In the comments of last week’s post, I realized a series of disappointing projects may have made me reticent about really devoting myself to any new ideas for fear of that same disappointment. I also resolved to use the space here to sort through the ideas for pieces I do have, to see if I can’t pick one to actually see through. These ideas range pretty wildly in terms of personal investment required (both time and money), as well as effort I’ve already put into them. I like these ideas, but pretty much all of them have some big hitch that has kept me from just diving in.
The idea: Two performers sit on stage. Each holds a box. Each box contains a cricket. The piece is simply listening to the polyrhythms created by the cricket chirps as they are influenced by the body temperatures of the performers. (for a more detailed explanation, see this post)
Why I like it: It’s a simple piece that draws our attention to simple musical and biological phenomena. Everyone responds well to this idea when I explain it, but I think it also operates in this bizarre head-space as far as actual performance goes. Who are the performers here? The crickets? The people holding the boxes? The piece simply exploits natural phenomena the crickets and humans involved have no control over.
Why I haven’t finished it: I think my main reason is that I have no performance lined up for the piece. I like the idea of having these boxes at the ready, but motivating myself to fabricate them has been difficult without a deadline looming. I think I’m also a little worried that the performance wouldn’t really work. Uncooperative crickets have the power to make any performance just two people sitting there, and I’m a little worried that the jostling of being carried on stage might be enough to keep them quiet. I’d hate to put the time into manufacturing these boxes if the piece turns out to be impossible to perform.
The Singing Box
The idea: Basically, a geodesic dome covering a speaker. Each triangle of the dome has a pipe sticking out of it, and each pipe is a different length. The speaker would generate a dense chord or even white noise, but the pipes would reinforce specific overtones within that sound. As you move around the piece, you hear different overtones being reinforced by the different tubes.
Why I like it: The simplicity of this idea appeals to me. It is a static sculpture, but thinking about it as a piece of music draws attention to the temporal aspect of observing a sculpture. As you move around the piece, it becomes interactive, changing specifically to when and where you move. Each person will have a slightly different experience when they observe it. I also think it could look really handsome.
Why I haven’t finished it: Geodesic domes are complicated. Completing this project will require a significant time investment. Generally, time isn’t an issue, but I’m not even sure this concept will work. I’d hate to put all those hours in only to find that the piece really is static, and that it doesn’t matter how you move. Additionally, I have no idea how or where I could display a piece like this.
Cross-Stitched Flute Piece
The idea: A short piece written for solo flute (or flute duet) is cross-stitched into one (or two) very long piece(s) of cloth, like a ribbon. In performance, these ribbons would be laid over furniture, landscapes, plants, etc, and the flautists must follow the ribbon as they read from it.
Why I like it: One of the things I’m really interested in is score preparation, and specifically making the score a work of art in and of itself. This piece does that beautifully, making the format of the score a vital aspect of the performance, requiring interaction between the performer and the performance space, which makes for unique performance experiences.
Why I haven’t finished it: Cross-stitching is very time- and labor- intensive. Especially for the scale I’m hoping to work on, this could take months to prepare. Without a performance or even performers in mind, this is a difficult task to motivate myself to do. This is exacerbated by my current tendency to abandon projects after putting a lot of time into them.
Duet for Trumpet and Flag
The idea: A short piece written for solo trumpet is printed on a flag (that is, the score itself is a flag). It can only be played when the wind is high enough to fly a flag.
Why I like it: Another score-as-art piece. I’ve become increasingly interested in incorporating indeterminacy as a natural and necessary aspect of my music. When I can, I like to build it into the score or method of performance, such that the performer is forced to play it differently every time. A billowing flag is not particularly conducive for close, exact reading, so the performer will have to skip and jump around the score in order to continue playing. Additionally, the flag itself will add flapping sounds which are equally unpredictable and unrepeatable. The image of a trumpeter and a flag is tied to those of patriotism (as in a military funeral) as well as those of childhood (as in boy scout camp). I’m not sure how I want to relate to those images specifically, but they are familiar to me, and I don’t dislike the reference in the piece.
Why I haven’t finished it: I’ve actually finished writing the piece. There are a few additional formatting things I want to tweak, but the only thing really holding me back at this point is cost. The three most common ways of manufacturing a flag are digital printing, screen printing, and applique. Digital printing is the cheapest, and could probably be done for around $300. Screen printing probably isn’t that much more expensive, but most companies have a minimum order of 6 or 12 to offset the cost of making the screens. Applique is the most expensive, and I’m not even sure it would be possible with something as complicated as a musical score. I’d be happiest with the look of an applique flag, but the cost for a single flag would probably be approaching $1,000. In the end, without even the prospect of where and when this would be performed, it’s hard to justify even spending the $300 for the kind of tacky digital print.
The Left-Wing Rag
The idea: I purchase a full-page ad in the New York Times, and run a score for a short solo piano piece.
Why I like it: This would people’s attention. A lot of people. The Times estimates its audience to be just under 5 million readers. This side-steps the issues the other projects have with securing performers by reaching out to audiences and performers directly. People could play the piece, or not as they see fit. I like the idea of putting music directly in the hands of the audience, and asking them to play it is reminiscent of a time where that wouldn’t be such a ridiculous request.
Why I haven’t finished it: The cost here is pretty prohibitive (though honestly not as bad as I thought going in). It’s hard to tell exactly what I would pay for an “ad” like this (or if the Times would go for such an idea), but I think it would be around $800. Additionally, I don’t really know what I’d write. I think a piano piece makes sense, and I really like the idea of “The Left-Wing Rag” as a tongue-in-cheek title, but I have never written a piano rag, and don’t really have any interest in writing one. I also fear that much of the attention I’d get for doing something like this would be negative, a backlash from struggling composers who don’t have the money to waste on such a dramatic publicity stunt. In the end, this is a pretty high cost for something I don’t even know people will respond well to.
I’m not sure this was as cathartic as I was hoping. These still have pros and cons that are hard to weigh against each other. It’s not that doing any one of these will prevent me from doing another, I just need to figure out what I want to do now. If any of these speak to you, or you think just make more sense to do, let me know in the comments.