Notes on lessons at Impuls 2015

Readers, if you exist. Most of my posts are really kind of ‘notes to self’ more than anything. It is particularly the case with this post. Nonetheless, perhaps some of you get some weird pleasure out of reading this stuff… And I’m totally cool with that.

Here are some thoughts coming out of lessons I had at Impuls Academy in Graz earlier this month – with Klaus Lang, Isabel Mundry, and Richard Barrett. They were all useful, and I’m glad I made it there…

Lesson with Klaus Lang

I showed Klaus Lang the score of a new day in the desert, and we had a chat about it. He’s a nice fellow. Here’s some things that came up in the discussion:

Every group of instruments has a spontaneous hierarchy. This is to say that certain instruments are more naturally grouped together than others; certain instruments dominate or protrude in certain registers; certain instruments have a greater ability to blend with certain other instruments, etc. For instance in the ‘pierrot’ ensemble the flute and clarinet relate closely, but not as closely as the violin and cello do to each other; the identity of the bass clarinet is not as stable as the bass flute, since its timbre changes dramatically across registers; the piano, when played with pedal, has the potential to negate the individuality of the other instruments; and so on. This kind of complex hierarchy (kind of like a really complicated ‘paper-scissors-rock’ game) should be taken as a starting point of any polyphonic instrumental work.

In this sense the opening texture of desert may have some imbalances. The bass flute, which is consistently in a low register will likely be buried. Of course, I was aware of this, that why I wrote it that way, but perhaps it’s too buried in the sense that it won’t be heard at all, rather than being heard as ‘buried by everything’. We’ll see… The pedalling on the piano as well may be a problem. And in fact it might be best to delete all the pedal markings and leave it up to the pianist to have a dry but legato texture. The clarinet, running across its entire register will have vast changes of timbre, which

The other major thing we discussed was the idea of ‘character’. What came out of the discussion is that there’s a kind of logical inconsistency with regard to my character markings. On the one hand, I’m really keen to have an almost baroque unity of affect for a line across a long period (part of my anti-romantic emphasis on ‘stickin-to-it-ness’) and perhaps even use that as a structural device, a way of differentiating lines and sections from one another; but on the other hand, I also use character indications as spontaneous responses to the material I compose on the micro-level – indications that are much more romantic and subjective. Perhaps I don’t need to choose between these approaches, but instead simply ‘parametrise’ the character aspect further. That is, perhaps I should plan out the rate of change of characters, or even think about how certain characters inhere in other characters, and so there could be networks of characters or affects that could be deployed as one line of the structuration of materials. Would this still leave room for spontaneous gestural characters to emerge across the work? I don’t see why not, but this emergence would be much more conscious.

Lesson with Isabel Mundry

I also showed Mundry my score for desert. She was quite technical to begin with, noticing a bunch of errors of notation, and suggesting some technical issues – things that may not work on these instruments. These are things that I think will in any case come out in rehearsals with Fractales. Anyway, we got into some more interesting discussion shortly thereafter. The main thing we focussed on was the issue of polyphony (or counterpoint in my terminology): that is, the issue of vertical relations between horizontal lines.

To Mundry’s eyes, my desert (at least its opening section) is not really ‘polyphonic’ (in my terms, contrapuntal). That is to say, it is totally stratified, and the individual lines are not in tension with some vertical determination. She has a point: while of course there is always some vertical concerns that the lines have to take account of, nonetheless, in this instance, these are quite few, and more or less emerge from the presence of multiple lines, rather than a regulating overall discourse. “They need a context for their difference.” That is, they need to relate more so that their difference is rendered determinate. By this, really, Mundry was thinking of harmony.

She made the point that harmony can’t really be thought in a totally abstract way. It should be a sensible thing. Just working with all-interval sets, etc can lead to a greying out of the vertical dimension. And, in the case of Boulez, the kind of abstract harmonies he comes up with (and their deployment over long time periods as well as their permutation) means that the polyphony turns into ornament, since it loses internal tension.

She suggested thinking about harmonic progression and harmonic rhythm. Points where harmonies must sound and then the spaces between these points where the lines are more free. This could stand as a replacement for consonance-dissonance relationship. I’ve had similar thoughts in the past, and I think I will attempt something like this soon. Mundry has her own system for harmony: one that she freely chooses from, and one which she deploys in a near-spontaneous way during composing (that is, she doesn’t lay out an entire abstract harmonic ‘frame’ for the work before composing it, and then fill it in). It was based on set-theory permutations, but is highly subjective in its application. To me, Mundry’s is a far too abstract harmonic approach and leads to a kind of conservative aspect to her pitch material.

