Thursday, December 23, 2010

Visualizing Music vs. Physical Competence

As I mentioned, I just received a 2010 Fromm Commission to write for a quartet and interactive computer.  I have been thinking for quite a while, how to go about it.   When I compose, I think I tend to visualize the performance even before the piece is written.  That is to say I actually see the quartet on stage, with a computer on the side, and start listening (in my imagination) what and how they are playing.  It might seem strange, since the piece is not yet written down on paper.   But for me, when I have the clear visualization on how they are sounding, the rest, putting down notes etc. is very fast and easy.  On the other hand, if I start from writing down notes themselves before I am able to visualize the performance, which I also have done in the past, the compositional process takes a lot longer and not necessarily with the best results.  I think I'm trying to listen to the musical logic or the "flow" of music which I described before, or see how the "Magic Carpet" is flying, even before I put down the notes.

My proposal stated that I would write the work so that the quartet is completely autonomous on stage, without the need for the 3rd person or assistant to be "performing" the computer.  At the moment, I'm "visualizing" how this is going to be done.  I am somewhat fatigued by the conventional "score following", which happens a lot in computer music.  For me, making the computer follow a score is not very interesting; why would I want to do that, instead of a having a real person to do the same?  Instead I would be more interested in creating a behavior itself, and having computer interpret musical expression, creating more symbiotic relationship with the human players.

When I'm doing this visualization of music, so to speak, I often am rather physically decapacitated.  I would be loading a dishwasher, (which seems to be a good time for visualization or imagining my musical schemes) my hands are stopped in mid-air holding dishes, water running in the sink, and I'm as if the time has stopped, standing there frozen.  It must be very funny to witness this, as my daughter who found me in this state and laughed, "Mommy, you stopped!"   I would be cutting something like a broccoli, a knife in my hand and I'm stopped mid-way through the vegetable.   If I do this "visualization" work on the subway, I miss my stops, take a wrong train, get out from a wrong exit; all kinds of real-life small catastrophes happen.

I have been curious why this happens to me, and it seems that I'm "slowing down" time in my head, listening to what I'm creating, almost like a slow-motion.  That seems to be the explanation to why I seem to lose track of time and focus in real-life.  There is a time-stretching going on inside my head which stops my real-life kinetic movements!   I'm also curious, when we day-dream, is this what we are doing, stretching time in our heads?


Aleksei Stevens said...

Hey Mari! I just discovered your blog. I like it a lot so far!

I often do what you're describing - getting lost in a visualization when I'm planning out a piece. For me, it's very often the look and layout of the notation that I'm visualizing before coming up with any notes. I have the same experience - once I have a notational framework in mind, the rest flows.

Keep up the blogging! I like your posts very much.

Mari Kimura said...

Hi there! Thanks for your comment!

Whew... I've been spending so much time making a "friendly" interface these few days like crazy... :) It's not for my own use, and that's the problem I have to face LOL!!

In fact I'm also "visualizing" what if I were non-Max user and have very limited way to touch the computer on stage... then I have to do so many things to make it "friendly".... It's not easy :)