Kampflieder is finished

I finally finished Kampflieder, for chamber orchestra and it’s all sent off to the relevant people. It will be performed in Melbourne on March 18 by the Melbourne Metropolitan Sinfonietta with Elliott Gyger conducting, so if you’re in Melbourne around then, consider popping along!

Some basic reactions from looking at the finished score (I’ll put it up online once it’s been performed):

  • It will be interesting to see how the density of the piece for the first few minutes works. It’s pretty intense with very little let-up… We’ll see what effect that will have in listening.
  • The overall flow is odd, on the one hand it is underpinned by a very simple (and hopefully audible) process of expansion and contraction, on the other hand, there is a formal rupture almost 2/3rds of the way in and after that, what seemed like a continuous piece becomes very discontinuous, at least on on layer.
  • There’s two moments in the work where there are five different folk songs playing one over the top of the other in different keys. Firstly it’s five solo instruments playing fairly closely together, then secondly the whole ensemble comes together to play five (actually six…..) different songs at the one time spread out over the whole range of the group. In the latter case they’re all accelerating and decelerating at different rates as well. It’s something of an experiment and really it’s very difficult to get a clear idea in my head of how this will work, so we’ll have to see in performance!
  • Particularly in the opening section the balance of the groups is a question. Of course there is an imbalance amongst them (the size of the groups, the length of their phrases), but I want there to be a relative equality between these parts. Will it be that, for example, group V dominates?

Now I need to begin working on the chapter that explains what I did. Here are (some of) the basic elements of the work that I’ll need to outline:

  • Group counterpoint: the determination of the identities of the 5 main groups, how that influenced the selection of instruments – heterogeneous logics across groups. Fixed and variable parameters, and their ‘inversion’ in the second half of the work as a major structural determinant.
  • Mensural phrase- and dynamic-canon as method of creating long-range coherence and complexity in the work. Role of dynamics in creating group unity, reducing internal differentiation. Problems: high degree of unforeseeability of interactions in the long-run. Too much? Should future works be composed with a clearer scaffolding for each polyphonic line in each section, rather than letting each line unfold with only an initial sense of their synchronisation.
  • Macro-structural layer ‘Der Rote Wedding’… how its tempo is stretched and contracted, how it is deployed in the work. Ideas of ‘surface’ and ‘depth’. Problem with the tempo stretching, inexact.
  • Use of songs. First half: solos, slow emergence of tunes from more ‘abstract’ lines. Retrograde dynamics cannon.
  • Use of songs, second half: Tempo expansion and contraction, swirling time, primitivist vertical layering. Problem: performance of subdivision changes?
  • Use of songs, derivations: a lot of materials in the first half are loosely motivically derived from the songs in the solos…
  • Interesting elements, group IV: distribution of 24-tone scale across 5 octaves according to different densities, and the assigning of a varying number of pitches to each instrument in the group to control the degree of common pitches and overlap between them. (Problem encountered: contradicted by process of reduction of phrase lengths).
  • Interesting elements, group V: micro-polyphony of motives and linear directions, derived from El quinto regimiento. Not micro-polyphonic in Ligeti’s sense, since it won’t blend into a clear mass due to a) the heterogeneity of the instrumentation; b) the small number of instruments (5) compared to the different directions (3) and motives (3).

One thing that I think will be interesting to look at will be my approach in this piece of determining the sets of proportions for a particular parameter, and then permuting those proportions randomly to get the actual result. (Which is to say that, for instance, very simply, a certain section might have 8 triplets, 5 semi-quavers, 3 quintuplets and 2 sextuplets, and then I permute this set randomly to get the basic rhythmic structure of that section). This contrasts with my earlier practice in for instance a new day in the desert where I tried to define complex tendencies by superimposing several linear processes.

Of course I have both approaches in Kampflieder, but the former increasingly predominates, which is logical, considering I was thinking more and more about group identity, rather than processual development, and I am moving away from such a processual-allegorical formal approach. The other problems I had with the approach in desert was that it was really messy (I really didn’t know how processes would end up, especially once several were stacked on top of each other), and slow moving (the creation of these processes was done by guess-work and trial and error). Now, I think both approaches are relevant. These latter problems can be solved by better maths – something I’m working on through the Khan Academy. The question of process and allegory can be solved by creating relations between continuous and discontinuous transformation, and by composing works in a less linear fashion (i.e. not starting at the start). The problem of how to permute sets of proportions in a less random fashion, I’m not sure… Anyway, this will be the subject of a future post I’m quite sure.