This piece was created out of preexisting musical fragments on a computer using digital audio editing techniques in 2003. It was only the second time that I employed this method of composition. I decided from the beginning to limit myself to using material extracted from three Kronos String Quartet CDs. The three CDs were Short Stories, Black Angels and Winter Was Hard, (thus the title). I recorded this material into a computer, and then went through each piece, carefully extracting fragments which I thought could be musically useful for the piece I wanted to create. The average length of these excised fragments was about two or three seconds. Many were shorter, and a handful were significantly longer.
This process of harvesting musical fragments was the most time consuming aspect of the project, and was actually compositionally significant. A great many aesthetic and editorial decisions were made during this phase of the process. For example, I would often decide to sample a particular fragment because I knew it would work in an interesting way with another fragment I had already sampled earlier. As I got further and further into this harvesting process, I started to find myself looking for more and more specific types of things that I knew would work well with my growing body of fragments. Sometimes I would be surprised by something I came across, and this would send me off in whole new directions of other new material to search for. But in the end, this pallette of musical fragments had built into it, a significant amount of aesthetic coherence, which served as a musically useful limiting factor. This helped to provide the final piece with a kind of unity, before the actual musical construction even began.
To read more about my fragment-based compositional process, click here.
There are two interesting anecdotes regarding this piece. They both reenforce the idea that what I created by using my fragment-based composition method really did create something new. The first involved Joan Jeanrenaud, who was the cellist on the Kronos recordings that I sampled. I happened to meet her shortly after I had completed work on the piece. I explained to her how I had created it and was very interested in what her impressions of the piece might be. I gave her a copy to listen to, and when she got back to me with her thoughts, she was under the impression that the whole opening section was one intact sample that I had lifted. This was both shocking and affirming, seeing as that section (like the rest of the piece) was highly constructed from many fragments taken from a variety of different pieces. She did not hear it as a constructed piece, but rather as a played piece - and SHE was one of the original performers!
The other related anecdote involves the composer John Zorn. He had a piece on one of the CDs I sampled, and I found his style of writing to be highly samplable. Lots of discrete gestures. In my finished piece, I was aware of a fair number of samples from his work that I thought were fairly clearly identifiable. I sent John a letter explaining what I had done along with a copy of the piece. He replied with a phone call and told me that he really enjoyed the piece and that he wasn't noticing samples of this work in it at all.