In general I think it would be a mistake to come up with a single, abstract approach to harmony. I think there would be a danger of regressive systematisation in this. I’m interested in thinking about how harmonic systems might emerge from the concept and materials of the work, whether this be a harmonic system being derived from a particular folk song or performance, or from the specific potentialities of the instruments involved (something that Richard Barrett tends to do). Perhaps rather than the ‘what’ of harmonies, the ‘how’ of harmonies is something I need to think about: the ‘system’ of their derivation and deployment, rather than of their specific constitution, which can come from a variety of original sources, and not just the maths of 12 or 24 tones.

Mundry also mentioned the idea that perhaps there wasn’t enough of a sense of depth and perspective in my writing. It’s perhaps true that there’s a certain ‘flatness’ to my counterpoint, and maybe one of the parameters I could work with in defining lines in a polyphonic discourse is that of space (or the illusion of space). This often requires multiple lines to be seen as a kind of unity, where one line is the ‘shadow’ of another. Mundry gave the simple example in her lecture of a line having ‘depth’ when accompanied by a cymbal.

Lesson with Richard Barrett

With Richard, we started by discussing my piece from July last year, QEM2.

Richard asked if I felt in any way ‘conflicted’ about the material of the piece, and I of course answered yes. We reached the conclusion that essentially there is a linear logic and a linear sensibility trying to express itself in the work, but I was trying to disguise that behind less conventional sounds (as well as a shorter-range gesturality). What this meant was that I was, in a sense, simply overlaying ‘extended techniques’ as ornamentation and as negation, which gave this great feeling of constraint to the overall discourse. Richard suggested that, say a,b,c were more or less conventional sounds, and x,y,z were the more or less noisy extended techniques, what I could aim to do is try to find all the letters in between and have a spectrum from the ‘pure tone’ to the noisy sounds. What this would mean is that I could construct linearities through this spectrum, rather than oscillating between both sides of it. He mentioned Finnissy’s technique of creating whole lines out of nothing but trills, which instead of being mere ornamentation are in fact constitutive of the line. (Perhaps the clearest example of this kind of ‘extended linearity’ or whatever you want to call it is Barrett’s own vale for solo flute).

This in a way contrasts with the approach I have taken in desert, which simply parametrises and rationalises the ornamental approach of QEM2: the ‘extended techniques’ are deployed as interruptions or contortions of the basic line according to processes.

I would be interested to think of how the two approaches could be synthesised. For instance, if one had more of a spectrum from a -> h of ways of producing the sound that went from standard tone to something quite noisy, untempered, etc, a line could be constructed where the material moves between them according to some kind of process, and this process could itself be constitutive of the identity and the directionality of the line. Something to think about.

The basic point though, with regard to materials, was to ‘get rid of the tightrope’ of linearity vs. extended techniques/gesturality whereby each is an attempt to avoid a too positive statement of the other. Gotta get away from the negative determination of material and get to a positive one.

Then we spoke about my more recent piece a new day in the desert. He noted that in the opening texture there was the danger of an entropic effect taking place and the complexity of the stratification potentially getting lost in a merely dense texture.

He noted that in this sort of polyphonic music composing registral relations has to become one of the fundamental structural concerns of the piece. Something that I hadn’t really put so clearly to myself in the past, even if I was aware of this idea. He also added – and this is a fucking cool idea, linking the practice of counterpoint to that of orchestration in a really concrete way – that the overtone structures of instruments should be taken into account. Some overtones on particular instruments are particularly prominent, which means that while you have an instrument playing in a certain low register, it might also be occupying some space, say, an octave and a fifth away from that. Which means if you then go to write a line within that higher space, you will get a kind of conflict or relation between this partial and the new line. For clarity of stratification, one could try to avoid this, but the overlapping can also be exploited as a contrapuntal idea unto itself.

Finally, and this relates to the earlier point about materials, we spoke about the ‘folky’ element in my materials in desert. Evidently I’m aiming for some degree of ‘rawness’ (what I sometimes call ‘folk complexity’) in the playing style of the instruments. It’s not supposed to be ultra-clean. Richard suggested I think about how to make this idea immanent to the notation. A good example of this the bass clarinet part in the last few bars of the piece which are quartertones in the low register of the instrument – for which there are no fingerings. This means that the performer will have to kind of lip them, which will mean that the timbre of the line is constantly in flux. In the score as it stands there is no indication as to what to do about this. Is the timbral fluctuation a problem to overcome, or is it part of the aesthetic constitution of the material? It is of course the latter, but I need to make a note to the performer in that case, to say that this is what I want. Moreover, in future, the question is how to make this apparent in the notation itself, note just in external notes… This would require, from the outset of a composition, going into much more depth about the relationship between the instrumental particularities and possibilities and the linear content.

