July 15, 2014
I’ve been writing piano etudes lately, and here is the latest one: my “Free Etude.” This piece was originally part of my ongoing Contingency Etude series…it had randomly changing dynamics that would have created a sort of strobe-light effect (loud, soft, very loud, moderately soft, extremely soft, extremely moderately loud, etc., following no pattern). It was ridiculously hard to play. I didn’t even want to play it, as the composer, and a pianist who likes to grapple with Ligeti etudes. The idea is this: if something is hard to play, the aesthetic reward must be worth the effort. It wasn’t, so I canned the random dynamics and made them intuitive. The result is a “free etude”—without any restrictions on my creative fiat.
As usual, I like to offer a few thoughts on what my music means. In this piece, there is a sense of logic and order created by the repeating patterns, and yet the counterpoint is abstract and “disoriented.” The sense of disorientation comes from the symmetrical pitch-sets (chromatic scales in the right hand and slowly modulating whole tone scales in the left). All that means to me is: outer space, or something like it. Which way is up? Which way is down? Yes, there are momentary reference points, but they change after not too long–unlike life on earth, in which gravity is always pulling downward. The ground is The Frame of Reference. So this piece is either in (so to speak) outer space, or in a disembodied realm. In my series on power, which I posted in the older version of this website (and am soon to re-post as a single stand-alone post for your reading pleasure) I talk about “metaphysical space”… a realm of pure thought (not unlike, I suppose, Plato’s realm of ideal forms). Anyway, it’s the metaphorical “space” where reasoning is done. In this space, there may or may not be a sense of certainty, depending on the subject matter. This etude, it seems to me after hearing myself play through it, and as I listen to this virtual realization of it, is analogous to that realm, and specifically to a discussion, or speech given, in which someone is articulating a point about something that listeners are invited, or perhaps commanded, to observe. In short, the piece is rhetorical, not in the deceptive sense, but in the convincing sense. And there is an unpredictability to it as well. Surprises happen, unexpected changes. What does that mean? That whoever is giving “the speech” is demanding attention. Surprises demand attention. So then, whatever this speech is about, it is important. Also, there is emotional reward when the point is made, when the thing to be expressed is finally expressed. Emotional satisfaction. That is created by the unified rhythmic punches and climax at the end, not to mention the intermediate climaxes in-between that build up to it.
There is another version of this piece in which everything (almost) repeats verbatim, affording one the opportunity to trace the musical argument again, and possibly appreciate it better the second time. But for purposes of brief, more Twitter-spirited communication, I post the short version.
These are my thoughts. When you listen to this music, let your imagination take you where it will, freely as it were, whether where I have suggested, or somewhere else new and different. Imagination, my friends, is what this is all about.