Saturday, June 9, 2018

Composing Outside the Lines (or within)

My first lesson with composer Tania Leon was something that would change my approach to composition forever. Professor Leon asked me to define a line (actually, she gave me a week to think about it and return with a definition). I was confused as to what this could possibly mean aside from a straight line between points A and B. When I returned for my second lesson, we discussed the various definitions of a line – particularly in the context of music. To illustrate the endless possibilities, Professor Leon drew a squiggly line on paper and then asked, “how would you notate this?” I remember thinking I wasn’t clear on exactly how to represent the shape before me, but soon realized this was an introduction to the concept of representing sound through notation in a way that expresses the organic shape of a musical line - beyond approximating the shape via conventional rhythmic notation, etc. The point of the lesson was to utilize notation in a manner that expresses the exact, organic shape of the musical idea in your head. It can mean anything from graphic notation (if this effectively conveys the idea) as well as micro subdivisions of the beat....but accurately executed! The latter can be a painstaking process as organically conceived rhythms often look complex when notated correctly on paper. However, this concept is crucial for pure, unadulterated compositional thought…especially in an environment where notation software can make it easy to input the closest sounding conventional rhythm. The concept of representing a line exactly as it appears forces one to search for the notation that will communicate that which sounds free and natural….almost in the manner of an improvisation. In a sense, the concept of “defining a line” deals with every conceivable musical shape beyond a straight line. As a suggestion, try singing your organic idea and recording it. Then transcribe the audio exactly as your hear it without altering the natural rhythm.  Notation programs such as Sibelius or Finale make it easy to select an idea which is “close enough”; however, truly complex rhythms require all sorts of manipulation and editing (not to mention a firm grasp of math in terms of note value and subdivisions – especially in the area of nested triplets / groupings, etc.). This approach will bring you closer to expressing your original ideas more accurately and also force you to think about what it is you really want to say as a composer. 

1 comment:

  1. I remember back during my wacky weed days, I could see, in my mind, the shapes the notes created, played by someone like Coltrane. And I was convinced he was deliberately creating musical shapes!