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Dynamics, register, techniques

While I’ve been focussing a lot on parameters of interval and rhythm in my latest piece, I’m also recognising the importance of other parameters in giving perceptible qualities to the polyphony. Here’s a couple of quick thoughts:

Dynamic envelope: Seemingly the most vulgar of the parameters, dynamics are really important for giving a sense of unified direction to a line, a ‘long-range gesturality’ as I’ve been calling it. It’s kind of an obvious point, but it’s something that I’ve often forgotten. One of the problems of QEM was that even when I tried to write longish lines, they were made up of a succession of dynamic envelopes of little more than 2 or so beats. So, while creating longer-range trajectories in terms of pitch, at a totally micro-level, the line must have longer units of dynamic stability (either constant dynamic, or consistent crescendo or decrescendo). This, of course, interacts with the layers of rhythmic, pitch-intervallic and registral phrase structuring, as well as articulation and modes of performance. At this stage I’m leaving the parameter of dynamic unplanned so that I can dramatically shape the results of the precompositional planning which often need a bit of help. From the standpoint of counterpoint (or polyphony…), the work of this approach to dynamics is to seize upon latent relations that emerged (more or less) contingently in the working out of the precompositional planning and render them explicit.

Register: Firstly, in general I’m approaching register with more restraint in this work than in previous ones. In QEM2 there was lots of jumping between registers within each phrase. In this piece, the register that an instrument occupies is part of the line’s identity (which of course is a changing one). A line’s identity could for that matter be one of swiftly changing registers as much as weaving within a very small compass. But the relative registral position of two or more lines can have a significant impact on highlighting or masking the relations or nonrelations of their other parameters. Again, it’s a pretty obvious point, but the tension generated by a complex rhythmic or harmonic relation between lines is generally significantly amplified when they are in close proximity than when they are farther apart. There’s a further aspect to the use of register: part of the joy of counterpoint in Bach, for instance, is lines getting tangled to the extent that the listener is not sure which line is which and which line is heading in which direction.

Extended techniques: The point about ‘extended techniques’ is that they’re a means to an end. They’re neither simply a matter of keeping up to date with the materials of the day, having an ‘extended sound palette’, nor of simply dereifying the instrument as such (which is more complicated than it was). Extended techniques (a term which collects a whole bunch of different elements of sound production often fitting within ‘timbre’ and ‘articulation’ or ‘expression’) are parameters that help define the self-relation and other-relations of the individual line. This just means that it’s another way to bring instruments closer together in a texture or to make them more separate.  As I’ve said in previous posts (such as this one) the other point about extended techniques is that they should in a sense liberate the true idiomatic instrument from its simple identity in the concert setting. To me the idiomatic instrument is not a stable, fixed identity but a point where multiple historical forces intersect. The danger therefore is to reify the techniques and deploy them cheaply: “here’s the over-pressure bit,” “here’s the ricochet bit,” etc. How to avoid this kind of cheapness while deploying them parametrically appears to be the main challenge. What this contradiction means for counterpoint I can only guess at at this stage.

Lessons at Darmstadt 2014

I had four lessons while at Darmstadt, all of which were very useful and inspiring sessions: Brian Ferneyhough, Jorge Sanchez-Chiong, Oliver Scheller, and Clemens Gadenstätter. At each I showed the tutor the score and recording of QEM2. Here are some notes on these lessons for my memory…

Ferneyhough.

Ferneyhough made a number of excellent points that really resonated with me, insofar as I had already identified similar things – but when Ferneyhough speaks, you listen!

Meter: The meter of the work falls in this space between totally abstract general guide (e.g. 4/4 at crotchet = 60) and actual musical operator, actually being a tangible component of the music. It is neither as it stands. Which is a problem.

(My current thinking is that my solution for the next piece will be to root the meter in the counterpoint, make it immanent to the counterpoint, insofar as different individual lines at different points, by exploring their inner logic give a meter to the rest of the texture, which then has a constraining effect on the other lines (of course the goal then will be to have reciprocal influence…).

