Sunday, 27 April 2014

Solfège and how it saved me

In my undergrad I was fortunate to have a musicianship teacher who was FANTASTIC. From him, I learned tons of incredible things that have always been of tremendous use. Especially with music that falls outside that easy to hear world of tonality. One of the skill is, as the post gave away, is solfège, for those of you that don't know you can read about it here. In short it is the assigning of syllables to degrees of the scale. There are two forms we used and had to master, movable do and fixed do. Movable do was reserved for tonal music where as the key changes so does the location of do. Fixed do was used in Atonal music at times. I should explain this a bit.

In the simple form fixed do is a method of solfège in which middle C is do and as tonality shifts you alter where the tonality falls. So C major would be do  then as we modulate towards G major suddenly your scale is based off so which is now functioning as do. In Atonal music we would use this form, it made you truly internalize what the intervals were and how they sounded. That being said if we hit a moment that was based on a diatonic scale we would insert or modulate to movable do to match that. This was something we exercised with our teacher, which was great because it taught you to find harmonic stability. As time has gone on it has given me the ability to quickly recognize these things, since there are times where you will totally miss it.

Lately I will work in fixed do when I encounter these moments but that is for a personal ear training reason. I have a feeling after a few months I will be back to my old ways of using movable do and fixed do together. This is because I really enjoy the way it allows you to dissect the music beyond a purely technical "checklist" fashion of analysis and into a larger scale understanding of the work.

So that is the preamble if you are still with me here I am going to talk about how I use these tools. One thing I have been asked, or commented towards is. How do you get this stuff in your head and the extension of how to sight read music that lacks obvious harmonic structure (talking in the sense of diatonic or chromatic music... for purposes of this post the word chromatic does not apply to something like Salome which is at the edge of chromaticsicm.).

Here are my secrets, they are not that ground breaking, they are tools I learned from my musicianship professor that I have kept up and built on.

NUMBER 1: Solfège... be good at it, if you can sight sing it... you can sight read it (On this, practise using middle C as do for fixed do. I am talking to horn players and such here. Don't think of the horn middle C as do in fixed do since the horns C is an F which is a fa. We are working on our ear, not horn.)

NUMBER 2: This is an extension of number one. The book Modus Novus.
This book is remarkable, it will help train your ear to hear elements of Atonal music. It gets them in your ear. Again I work out of this book in fixed do most the time. I will sing exercises, then buzz them, and finally play them on the horn. We are trying to make slightly obscure intervals second nature so when you encounter similar things in the wild you have them in your bones.
NUMBER 3: Practise sight reading Atonal melodies. Find things with rhythms that are not super complex, dissect the music into manageable chunks first, find intervals, think in solfège. Then either sing it or play it. The benefit of working in fixed do as a horn player is that nothing changes onto the horn, I just recreate the exact same pitch content, and the solfège syllables are still relevant. (Though one could argue this is the case with movable do also. The argument I would make based on personal experience is that each scale has a certain "colour"  or "taste" and you are changing that around when you start transposing.

That is all for this week. In the coming weeks I have some Q & As planned with some cool people, and some more topics.

Slap that +1, or drop a comment letting me know you were here.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Contrasting sounds

As I expand on the content of the Blog I will be focusing mainly on works I am doing, especially since there is quite a great deal of things on the horizon between Mocrep, Ensemble 20+, concerts, and commissions. So there will be lots to talk about, figure out, experiment with, and create.

Up first, I am working on Vinko Globokar's Dos a Dos right now, which is a wild work. We are doing it with two horns as it is scored for any two instruments. I am working with Composer/Hornist Max Pankau on it which is great. One interesting aspect of the work (from many, between lights, and screaming at each other in the dark) we get to choose our own unique acoustic articulations (aka sounds). We are experimenting with using different mutes to create unique contrasts to each other in addition to other more conventional means of altering sound.

Enter..... The glass mutes. (Composers should probably stop reading here... As I don't want to be a victim of mob brutality. Though, if someone does want to write for glass mute, a few quick things. 1. Glass mute changes will be SLOW, we are dealing with something that will make some fantastic new dents in our horns, or will shatter on the ground. 2. If the texture around this is in anyway "thick" you wont notice it, this is a subtle colour. 3. Most people probably wont want to make a mute...)

