Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sonata Zero for Solo Guitar

Since I have now figured out the solution for the conclusion of the second movement Ricercare, this four movement sonata is essentially complete. I am already performing the third movement Scherzo at my gigs, and memorization and learning of the fugal finale is proceeding nicely.

For a history of the development of this Ricercare, see my four (!) previous posts on it here, here, here, and - finally - here. These posts were back in January, so I obviously have had quite a bit of "trouble" with this piece, and it has taken a long time to come up with the solution. The "wait" has been worth it.

The previous finale was a relative major version of the stretto which concludes the final Fugue and the Sonata. As I listened to the entire four movements, this became unsatisfactory for two reasons: 1) Hearing this stretto here in the second movement diminished its effectiveness in the finale, and 2) The vioces at the top in measure 47 - the beginning of the ultimate episode - were not connected with and/or "brought down" in the Shenkerian compositional sense. The more I listened to this piece alone - and the sonata as a whole - the more I noticed those things, and the more they bothered me.

Instead of reviewing the entire piece yet again, I will simply post the new final page:

The final episode has not changed: It still reaches the tonic at the beginning from a C# dominant seventh chord interpreted as a subV7/I at the end of the previous page (A German Augmented Sixth chord in trad lingo), and it still presents a harmonized form of the subject of the Ricercare in augmentation to arrive at the dominant of G for the beginning of the recapitulation.

Now, however, I have replaced the stretto with an inverted and slightly modified version of the entire exposition: Even the mode is inverted. The "Eureka!" moment was when I realized I that could play the inverted form of the subject in the high octave while sustaining the dominant pedal if I used harmonics: It's actually fairly easy. Unlike the exposition, the recap has suspension chains in it, and the inverted Ricercare subject morphs into the rectus Fugue subject over its three iterations. The decending chromatic line in the middle voice of the penultimate measure is a nice bit of whacky weirdness which fits with the overall outlandish nature of this Ricercare (Compared to the stately and noble concluding Fugue, that is).

I have put MP3's and PDF scores of all four movements of Sonata Zero on my Downloads Page if you'd like to hear it.


The resolution leaves much to be desired, but the idea of this "Mandelbrot Canyon" is great.

I'd like to see a larger version with several times the resolution.


Got to remember to work on my flexibility.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Further Glissentar Modifications

Sorry for the infrequent blogging. It's not that I don't have plenty to blog about, it's just that I've been busy with various non-musical "chores" this month. In any event...


Working the fretted Glissentar into my set is going according to plan. I have hit some sort of critical mass point with it, and it has suddenly become much more managable to play. Accordingly, I'm now starting off my performances with it - my indoor performances, anyway: It's too much of a PITA to keep in tune outside - and it "works" fine through the first two suites (A minor and C major as my set is organized). Then I switch to the Grand Concert SA.

The problem is, and has always been, that I don't care for the sound I get from the Glissentar. I didn't care for it fretless, and it's not much better in the tone department fretted either. If I simply play the instrument unamplified - as when I'm practicing - it has a fine sound with the string set I have put together for it (Savarez Alliance High Tension Carbon Fiber B's and E's, the standard Godin Glissentar A's, D's and G's, and a Hannabach .047 Super Hard low E), so the problem is definitely the L.R. Baggs ribbon transducer pickup system (The rest of my amplification system consists of a Lexicon MPX-G2 Preamp/FX unit, a Bryston 2B-LP stereo power amp, and a pair of Yamaha AS108-II mini PA speakers).

This piezoelectric transducer is the same unit which was half of the L.R. Baggs Duet system on the first Godin Multiac Grand Concert guitar I had, and it wasn't very successful in that application either. The internal condenser mic was better, and I used the sound mixed on that guitar about 60/40 in favor of the mic. The problem with the tone of this regrettable unit is that it is thin and has a nasal quality no matter how you EQ it. It is also prone to feedback.

The RMC Pickups Polydrive system on my Godin Multiac Grand Concert Synth Access is positively brilliant by comparison: It has a gargantuan sound which is deep, broad, and smooth, and I've never been able to MAKE it feed back. I've never used it to drive a synth, and I wouldn't care if it didn't have that feature: It's simply the best pickup system for electric nylon string guitars I've ever experienced. By far.

Well, Ed Reynolds (The luthier who made the fretted neck for my Glissentar) is always ranting and raving about how good B-Band pickups are, so I decided to check them out. I like that the system is based on electret film technology - I had a pair of electret headphones back in the 80's which required that they be plugged into the speaker posts (!) of my stereo, and they were BY FAR the best headphones I've ever heard for fidelity - and I think this simple fact will give the B-Band system a better chance of sounding similar to the RMC Polydrive I like so much.

