Si el clima: Quick thoughts upon listening

Alex Raineri premiered my new piano and tape piece Si el clima fuera un banco in Brisbane a few weeks ago and did an incredible job. Here’s the recording.

Hopefully soon I’ll get around to writing up a summary of the approach I took in composing the work – its formal and material dimensions – as part of documenting what could be called my research process. But what I want to do just now is a bit of rapid, non-structured ‘brain dump’ as my partner Hannah would call it, or, in the words of the ever tasteful Alex Raineri, a ‘vom doc’. The latter would be perhaps more appropriate since in the premiere performance of this piece, an innocent audience member was overwhelmed with the need to vomit and had to quickly flee the concert space (you can hear it in the recording towards the end, a poignant moment). I would like to claim this as testimony of the overwhelming effects of my music, but I have heard that the audience member in question had food poisoning at the time. I hope s/he is ok.

The purpose of this doc is to sharpen up both the composition and the interpretation of the piece. Alex will be writing his own vom-doc soon. The fact is that Si el clima is not really finished and perhaps will never be (in the sense of logically closed: I have no intention to keep fiddling with it forever) and so is really still open to improvements. This version features a midi piano part, but this will soon be replaced by Alex prerecording all of the tape piano part in advance. There still remains the possibility that all of the 4 lines within the contrapuntal discourse could be performed by a single pianist (if they decided that the new music olympics was their sort of thing), and I’m not against doing a version for two pianos.

Anyway. Vom-docs away!

The opening. The problem with the opening is this: on the one hand beginning with the tape part in this way is a bit weak, and I’m not convince of the minimal live part and how it relates to the rest. However, the overall effect of starting with the tape and then very immediately shifting the focus to the live piano – the tape representing a false start of sorts – is in my view very effective. Perhaps the issue of the opening two bars will be ameliorated when Alex records his own version of the tape part.

The following section (bars 3-24 I think), doesn’t quite have the intensity of momentum it perhaps should have. Alex plays it super lyrically, and that’s perfect, but there’s perhaps not enough of a feeling of things really getting out of control (prefiguring the final sections). The thing is, in these sections, the polyphonic discourse is intentionally undermined by a shorter-range gestural thinking, and so, without the cognitive dissonance between the parts to keep things interesting, a more helter-skelter feeling is necessary. Perhaps there’s just something that can be tweaked in articulation, etc, to sharpen up the chaotic vibe.

The following section is sufficiently murky and weird.

Thinking about it now, the polyphony in the work is obscured more or less up until bar 33, it’s all too murky or gestural until then. This is a good thing, in my opinion. One thing I think that could be change in the interpretation is the staccatos in the live part from bar 33 – they are a little too sharp and accented and jump out of the lines rather than just punctuating them.

I’m quite happy with the chordal passages, and their polyphony with the (very quiet, almost hidden) single line in the tape part – but I’d have to hear it live, since in the recording it’s hard to tell what the balance and feeling between the two parts really was like.

Bar 48 – mistake in the score. The left hand shouldn’t have a C natural, it’s a C# tied over from the previous bar. In the recording it makes a pretty nasty, grandiose octave. In general I think the top line needs to be seriously reduced in dynamics, since I want it to not really take over as the ‘feature’ line until around the second beat of bar 49.

48-50: in general the tape part is too buried…

51: Eb major triad. Sounds super gorgeous after all the murkiness preceding it. Nice! Beautifully executing by Alex! Makes the entry of the voice really beautiful.

This whole transitional section into bar 58 is again really wonderfully executed. Here’s a really polyphonic moment. One can really listen to each of the individual lines separately or the overall discourse… I’m also really happy about the harmony in this section. It’s a resultant parameter (that is to say, the lines only conform to their own intervallic constraints, not to some textural-harmonic constraint), but the result is very arresting, to my ears. Worth returning to to see what I did right!

The entrance of the next section at bar 58 is also perfectly interpreted. This quite intensive entrance and then a bit of a retreat…

Ok. So there are a few timing issues between the tape and live part in the next section or two, but that’s neither here nor there – something that can be sorted out in future performances.

The following section, from bar 85-91, sufficiently intense: moving from a perceptible polyphony to a a wildly pulsating texture.

In general the top line from bar 91-94 should be more obstinate and intense. It is throughout this whole long middle section of the piece where the textures are significantly clarified, with lines really very distinct from each other, so it’s quite necessary that they are each given a lot of love and individuality, since they can’t rely on dissolving into gestalt gestures to make them effective. Alex in general does a great job. With a new tape part that Alex has recorded himself, I think the unique qualities of each line will only be strengthened.

That run in the right-hand at bar 97 tho. Phwaaw! Alex!

In fact all the quicksilver stuff in the right hand throughout this section is so wonderfully done by Alex…

In general the spoken voices, particularly when they enter all together, need to come up in the levels. That is true as much at bar 128 as elsewhere. In this particular section the voices need to swamp the live piano, now reduced to a single-line.

The section from 161 was slowed down – as was the rest of the piece – from my original conception, because it was too insanely fast to play. Ok, my bad. And in general this hasn’t caused much of a problem with the overall flow of the piece (in fact, quite the contrary, on the whole). However, in this section, in the tape part, the single lines are so exposed and so simple that their slower pace makes them sound decidedly weak and lacking direction. Perhaps this will be rectified just by having Alex record these passages himself and just giving them a greater amount of energy and direction. Although in general the first half of this section (161-200) for me sounds too slow and lethargic in all parts… Not sure. We’ll see in the new version. The second half of this section up to bar 255 is better, and things get sufficiently insanely fast and intense, but in terms of the pacing of the work, the movement towards the climax is a little too rapid and it should really build for much longer across this section. Perhaps the interpreter can compensate a little to resolve that…

The final section is very effective IMHO. Two things. Firstly, syncing with the tape is super tough, since there are heaps of rests in-between gestures and they keep changing time-signature. At the same time, it is the live part that begins many of the gestures, so there aren’t any cues for the performer. To my mind I think this problem should remain for the performer. It’s part of the intensity of this final section. It’s not gestures followed by fermata with cues for re-entry. It is a chaotic and over-determined metric structure with a chaotic and overdetermined alternation between silence and gesture and that’s the way it should feel. The second problem is more simple, the tape part in the final, pianissimo section, needs to be a little louder. It is has a very limited role in this final bit, but its role is really crucial and should be quite audible.

Anyway. That’s enough thoughts for now. Like I said, I’ll write up a technical outline of the compositional process when I get a moment, and probably more reflections when the next performance comes around (and certainly when I hear it live myself next year).