Back to the mute. Glass mutes all sound unique, the best way to describe it is like a straight mute that doesn't resonate much. That is a very simple way to explain it, the quality of the glass, cork or no cork, thickness of the bottle, etc, all effect what sound will be created. So we are trying lots of things, including water in the mutes, and other creative applications of materials.There are almost limitless possibilities. It should be noted that Globokar does not call for glass mutes, we made that decision ourselves. This is an important distinction of Globokar's works, is that we as performers get to search and experiment to conceptualize and realize the work within Globokar's outline. It is a great experience and as a performer is very rewarding because in the end you feel that you have really created something unique. 

There are some other great things in Dos a Dos, voice, lighting, staging, all the things we expect from Globokar. I will get into this more and probably throw up some videos of experiments as we work to realize this work.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Changes, news, and miscellaneous things.

So, there are going to be more changes here, as you can see with the addition of new pages, the Biblio project and such. There will also be a content change. One thing I have learned is that you can never predict what is going to happen next, the things that happened I never saw coming. If you have been on the "about" page you would have seen I have announced a project. I will get into that in a moment, first, the changes.

It is taking a great deal of time and resources to get the multi-channel tape part for the Stockhausen, and my workload exploded here. So ultimately, I felt it would be best to push the Stockhausen back till fall to make sure nothing is rushed and there is time to get all the materials. In addition to this I have had requests to cover other things on the blog as well. So I will do that. Everything is going to be related to new music and things associated with it, ideas, techniques, etc. So watch for that. Posts may be more frequent since there is lots going on I could talk about.

Now for the BIG news. I have begun collaborating with composer Pierre-Henri Wicomb. The end of this will be a new work for horn and multimedia. This is the thing that I never saw coming, and am extremely excited to be a part of it. I will keep everyone posted on that project as well.

Until next time.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The little things make all the difference

As I mentioned in an earlier post I have been preparing Gérard Grisey's Accords Perdus to perform with Composer/performer Horn player Max Pankau . For those of you that are not aware of this work it is MONUMENTAL for two horns. It is based on the natural harmonic series and is done so in a way that you end up with a great amount of microtonality, from quarter tones to eighth tones. It is a remarkable work you can read about it here. The Oil Valley Hornist blog does a great write up on it so I will not try. Go ahead and wander over there and have a read.

What I want to talk about is how I go about learning microtonal skills. This also relates back to the Stockhausen as he does call for some microtonal sections. More often than not microtonal things fall under that "faking it" post I made a few weeks back. Which is a shame, because poorly executed microtones sound all kinds of bad. When I first encountered micrtones I took a peers advice and just "played it out of tune". When I look back that was terrible advice that just missed the point. So here are my quick tips to figuring it out

  1. You need to learn to hear and be comfortable with microtones. 
    1. Practice playing a semitone and find the space equal between the two. Try different fingerings etc ( I will get into that later) For the horn we are lucky since the harmonic series has things like flat seventh harmonics. KNOW THE SERIES, and use it.
    2. Don't use a tuner to do it. That is just a dog chasing it's tail, be able to HEAR it. Compare from the semitone above and below, isolated and in context.
  2. Figure out the best way to do it for the work you are playing.
    1. Two examples:
      1. I did a work last year that had some rapid microtonal things, no way I could do it well with using harmonic series based intonation. You can always DETUNE your horn. A brief note about that. Usually things happen too quickly to muck around with slides. So detune the Bflat side of your horn and use it for the micro sections and the F side for regular things. Mark the slide where the quarter tone is (eighth tones are a diff beast) and use a slidelock so you can get back to home base quick. This will also work if a composer gives you microtones below the trebel clef staff (horn in pitch) where microtones don't really exist in the harmonic series.
      2. Grisey's Accords Perdus uses harmonic intonation, you are called to play quarter tones, and eighth tones so the only way you will make it work is the harmonic series. That being said, when you are in rehearsal you need to make sure the aural product is correct so be prepared with all the alternates (fingerings, and where they are in the harmonic series).
  3. Be aware of the colour. With microtones the colour shifts on the horn through a great deal of spectrums we usually don't get. Keep an ear for it make sure it makes sense sonically.
  4. Finally, practise, practise, practise. These things are hard enough on the best day and fall outside the traditional technique in many many ways, so when they are called for don't be surprised (you will surprise people when you can actually do them)
I did some google footwork for people.
Oil Valley Hornist - Huge resource for this stuff, great work!
Charles Ives - Not for horn, but you can really hear it.
Doug Hill covers this in his Extended Technique book (something all horn players [and not composers...] should own.)