The problem is, I don't want to rip out the current amplification system: It would be much better if I could just add a second pickup to the guitar. As I perused the B-Band product line, I came across the UST (Under Saddle Transducer) and the A1 preamp, which is an endpin unit for acoustic guitar.

As luck would have it, the UST comes in steel string and nylon string versions, so... I ordered both, of course. Hey, I don't care if a unit is designed for steel string guitars, if it sounds better on the Glisentar, that is all that matters. I'm going to experiment.


Fortuantely, there is plenty of room inside the Glissentar for all this stuff:

As you can see, the units are tiny. I have to remove the screw-on shell from the preamp, and it will have to be glued into the axe, but there is juuuust enough room for it before it encounters the stock pickup system's battery housing. I'll simply use some hook-and-loop tape to Velcro the new battery under the bridge plate, and then if you don't look closely, you won't even notice that there are two pickup systems in the guitar.


I did have to drill a hole for the endpin preamp:

No problem.


I'll let you know how this all turns out, but it will be a while: The steel string units were on hand, but the nylon string variety had to be special ordered.

Let's just think happy thoughts:

I like the far-away perspective of this fractal image: The central Mandelbrot figure is very small.


One of the things I've been spending a lot of time on recently is exercise: Two hour-long walks every day plus 1,250 reps on my Bowflex every other day. I'm sure some of the ease with which I can now play the Glissentar is due to my strength training (Which was part of the point).

Now I just need a workout partner like this.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Happy "Blogversary" to Me/Palindromic Variations

Well, here I am: One year, 196 posts, 5,601 visitors, 8,035 page views, and 1,295 profile views later. Not impressive traffic, actually, but that was never the point of the blog. MMM has always been and will continue to be an autodidactic aid which allows me to organize my thoughts. As a result of that, lots of things - such as the B's 9th analysis and the Taneiev transcription - will be taken up and abandoned as suits my personal goals. The Beethoven project lead to a nice sonata process piece, and the Taneiev project lead to the Axial Fugue for Solo Guitar (An amazing piece, if I do say so myself, which you can download here). This is the purpose of study for me; to launch new pieces.

And so, I will continue in this vein.


Today's piece is v2.0 of a variation set built around the Fuga: Reductio ad Absurdum theme, which I have blogged about previously and most recently here.

As I have mentioned before, this theme is a four voice fugue distilled out to it's irreducible essence: The subject and answer are a single note, and the four-measure exposition is presented in a series of quadrant rotations so that a compound double palindromic canon is created: Original, retrograde inversion, inversion, and retrograde is the sequence required to pull this off.

So, the theme is an antecedant/consequent phrase duplet as well. This means the two halves can be separated in a series of variations on the theme so that the entire variation set is a gigantic double palindromic canon!

Basically, the antecedent of variation one is the first phrase in the set, and the consequent of variation one is the last phrase in the set; the consequent of variation two is the second phrase in the set, and the antecedent of variation two is the next-to-last phrase in the set, and so on. Setting the piece up this way makes the canonic voices of the entire variation set read the same forwards and backwards. It's really cool, it's totally fractal, it's symmetrical, and I like it a lot.

For this initial experiement I wrote pairs of variations: The first is "straight ahead" and it's pairing contains 4-3 suspension chains. The first set is in 4/4 time, the second pair is in 3/4 time, the third pair is in 2/4 time, and then there are three in 3/8 time. The third 3/8 variation is necessary to get a "keystone" at the top of the arch, and it has 2-3 suspension chains in it.

This simple mechanical variation scheme nonetheless yeilds fascinating results.

What has captivated me the most are the rhythmic implications. Over my twenty some-odd years of contrapuntal writing, I have never employed the retrograde or retrograde-inversion orientations of any theme I've come up with. The few times I've tried it, the results were sucky, to say the least. Well, as I've discovered, the problem is non-retrogradable rhythm/melody combinations, with rhythm being a prime culprit (Truth be told, I don't care for Bach's experiments with "crab" canons and other retrogrades because it seems he's just forcing them to work, and not particularly tactfully at that).

Dealing with this situation is forcing me to concentrate on rhythm as I never have before. For decades I've been looking for a unique and systematic approach to rhythm - as well as a crucible in which to pulverize it - and so I've finally found it. I was never really convinced of Schillinger's symmetrical resultants of interference, but in this context breaking up the entecedents and consequents of those rhythms works quite well. As usual, I use them freely, the musical result always trumping any rigorous systematic approach.


