Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Composing Spotlight: Labyrinth

Movement III. Perplexity

The dogged determination of the second movement dead-ends into a more static, murky feeling, with the barline intentionally blurred through the repetition of a major thirds motive by vibraphone and flutes, first together, and then gradually spacing apart. The motion in this movement is supposed to be less purposeful.

At two points in the movement, the muted trumpet attempts to reinstill a steady beat (bringing back the determination) with a melody derived from the major thirds motive, but each attempt to do so results in the wrong meter and ultimate stagnates back to the vibraphone. After the first attempt, the tonal center is where it started, but the second attempt leads to an unexpected new key.

From here, the alto sax melody restores some semblance of a beat, more "dripping water" than "driving", which subtly shifts meter and brings us to the fourth movement.

Labyrinth is the first, and only, piece which employs extramusical effects, specifically in this movement. I always felt like plucking on piano strings through the cover or burning a violin to get a crackling sound were cheap gimmicks, and my music is cheap enough without needing any gimmicks. However, to perfect the feeling of this movement, I had low brass players breathing through their horns without playing, or making "tut tut" footstep noises beneath the melodies. This movement also uses its fair share of pitch bends and glissandos, devices I generally ignored because it took too long to make the computer imitate them. Looking backwards on this movement with nine years of perspective, it's chock full of "the types of things I wouldn't normally write", which probably gave it some much needed freshness.

When this piece was reviewed by my thesis defense board, Professor Clendenning asked why the trumpet lines were always harder than the rest of the ensemble, pointing specifically to the end of the excerpt shown above. I replied that my experience as a trumpet player gave me confidence that the lines were fairly straightforward for any good trumpeter. Professor Spencer added that even a bad trumpet player would be cocky enough to give them his best shot and think he had done them justice.

    Listen to the third movement (2:42 MP3)

Jump to Movement: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX

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