Saturday, October 23, 2010

Listening to something you haven't heard

I've been working with my students at Juilliard, on how to start composing for interactive music.  The conventional paper-pencil developing of musical materials do still work, laying out motifs, planning the total landscape, constructing the architecture with rhythm, melody and harmony of the piece etc.  

However, in interactive computer music, you have to train yourself to listening to something you haven't heard before, or try to imagine it.  I believe it starts much more with the instrument you are writing for; really knowing its characteristics, what it can and cannot do acoustically.  Since there are acoustically "impossible" things you can now do with computers, it is somewhat a difficult task to open your ears trying to listen to somethings that you haven't heard before.   It could very well be very similar to orchestration, imagining instrument combinations, but at this point, a lot has already been done and you could actually get a recording of it.  Better yet, if you want to you could simulate some sounds using samplers!

So how do you listen to something you haven't heard?  Or try to imagine?  I have to say that there isn't much you can do except try things out to the best of your abilities, and the varieties you could think of. The best way to approach would still be "imagining" the abstract character you are trying to achieve, then deduct what you want it to happen electronically.  I do this for my own compositions, but it is difficult to explain to students (or others) how to go about it.   What I'm telling people is to "think of going to Mars" or beyond, such as "If I play C#, I launch a rocket to Mars and I beam in", "Oh and I also want to beam up my teddy bear from the 3rd drawer of a closet in my old bedroom when I lived in Japan 30 years ago" !!! Can I do that?   :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

String Quartet concert for kids!

The Cassatt String Quartet gave a very nice concert this weekend at the Symphony Space in NYC entitled "Arriba!" featuring contemporary Mexican composers.   What made this particular evening special is that they said the concert was FAMILY FRIENDLY!!!!  I took my 9 and 7 yr olds who sat through a full-length evening of contemporary string quartet concert for the first time in their lives.  It wasn't exactly an easy program for kids to sit through, but they did.  There were other children in the audience, and yes, they were some murmurs, soft-spoken-then-hushed comments such as "I'm bored....", and occasional squiggling and walking around, but all in all, I can't thank the Cassatt enough for giving the kids this opportunity.

And it is a brave thing to do, risking some noise while performing which can be very distracting and disrupting, but if you don't nurture the future generation, how would we survive?   

Of course, I was armed with Clif bars (snack bar), husband, and his iPhone which has some games on for them, but still, it was great for my kids to be able to wave at the players at the front row.  There is something to listening to actual acoustic instruments live, instead of sounds coming out of speakers.  You feel the vibration in your body differently, and it is kinetic; it's a physical sensation, and it's an emotional experience seeing someone moving their bodies and making music.  Next up, symphony concerts and opera  :)  well wish us luck!

Friday, October 15, 2010

CD release concert, now putting a different hat on :)

My CD release concert last Sunday went very well, everything worked as it should (well, alllllmmmmosst).   I had one little glitch in a "pedal" piece; I was creating a pedal without a foot pedal sustaining my sounds, which I cut off by my bowing motion sensor.  At one instance the motion sensor failed to track it, so I couldn't turn it off at a first try, so I had to repeat a note.   A friend in the audience said that it was almost better to show that sometimes it fails :)  Here I am doing some demo during the concert, waving my right hand with the bowing motion sensor, IRCAM's Augmented Violin system inside.

But all in all I am quite satisfied with the result of my new pieces, and I have a good ground to develop my works further.  I created three short pieces at IRCAM, sort of in preparation for my new duo work with cellist Joel Krosnick, the cellist of the Juilliard String Quartet.

At the moment, what am I doing?   I am studying Just Intonation, since now I will be wearing a different 'hat', an "interpreter" hat, performing next month in Germany with Hamburg Symphony as a soloist, for John Adams' "The Dharma at the Big Sur" (2003).  I'm studying the solo part, and trying to get my ears into Just Intonation mode.  It is quite ideosincratic I think, if it is done right....  Anyway I like learning something that I haven't heard nor can create on my own, getting into the head-space of someone else's creative mind.   It is thrilling.