So, here it is: (If you would like to download an MP3 and a PDF of the score, they are here, as usual). These are so simple and self-explanitory that I will present them without further comment.

This particular theme is going to be one of those which takes months or even years to come to full fruition, but it sure has got me thinking more than anything I've come up with in the past few years.


Though the gold is a bit too "Liberace" for my taste, in a royal blue this would be nice embroidered on a comforter/pillowcase set. LOL!


No need to wrap my present.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dear Brave Anonymous

First of all:

Now that's posing. In style. On a $20K BMW motorcycle. Have you even made $20,000.00 in your entire life? I'm doubting it based on your command of the English language.



The rules are simple: If you can compose a better fugue than I can, then - and only then - will I listen to what you have to say about music. If you can't, then SHUT THE F#@* UP and BACK AWAY FROM THE KEYBOARD! "My own counsel will I keep!" - Yoda


For those of you wondering what's going on, I have a... "fan" ;^) I picked up this fan by doing a hit-and-run slam over at "Pretenza 21" (Better Navel-Gazing through Electron Microscopy!). You can see the inane thread here in the comments to the idiotic "Decline and Fall" article.

I know, I know. I shouldn't have. It's like making fun of Mongoloid Idiots - oops - "people afflicted with the polyploid genetic defect known as Down's syndrome." Ahem. But there's just so much head shaking and chortling I can do sometimes before I'm forced to respond. Those guys remind me of the hilarious insanity on parade over at DU and Daily Kos. None of them have any clue about music, and they are all WAY too self-conscious to make any kind of an honest musical utterance.

At least when they are writing about music they aren't writing what passes for music in that gaggle of the guilt-ridden.

So, Brave Anonymous decides to alert me that someone has responded to my cut in the comments (I'm betting it was HIM alerting me to HIS response, but I couldn't prove that). I duly checked it out, and got a few laughs out of it. Big whoop.

Then he got offended that I deleted his comment on MMM - I'm guessing (Which had nothing to do with the topic of the thread) - and revealed himself as a punk.

Oh, well.

I still say the best chance any of the Pretenza 21 crowd have of going down in music history is if they wind up in footnotes in the book that will be the story of... my life, so nya-nya Brave Anonymous.


Finally, today's babe is for The Brave Anonymous as well:

I just knew those pix would come in handy someday. LOL!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fugato for Chamber Orchestra

My Fuga da Camera set is taking shape nicely. This fugato is now planned to be the next-to-last piece. My friend David pointed out that if you translated the title literally, it would (or could) mean "flight from the chamber." It had been a while since I was reminded that the root word for fugue is "flight" or "pursuit" but that certainly is a good way to describe the process. As a result, I'm going to end the set with a fugue for full symphony orchestra after this fugato. The set will flee from the chamber ensembles into a full symphony piece by steps.

With a run time of almost exactly sixty seconds, this little ditty has a humorous aspect to it. Long time visitors of this blog may remember that I originally wrote this to be a small part of a larger sonata-process piece (and it still might end up in one at some point), but I ditched all the rest of the movement. David said it was "like Bach and Mozart got together for a quick whiskey", so I'm going to give it the title "A Quick Whiskey" of course.


First of all, this is a concert pitch-score, so the instruments are not transposed. Just as "there is no crying in baseball" there are no transposing instruments in MIDI. Also, the horn part is inside of the winds because I just put them in the general order of the ranges. Tradition, schmadition.

For this fugue subject, I wanted something athletic with a big, wide range, so I came up with the root to fifth to octave head figure first. I also wanted a super-tight stretto between the subject and the tonal answer, so I wrote them in canon:

As you can see from the score, a simple repeat of the tail figure harmonized out gives a nice place for an orchestral interjection, and it is sorta-kinda Mozartian in its effect.


There couldn't possibly be anything brilliant about the orchestration - I'm certain it's quite pedestrian, in fact - because I've never really understood what all the fuss is about: You get whichever instruments you want to play whichever parts you want them to, and then you put them into some kind of a logical order. How hard can that be? Rimsky-Korsakov, Chintzy-Schmorsikov I say.

What I do like here is how I got a decending chromatic tetrachord into the beginning of the counter-answer, and an ascending chromatic tetrachord into the end of it.


