieces with the tape.

The challenge here is that there are tremendous technical requirements that have to nailed down. Most of these fall into sections that have no tempo markings, are highly rubato or make use of other devices (irregular tremolos, irregular and regular grace notes etc...), and have a very intense inner musical line. This was a situation where I had to reach deep into my bag of tricks.

One success I had was writing my own etudes, the short etudes were mainly based on technical demands. I did try to find and create musical elements that were different from those of Stockhausen’s since I feel that this approach really lets me understand the interaction of all those little black notes. As well, I would isolate cells of notes and place them into an unrelated or changing time signature so I would get different emphases.

Example: 4 notes from a 9 note cell (original order is how they appear in the first measure. Note: these four notes come from the middle of the 9 note cell).

This was a useful tactic this week, one I have underutilized in the past, but it will definitely be more present with this work due to the nature of the music.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Moving forward, and why deadlines matter for me.

I have my first real deadline for the project and it falls at the end of January. This will be the first time I will work with someone on Nebadon, which I am excited about. The importance of this, and why from a week of work I chose to write about this is as follows. Having this deadline forces me to conceptualize the work in a complete manner. This is because the person I am working with KNOWS their stuff, and for me to stand on my own two feet I need to do certain things to prepare.
  1. Score study
  2. Recording Study
  3. Large scale and small scale analysis
  4. I need read much much more about Stockhausen, his music and, the practices around its performance. (So if anyone who reads this knows about articles or such, send them my way)

Reflecting back now that I have started playing the work is how important the first three steps really are. The electronic part to Nebadon is really interesting and very complex, and the horn part takes turns playing the same material or slight variations of it. As the piece progresses the voices pull apart material wise, this fact became something I focused on in detail this last week while trying to find ways to replicate the effect of the electronics on horn. As well, this kind of interaction will play a vital role in the large scale structure of the work.
The final step is something that was stressed by conductors during my graduate work at DePaul, and I am always very happy it was. The more we can get inside the heads of the composer and environment (culturally, socially, etc.) the more we are able to find details that would otherwise be glossed over. (Next time you listen to a Viennese octet really try to find the humour in it which is always fantastic since it happens in such interesting ways).

I have some other exciting projects coming up as well! Grisey’s – Accords Perdus, Globokar’s Dos a Dos, and more! 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

New Notation, similar problems

As I have been working on Nebadon I have been able to make some ground conceptually over the last week which has been nice. I should note I have yet to play a single note, I have also not listened to the recording anymore (that time has come and gone for a few months). That being said I do spend quite a lot of time listening to the electronic tracks of whatever electronic works I work on. It is similar to recording/score study with any other music. The challenge behind this is as always, how does one notate sound? Stockhausen did not attempt to, there are some cues to vocal elements, but the main guide post I have is a time scale, as well as the noted time duration of various sections. A requirement for the performer in Nebadon is the precise alignment with the beginning of electronic tracks, which is easier said than done.

Past electronic works I have done that used time scale only alignment (so not graphic notation of electronic tracks) you end up in a kind of balancing act between the perception of musical time (tempo/rhythm) and the actual elapse of time (seconds). This is a dizzying experience at best, especially when the music falls outside of logical divisions of the second. One thing I have found that really helps me here is knowledge of the complete score (including electronics) and to have smaller alignment points between larger points. When trying to find these smaller points I tend to search for unison pitches, similar rhythms, or recognizable tonal material such as thirds, fourths, fifths, etc, that exist between the horn and the electronic part. One you decide on these elements you can notate an exact time point that helps in the architecture of that set of time points. In Nebadon right now, as I have not put horn to face I am only trying to navigate my way through the sounds for artistic ideas. For example, do I want to contrast or match (within the confines of Stochkausen’s instructions), as I learn the work these points will become more and more obvious, though history has taught me the mindful the work I do now, the easier it will when trying to coordinate later.

The next challenge I am going to be trying to wrap my brain around is of Stockhausen’s tempos, for those of you that are not aware Stockhausen discovered that tempos are related in ways similar to that of the chromatic scale. This is something that was met with conflict and still is. That being said, it is something unique to Stockhausen’s music so as a performer we have to observe it.

Here you can see the tempo scheme for Gruppen. Cosmic Pulses (the electronic material for Nebadon is drawn from here) is based on 24 tempos, from 240bpm to 1.17bpm. So in short I will be dealing with tempos I am not used to. Luckily, I have a metronome that will do decimal places.

Until next time.

“I no longer limit myself” – Karlheinz Stockhausen