Revising Kampflieder

Just under a week ago my Kampflieder had its first performance in Melbourne, by the Melbourne Metropolitan Sinfonietta with Elliott Gyger conducting. It was an interesting and worthwhile experience. While many of the players were quite new to this music, and circumstances (and resources) meant we only had a couple rehearsals, everyone gave it a really solid crack, and I got to hear more or less what I was aiming for.

Which means that while there were some things that didn’t come off due to lack of rehearsal time or whatever, there were a bunch of things that didn’t come off for precisely compositional reasons. So here’s my public self-criticism… Well, more like just a list of things I plan to change in the work for any potentially revised version – that hopefully will see performance one day.

This is purely personal affair, ‘for research purposes’ as we say, so readers can stop here less they get horribly bored!

In no particular order:

  • The overall stratification I was aiming for didn’t quite come across, since, at the end of the day, there was too much timbral and registral cross over. Given that such crossovers are more or less unavoidable once you have five different layers in the combinations that I had arranged, what is needed is another solution (though one that is not purely external to the essential idea of the work). My thoughts are that the groups need to be much more spatially separated, so that their independent identities can be better grasped. Simply spreading them further out on the stage may do it. Otherwise, the more extreme option would be to have a click-track that each performer listens to through headphones, which would allow the groups to be entirely spread out in the performance space. Too distant would lead to problems, but they could be quite far away from each other I think…
  • The opening ‘Rote Wedding’ attack in the strings should be taken up by the whole ensemble – needs more punch!
  • The percussion part needs considerably less resonant attacks – since the cymbals really cover so much spectral space, they tend to seriously blur out the timbral distinctions between groups, which reduces the stratification and makes everything sound even more like a mush.
  • Group III needs a longer build up to when they take over the Rote Wedding tune at bar 57 – so what they’ll do is start to double group IV from the last semiquaver of 51.
  • At bar D (bar 57), I should allow more space for the unfolding line in group III. To that end I’ll delete a bunch of entries from the other group and allow each group to articulate itself individually in relation to group III before they begin to stack on top of each other again.
  • Again on bar 57, group III: should have glissandi… as it stands it breaks the consistency of the whole section much too much.
  • At the end of the work: consider the Rote Wedding line in group V slowly accruing all the other groups… which would have a dramatic dimension to it, though may be a little too ‘obvious’.
  • On Group V when they take the Rote Wedding tune: the octave distribution should be rethought a bit, since sometimes the extremes of range in some instruments cut against the dramatic requirement of the punctuation.
  • At the moment of rupture at I (bar 140), the ff octaves in group V don’t articulate their oppositional relationship to the preceding material sufficiently: they felt, at least in the performance, more like a random insertion, rather than something necessary and negative. So this will need a bit of thought as to how to build up to this moment, or whatever…
  • In general the folk song solos leading up to I need to have much stronger song-identities much sooner than currently. As it stands they only just being to emerge before they get cut off: it doesn’t sufficiently affirm their important identities.
  • The super dense layering of 5 folk songs at letter M needs adjusting: all the folk songs should be in roughly the same time scale (within the orbit of the standard song tempo) so that they are all perceived as songs, rather than just 2 or 3 songs and then a number of clumsy accompaniments.
  • Also at M, the thirds in the trumpet and cor anglais should be inverted, with the cor anglais on top…
  • Group IV inversion… put accents on note changes, to give this layer more internal differentiation
  • Group III inversion… rethink a little the jumping octave materials…
  • Mutes for group V up to letter I? Particularly the trumpet.
  • Group V held octaves: tuba and contrabass should be greatly shortened and the glissandi should be quicker and more obvious, leaving the upper instruments to hold on for longer.
  • Percussion from D to I needs to be rethought: it is very important structurally to have the vibraphone nice and clear as a ‘cantus firmus’, so perhaps the rest of the percussion needs reduction.

One basic lesson coming out of this, something I can’t correct in this score, but that I can work on in future pieces, is that an overemphasis on the ‘unforeseeable’, canonic approach needs to be rejected or at least heavily mediated by more planning of proportions and overall relations at all points in the work. This is not solely in order to ensure a more dramatically engaging temporal flow, but also (and most importantly from my contrapuntal perspective) so that the logical determination of one element on another is made sufficiently clear to perception. As it stands, in Kampflieder there is too much ‘contingency’ in how layers interact in their broad outline (where they start and stop, etc), and it undermines how layers interact on a purely logical level (the meaning of one layer in relation to another). So, in future, even in mensural canonic procedures, I will need to have a much clearer maths of how things unfold. None of this is to say that unforeseeable things will emerge in the course of composing – this aspect should, of course be welcomed, as long as it takes place within a logically consistent and compelling framework.