Of course, then it was inevitable that I would get an ascending chromatic tetrachord into the countersubject on the next entrance. The running effect that this chromatic counter-answer and countersubject set produce is actually quite jazzy, but without the swing. I like it.

By simply not raising the sixth and seventh degrees of the scale in the last repeat of the tail figure during the orchestral interjection, I effected a modulation to the relative at the end of it. Though sudden, it's perfectly smooth.


For the first major key entrance, I used a diatonicised variant of the countersubject for contrast. I know the oboist will hate me, but in the words of Gary Solt - one of my Jazz Theory and Composition profs from Berklee, "That's the way I heard it (comma) man." And it really does sound cool with the horn down below it.


Even cooler is the clarinet working down into its chalmeau register for the answer with the clear highs of the oboe above. Hey, it just worked out that way.

I again used a simple linear device to effect a modulation back to the tonic minor at the end of the orchestral statement - the last of this micro-miniature series of episodes - and with the appearance of counter-answer two, all of the materials of the expositions have been presented.


Here is the super-tight stretto for the recap, which creates quite a powerful effect if the listener is in tune with fugue listening, and the free voice in the bass gives a heavy duty cantus firmus vibe to the passage.

The one-beat delay also means that the tail figures are moving in contrary motion to each other at the end of this statement, which sets up a final, more powerful episode as well. Combine all of that with the octaves in the orchestration, and the extra voices in the harmony, and you have one rockin' passage.


A little bit of sixteenth-note action over a driving countrapuntal chord progression, and you've slammed that shot of scotch!


I'd like this pattern embossed on floor tiles. Wouldn't that be too cool?


Then a tasteful area rug with a little bit of bling decorating it. Yeah baby.

The Fugato and some improved versions of the String Trio and String Quartet are now posted on my FileShare page here. As John pointed out in the comment to the post below, the Soundfonts I used for the improved versions are quite a bit better (Thanks John).

Friday, May 05, 2006

Three-Part Invention in D Minor for String Trio

One of the non-guitar compositional series I've been working on I have tentatively titled Fuga da Camera. It is a series of fugal pieces for chamber ensembles that starts with a string trio and ends up with a work for chamber orchestra. It is shaping up like this:

1) Three-Part Invention in D Minor for String Trio

2) Fugue on a Serial Subject in A for Wind Trio

3) Fugue in F Minor for String Quartet

4) ? in ? for Wind Quartet (Probably a piece in C)

5) Perpetual Canon in A Minor for String Choir ("In the Witch's Head")

6) ? in ? for Wind Quintet (Likely to be in F major)

7) Fugato in D Minor for Chamber Orchestra

The idea is that the same players would be used for the entire cycle, so the principle string players would start out with the trio, then the flute, clarinet and bassoon would play the wind trio, and so on. The chamber orchestra would be just the small string choir (4/3/2/2/1) and the wind quintet (Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon). Get it? I don't think anyone has ever done this before, and I've always wondered why a program is expected to be either all chamber music for one specific ensemble, or an all-orchestral presentation. This way the program would build up from the smallest ensembles to the larger ones, and every standard chamber ensemble would be heard (Excluding combinations with piano, of course) on the way to the orchestral finale. Run time will be about 15-20 minutes, so it could easily be followed by a full orchestra program. I like this idea.



Today I want to show you the opening Three-Part Invention for String Trio. The subject dates back to about 1988 - so this piece has by far the earliest point of origin in the cycle, so it's fitting that it is first - but I couldn't get the piece off the ground for the longest time because I was trying to make it a two-part invention and I was also trying to write it for the guitar. Well, when I met my ex-wife circa 1990, I decided to try to write it as a solo organ work (Since she was an organist and had access to a killer tracker pipe organ), and it fell into place about 75% or so. Then it sat around for, oh, about a decade or so before I dug it out of my archives (Which I'm guessing weigh over a hundred pounds now!). Surprisingly to me, I made very few revisions: It's transposed to a new key and some of the articulations are different, but it has finally found it's place after all of these years.


Most of us were taught that a fugue subject begins on either the root or the fifth of the tonic triad, but my study of The Schillinger System intimated to me that since the zero-axis of a melody could be the root, third, or fifth of the tonic triad, a fugue subject could begin on the third as well. This was my first experiment with that. One of the things I learned is that when the third is used, the piece wants accompaniment for the subject's initial entrance. That's why it's an Invention and not a Fugue.