Tempo: Make sure tempo changes are logical and calculated (ratio…) so that they mean something less vague and the performers have something to latch on to. He was quite emphatic about the importance of tempo and that it can and should have an effect on the feeling of the piece. It very much changes the context and the sense of relations between parts, etc.

(An aside, he said to another student in the group lesson: “One of my main tenets is: don’t write something that doesn’t need to be done” – notation is instructions, not a description of sounds).

Formally: According to Ferneyhough QEM2 in fact has a relatively convincing structure, beginning with pushing the listener to the point of confusion over what is going on, before slowly clarifying textures and giving clearer formal signals. He didn’t like the very end. Too romantic. He would have been more abrupt – cutting the last few bars of flute solo. I probably agree.

Gesture: Ferneyhough said that my writing was “too constrained by the beat.” I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that. But in general he was in agreement with me that the real problem is that the short-range nature of the gestures and the information overload that they represent means that they end up sounding like ornamentation on nothing, which is not very good. He agreed that having a longer-range gesturality is part of the solution, but he also suggested thinking quite clearly about ‘filtering’ so that not all techniques are present at once and so that you can shape a section by the entry and exit of different modes of playing etc. In this way, and by other means (restricting the compass or tessitura, etc), I could strengthen the identity of my individual lines in order to create stronger counterpoint… more tension and a greater sense of purpose. He also said my material sounded very much like it was 40 or more years old in many respects… He mentioned Jean Barraqué, which I was both pleased and displeased about.

(Another good thing he said. I paraphrase: You have to think about how much of the past and of the future you need to put into the present. If you have none of the past or future in any present, then you do not have a meaningful form).

(And another thing: “You cannot just let the materials do what they want. You must take a step back and make them serve your purposes.”)

(And one last thing: “Notation thinks you, you don’t think it.”)

Sanchez-Chiong.

My lesson with Jorge was naturally quite different to the one with Ferneyhough.

Having recently read Christopher Small’s book Musicking (about which I’ll write a post soon), I was full of questions about how to practically expand my idea of counterpoint beyond just the traditional performers on stage. Could it include electronics? Spatialisation? Improv? My concern was (and in a sense still is) that there’s a performative contradiction between the freedom and equality of internal relations that I’m trying to make in the notated score, and the unfreedom and hierarchy of external ‘relations of production and consumption’ between composer and performer, performer and audience, audience and ticket collectors, ticket collectors and venue cleaners, etc.

Could I not compose a counterpoint of all these things, or at least move in this direction? I’ll come back to this with a fuller answer, but suffice to say that in my lesson with Sanchez-Chiong he quite firmly said: If you simply add electronics, spatialisation, or improv to your materials as they stand, you’ve got “a ticket back to 1964.” Adding these dimensions to my work (or consciously working with them, since in a way they’re already there in primitive form) would require me to quite seriously alter the materials with which I work.

This was a very important moment. It made me realise that you can’t work on all the parameters of a piece of music – especially all the ‘large scale’ parameters such as space – without it impacting on other parameters. You have to know what parameters or aspects of music you want to work on, and how other parameters impact them. If the impact of working on one parameter is to reduce the complexity or nuance of another, you have to make a decision whether you’re ok with that. I’ll come back to this.

In any case, what Jorge suggested was that I can work on different things at different times. I might have a broader scope with certain materials at one point, and a more narrow scope with certain other materials at another.

A point that Jorge made, which struck me, was that notation can be just about sharing. Or further, the composer can simply make a contribution to the creation of a musical situation.

This latter perspective means the creation of a counterpoint of sorts between the producers. It means collaboration and a breakdown of the sheer hierarchy between composer and performer (and potentially other participants), and opens up many more and different resources in the music.

It’s worth considering how to do such a thing, while parallel to that, still working away on my condensed chamber music.

Jorge also cautioned against just doing ‘improv’. He said that over the last few decades an international language of improv has emerged and it has become more or less stagnant. So, if you’re going to work with improvisation, make sure you do something different with it, collaborate with people who have their own and distinct language and approach, etc.

Schneller.

Oliver Schneller is an immensely lovely guy. He does a lot of work trying to support young Arab composers, since he recognises that in general they simply don’t have the infrastructure of their Western counterparts. He seems pretty deeply committed to politics, and ecology came up a couple of times. I found this really very encouraging.

On the question of politics and music, which we talked about for much of the lesson, he made the point that one needs to have a fairly realistic approach to this. He said that you should feel the need to do everything in the one piece, but new pieces can present different approaches to how politics can be combined with music. This of course resonates with what Jorge was saying.

