Monday, November 9, 2009

I am a composer and other slightly delusional thoughts

While waiting for the start of the New Music Series concert I wrote about to begin on Saturday, I happened to overhear the two gentlemen in the row behind me conversing. Seemingly composition students, one of them remarked that, while scoring for the guitar, he wanted to learn how to write for the harp.

Something about that comment sparked something in the back of the head and I think, possibly delusionally, for the first time I have a way to explain what I do in less than three pages: I am a composer. I don't write music, and my compositions are executed by processors rather than orchestras but the concept is the same.

I've often wondered how composers can come up with their pieces without ever hearing them [in their entirety] until in the hands of an orchestra, and I realized that I do the same thing nearly every day.

The composer for music must be aware of the capabilities and limitations of each of the instruments they are writing for, how to evoke the particular emotions that they desire from a piece, and even what instruments not to use (just because a vibraphone is available doesn't mean that it needs to be used...). A completed composition is then turned over to the musicians for a first performance, an then may be adjusted, tweaked, or scrapped to meet the expectations of the composer...

Every day I must be aware of the capabilities and limitations of my orchestra -- the processors for which I write programs and the devices connected to them; lights, screens, air conditioners, plasmas, projectors, audio systems, and on. I have my instruments, my bowings, and there's a careful balance to be had; with literally thousands of options and few clear cut decisions with lots of gray sometimes the when not to use something question becomes a delicate decision. I usually can visualize the flow of things before my fingers land on the keyboard.

I can rehearse by loading the program in a processor in the office... but it's not until the program gets loaded in the actual system -- with all of the peripherals in place and ready for their roles that I see my composition life for the first time. Most of the time it "sounds" beautifully on the first try -- lights move in unison, the volume control works, the screen drops, the projector turns on, and the thing you expect shows up on screen... other times, it requires a little tweaking before it "sounds" the way I want it to.

"It" can range from a simple conference room to the system a Eastern state's Senate uses to vote, a conference center in Indiana to the night clubs and bars at a casino in northern Michigan... A single movement to an entire symphony, if you will.

Ok I think I've taken the metaphor to it's extreme, and I do sound a little delusional...but hey, it's what makes me cute ;)


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