Advent Calendar: 11

A bit more back on track today. I made a list. And I have ticked off (so far!) about half the things on it. More importantly, I got some Real Composing done. Not just thinking about stuff but actual notes on paper.

I decided to focus on my orchestral piece, Fear of Falling – I made a good start on it last week and was getting a little concerned that I might not like what I’d written or be unable to pick up from where I’d left off. It’s made some pretty good progress today – I had to delete a chunk off the end of the 45 seconds I ended up with last time (about 15 seconds’ worth) but it’s now past the 2 minute mark, so I’m really very pleased.

The short-scoring is bugging me a bit. Yes, it does make it a bit easier to pull things together. I’m thinking more about harmony because the score is a more manageable size and I can see quite clearly how I’m spacing my chords and what intervals I’m using, which makes the vertical aspect a lot easier. But it’s making the horizontal harder, which of course is what I usually focus on when I’m writing. The hard part is probably mostly because I’m still working in Finale so I can hear what I’m doing without wasting time being an inadequate pianist and forgetting what notes I just took my fingers off to write things down – I just don’t have time to mess around with this stuff – I’d stand no chance of getting all the work I need to do done. But of course when I want to write a series of figures overlapping each other, it’s a damned nuisance – I have to change layers, or put things on a different stave, which then reduces my options for sorting out harmonisations. Right now I’m focusing on trying to get these lines in place though, so I have the momentum I need.

Which brings me to the other line-based problem I’m experiencing – without the correct sounds in place, I’m finding it very hard to know how much repetition I can get away with. If I leave the basic clarinet sound in place and repeat something, it sounds dull and I feel the whole thing’s become static and isn’t going anywhere. If I play it on trumpet first time and oboe the second (I’ve started using Expressions to indicate what instrument I want for a section and to switch channels so I can hear it), it sounds fine and draws me on to maybe combining the two with a slight rhythmic offset. I’m really finding it very hard work to keep focused on what the sounds *ought* to be, and have to go over and over and over a section working out what the orchestration *will* be in order to be sure of getting the structure right!

Which kind of seems to defeat the purpose of doing it in short-score in the first place. Um. I’m thinking that, in future, the best approach will probably be to work simultaneously with full score and short-score (as Jenni Pinnock does in her article on how she uses short scoring), hiding the full score when I’m in short-score and periodically automatically reducing stuff I’ve written in full score onto the short-score staves to deal with the vertical aspects.

But there’s no denying that I’m making much faster progress in short-score than I have done in the past working directly in full score. I know Carrion Comfort was an extreme example, but it took me about 5 months to get to the final-version 2 minute mark. This one’s taken me what? a couple of days’ actual work? True, I also have the benefit at the moment of my brain being totally immersed in music, and of having had a vague idea of what I wanted to do from the start (although that plan keeps changing now and I probably need to spend more thinking time on it), but that’s still quite a big difference.

This evening I’m hoping to write up the framework for my Fourth Plinth piece. Tentative working title is Lines of Sight (gosh this title thing is hard – especially when you’re working on so many things at once!). I’m still not entirely sure how to tackle the actual musical content of the piece – to a certain extent that’s going to depend on what my performers are comfortable with – but I feel that if I lay out the structure now and think through how the visual cues will function, then that’s going to be the bulk of the work done on that one. I also feel I need to do a bunch of listening, both for Fear of Falling and the as-yet-unnamed Ansel Adams piece – have been getting really behind with my listening since the Cage Festival in the middle of term. It’s time to start pulling my socks up!

And now it is time for a cup of tea. Join me? There’s homemade gingerbread too!

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