And in general he made the point that music can’t in itself do much in the way of effecting political or social change, but it can be part of a broader movement, comprised of many other small parts, that can lead to a real change. This is just realism, but it’s good to say, and to derive artistic consequences from.

On the strictly musical level, we spoke about time and form mostly. He suggested that I don’t allow my interruptive passages in QEM2 enough time to actually take effect and have musical weight. He suggested that it’s much more common for us to make things too short than too long. For Schneller there’s a kind of perceptual lag in the listener, insofar as we’re always computing what has just happened while something else is being played in the present. This means our consciousness is always a bit divided, and in a way we need double the time you’d think to process something, especially if it’s a short moment. He also suggested that interruptions should not just be left by the wayside once they’ve had their moment, they should be forced to confront the other material and interact in a concrete way.

In the end, Oliver suggested that there should be longer periods of a different kind of energy in my music, so that the listener has time to synthesise what has come before and recalibrate in a way for what is coming next. This way listening is a game of trying to comprehend the form as it emerges.

Gadenstätter.

Gadenstätter basically had one simple point to put forward, which was a good one.

He said: your music doesn’t identify enough the parameters that you’re really interested in working with. It’s all too much of a jumble of heaps of stuff, and things start cancelling each other out (Ferneyhough said roughly the same thing, and suggested I work with filtering techniques). Having an intuitive approach to composition is fine, but there should be some way of forcing yourself beyond the intuition, which is essentially letting the materials just do their natural thing, which is boring.

He suggested: write a short section intuitively, but then do an analysis as though you’re not the composer and identify all the elements that are there (or, as many as isn’t absurd). Then choose the one or more of these elements or parameters that you really feel are the most important at this stage (e.g. pitches, repetitions, rhythms, range, a specific technique or techniques, dynamics, etc). When you then go to write more materials in an intuitive way, focus on intuitively extending the already written material along that particular axis. Push the limits of its extension and see how far you can go and see what new questions this then poses. This way it becomes clear to your audience what you want them to focus on, and what you think is important.

How this will then work in terms of the overall form is another question, since it’s boring to just show a simple linear progression from original state to its development, but that’s obvious.

Gadenstätter suggested that this attentiveness and this analysis would help also with some technical issues in QEM2 – for instance the percussion writing. If I had identified earlier on that this particular parameter required sonic space to be audible and effective, I might have chosen to find ways to develop the material along this axis, giving more room for the vibraphone effects.

While I think the way Gadenstätter put all of this was a bit too formalistic, and doesn’t deal with the question of musical content, nonetheless, I think he’s absolutely right about my need to identify and differentiate my materials to a much greater degree. His technique for doing this seems pretty solid.

Which reminds me. He said that he thought the juxtaposition of solo and duo material in the second half of the piece was lacking in depth, and that I should have thought of ways of ‘shadowing’ the percussion solos with the flute and piano.

Anyway, there’s a real shitload to think about coming out of all these lessons. I have quite specific thoughts about how I want to take up some of these issues, but I’ll put that in another post.

Quite Early Morning no. 2: Recording

Check it out!

Huge thanks to Hannah, Alex and Angus for putting in all the work to pull this off, and for performing it in two different hemispheres in one month!

I’ll be posting some more thoughts about this piece over the next week.

Rehearsing QEM2

I’m very much enjoying rehearsing my new piece Quite Early Morning, no. 2. I’m very fortunate to have the time and the goodwill of Kupka’s Piano to be able to work with them for quite a large number of rehearsals.

There are numerous points during the total process of creation where reflection is heightened: when a section is written, when the score is completed, when the piece is being rehearsed, when the piece is performed, when it’s recorded.

My increased emphasis on music as a social practice (which class-related DOL and then commodification fundamentally alter for better and worse), and my new belief in counterpoint as relations between real human beings, and chamber music as an ideal instance of this – all this leads me to lend far greater importance to the insights revealed in the rehearsal process than I have done before. Of course before there were always ‘workshop’ periods with my pieces, where technical matters could be resolved and interpretational matters discussed, but this current process is considerably more in-depth, since my piece is particularly challenging to pull together, and since I’m there for all the rehearsals.

There are of course numerous technical things that need to be tweaked in the piece for playability. A since I’m not super familiar with all the flute fingerings (something I hope to slowly rectify) and tend to push the envelope on percussion writing, there’s a number of things that need to be corrected: some notes adjusted here and there, some techniques changed or cut out since there’s not enough time to move from one to the next, etc etc. I won’t go into that here, since it doesn’t really have more general relevance for my practice and theory of counterpoint.