This wedge-like subject also naturally requires an answer on the subdominant level instead of the usual dominant, which is another less-than-regular feature. Then, of course, the answer desired to be inverted. To top it all off, the countersubject and counter-answer parts just absolutely begged to be outrageously chromatic. The viola part starting on the second beat of measure four progresses through all twelve chromatic tones in sequence, for example. All of this combined to make this piece very expressive, and it strikes my ears as a lament. In fact, it makes me think of my late father, who was my hunting buddy, fishing buddy, and just an all-around transcendently wise human being and a Bogart-like man's man (Only my dad wasn't acting). Anytime someone tells me counterpoint isn't expressive, I believe I'll beat them about the head and shoulders with this piece.

The subject's wedge makes a perfect modulatory device, and the fact that it can be inverted at will makes any target reachable. Episode one takes the piece to the relative major, where I use a variation of the subject to get a "great big happy" section to contrast with the doleful mood of the opening.

For the major mode variant, I have the wedge starting on the tonic instead of the third. This means that it cycles down to the dominant degree instead of the leading tone, and I also have it opening all the way out to an octave here. All chromatic motion is expunged from the countersubjects, and so the mood is 180% shifted from the opening and triumph is in the air.

Episode two modulates to the dominant level, where I have set up a very dramatic pitch climax which is also the secondary dissonance climax (The primary dissonance peak is yet to come). The violin has, starting in measure fourteen, an ascending line which spans just over two octaves. It's quite a harsh passage, actually.

As the upper line descends from the stratosphere chromatically, the piece seems to enter the key of E minor (Since I used the inversion going to the rectus for this series of thematic entries). The level of dissonance is slightly ameliorated through here to allow the listener the chance to catch a breath.

The entry starting in twenty-four is the most dissonant from the standpoint of the harmonic interference patterns that are created, though I'm never sure if the listener will get these things or not. In any event, it's tense as hell here due to my forcing the inverted parts to work. Me likey.

After the dissonance climax, what's left but the concluding stretto? Exactly.

There you have it. There it is. The most righteous concluding stretto. Since the answer is subdominantly related to the subject and the piece is a lamentation, I used a plagel cadence to end it.


You can listen to an MP3 of the piece by downloading it here.

I love self-similarity.


I'm not alone, evidently.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Reductio Redux

I've been just dying for an excuse to use that post title. ;^)

My previous post explaining the details of this piece is here. This post is just to point out the final revisions.

The canonic voices are unchanged: It is the added voices in green which have been modified. I changed them so that the first cadential area is an inversion of the second and final cadential area. This gives the piece an added dimension of symmetry, but it also means that there are now both melodic high points and melodic low points. The final cadence is filled out with a third appearance of the pivotal diminished 4/3, only this time it is between the top and bottom open E strings of the guitar as part of a V7 (m9). This is the only place that this structure is playable on the guitar, and it's real fracking cool, if I do say so myself. The tierce de Picardie in the final chord of resolution will probably be saved for the real end of the piece, which you'll understand momentarily.

I have always been careful about the altitude and placement of my melodic climaxes, but I never really gave much thought to the low points, or whether or not they were duplicated. This little miracle of a piece has me rethinking not only the architectural proportions of my compositions, but many other factors as well.

What I am currently planning to do is to use this canon as the theme for a theme and variations set. Obviously, it has qualities that are similar in nature to Bachian and Beethovian Chaconne and Passacaglia themes (I'm thinking of Bach's trancendant Chaconne for solo violin and Beethoven's equally awesome Thirty-Two Variations in C Minor for solo piano). A Central contrasting section in the parallel major will obviously offer some nice possibilities: The relative major would present impossible fingering obstacles.

You can now download an MP3 of the music and a PDF of the score at my .Mac Downloads page here. You may notice some other new stuff there, which will become the subjects of upcoming posts. I've been on a roll lately.


My favorite things are simple: Just a terry cloth robe is fine by me.

Let the Games Begin

May is the month for the residents of Delos to submit their musical entries for the anual Delian Games. I posted a blog entry for my piece here, but there is a seperate Delian site about my entry also posted here (That link is for DSL users and plays an MP3 of my piece when you download the page, if you are a dialup user, there is a seperate link for you here).

Several Delians are participating this year, and the main Delian site for the 2006 Games is located here.

As I mentioned previously, this year's theme is ghost stories or otherwise otherworldly music. Entries so far have been great fun and display a wide variety of approaches.

We Delians are in the process of creating an online orchestra with the idea that we could swap files and record parts online to realize each other's pieces. If you are a tonal composer or a player who is interested in contemporary tonal music, check out the main Delian site here and register.


I'm pushing for an awards ceremony next year.