One of the graphic score gestures from the "Incidental"project.
Fragment-Based Compositional Process
My process involves the construction of compositions from many small musical fragments. These fragments are performed by live musicians, (or sometimes an analogue modular sequencer), recorded, edited and then loaded into a software program where I construct the actual composition. Many of the fragments are then subjected to extensive signal processing and other manipulations. Working in this software environment affords me an enormous amount of flexibility as to how the various fragments are aligned, combined, layered, altered and mixed. The pieces that I've been able to create using this new technique have been the purest most refined personal musical expressions that I've ever been able to achieve. This new music feels right to me and is intensely personal.
The process combines the manipulation of musical materials, musical performance and audio recording into one tightly integrated process. Of course, a composer generally has control over the musical materials (pitches, rhythms, dynamics, etc.), but the performance is always a bit of a wild card, and if you're fortunate enough to get a musically transcendent performance of your material, you've got to hope that you were able to get a good recording of it. With my method of composing, an excellent recording is a given, seeing as I have complete control over that. I've also found that I am able to exercise a remarkable amount of control over the actual performance, or what the listener would perceive as the performance. As I construct the finished piece in the computer, I essentially create a new performance as part of that same process. At that stage of construction, the manipulating musical materials and the creation of a musical performance are now inextricably interwoven for me. I have been very pleased with the results.
My compositional style is a kind of highly linear through-composition. I’m striving to avoid self-conscious formalism in favor of following the rule of “what sounds good next”. It’s an attempt to capture my own instinctive improvisational impulses. It is in fact a kind of slowed down improvisation. I start by creating the opening seconds of a piece. Once I'm satisfied with how that sounds, I listen for what I think should follow immediately thereafter. Once I have that in place and am happy with how it sounds, I listen through from the beginning and try to feel what should come next. I try to think in terms of, “if I were improvising, what would be the next thing that I would do,” or more simply, “what sounds good next”. I follow this ethos strictly all the way through the composition of the piece. Whatever structure, aesthetic unity and/or coherent linear through-line one might perceive in the finished work, is simply that which has developed naturally by following this compositional method.
When listening to my music, one may have the impression that they are hearing a group of musicians playing the music together in a room, live. This is not the case. The music is created from many small fragments, which were recorded separately. By very carefully manipulating and combining these fragments in the computer, I am able to create finished pieces which often give the impression that they are being performed live by a group of musicians. This impression of "liveness", however, is not my primary objective. All I'm trying to do is to make music that feels right to me.
Here's an example of a verbal instruction used in my fragment-based choral piece, "Noopiming".
Sing a series of random notes of your choosing on the vowel sound "u" (long). Fade in and out on each one and keep them relatively short. Randomize both the duration of the notes that you sing and the amount of silence you leave between notes. Do not imply a rhythm and avoid rhythmic entrainment with other singers around you. As a group, you should all be singing different notes of different durations with different amounts of silence between notes. Make each note beautiful. Keep the group sound going until you are directed to stop.