My score is also riddled with editing errors needing correction, but that’s even less interesting.

Most important are some questions about ensemble balance, ensemble rhythm, ensemble communication, and ensemble character.

In terms of balance, there are a number of aspects of the work that just don’t work. These include the fact that in some passages I want the flute to be a ‘background’ instrument, but due to the register I have written it in, it nonetheless sticks out with a fair bit of intensity. On the other hand, the percussion is often too soft, partly because the techniques themselves are very soft. But that’s not the whole issue there. If those techniques were less densely written in the percussion part, the percussionist would have more time to make them sing out properly. As it stands it has a half-articulated quality to it, which can be nice, but is often unsatisfying and certainly not very conducive to the percussion asserting itself as an independent line in the texture. In future I’ll have to pay a little more attention to tessitura and technical instrumental aspects if I’m going to want to have more control over the contrapuntal texture: what is foreground, what is background, how relations between instrumental lines will be perceived, etc.

Ensemble rhythm is a very interesting aspect in all this. What I have been beginning to lean back towards on the level of my listening and my ideals – a sense of metre – has been confirmed in the rehearsal process. In my current piece there are elaborate hockets and relations between instruments but they are in reference to a metre that is essentially absent in the work: whether it’s a 4/4 metre or a more complex compound metre, it does not really figure often. My work fits into the ‘ametrical’ modernist paradigm, then. This has caused problems in rehearsals because none of the musicians have a clear frame of reference for carrying out their (often very complex) lines. No one is providing the downbeat or even the basic groupings of a complex metre. This makes the ensemble relations less defined, and a lot of guesswork is involved. Often the result is still very good (after much rehearsal), but it’s a problem. There’s less of a real sense of ‘chamber music’, and the performers lose something in their own experience. On an aural level it also means that the textures sound quite ‘floaty’.

Now, the alternative of foregrounding a predetermined metre or pulse doesn’t appeal to me. To me it falls short of the modern contrapuntal ideal, which is to say that the relations between the lines must be immanent, and not pre-given or abstract. So if I want a metre in the work, it should be a function of the counterpoint. So the solution would be to make the metre the result of the developmental logic of a line (or lines). Of course this would then be something ‘imposed’ on any new line added to the texture, but to mitigate this and open up this approach: a) the writing process could involve reciprocal development of lines, so the more auxiliary lines could impact upon and alter the ‘pre-written’ metre-line; and b) the function of ‘giving metre’ to the work could switch between lines across the course of the piece, so as to show a freedom of association, so to speak; c) the metre-line could be internally contradictory and be the result of two or more simultaneous processes.

Either way, the metre will be present in the work, with (theoretically) at least one line taking the pulse written in the time signature of each bar. How to make this work while keeping a great degree of flexibility is not yet clear to me.

Nonetheless, I feel this will allow for much more of a chamber music experience for the performers and end in stronger musical ideas.

Which brings me to my next point. Ensemble communication. In this current piece there are quite a few sections that require one of the musicians to take the role of ‘leader’ in the ensemble and in one way or another cue the others, or somehow indicate the basic pulse (head bopping, subtle conducting, etc). Yet, there are times where, while this is necessary, no one is really in a position to do it, since their parts are much too dense and rhythmically challenging and require too much concentration. So one thing I want to think about in my next piece is how to incorporate an understanding – at each point – of what it would take for the musicians to work together to pull the music off, and who might need to play what role (cuing, giving pulse, leading with energy, etc). This mightn’t need to be too intricately thought through, but it’s true that I did very little thinking about that in this last piece, and it shows… Again, for the purposes of the ‘counterpoint’ qua social practice, this kind of DOL should be part of the conception of the work, and not something impossible to achieve.

And finally, there’s the element of ensemble ‘character’: What are the performers trying to achieve together? What is the role of each individual in this? In QEM2 mostly there is clarity in the gestalt gestures, but often this could be refined by clearer character markings (i.e. me writing little words here and there to explain the nature of the gesture or affect I’m after). But there are also times when the nature of the gesture or section is very ambiguous and the musicians need more clarification to know what they’re trying to achieve together, how the parts interrelate, etc. I find it difficult to retrospectively fit a character on a section, so I think it’s worth me in future attempting to come up with the ‘character’ aspect at the moment of composing. This is actually an ongoing issue in my music, and I identified it last year in Singapore. This rehearsal process has helped me understand this better.