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 pallet 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.
Once the fragment harvesting was complete, I could start building the piece. This was done on a Macintosh computer using a software program called Digital Performer. In this environment I was able to place, edit, combine, distort, multiply, signal process, stretch, shrink, slice, dice and generally manipulate the fragments to form my composition. I wont go into an explanation of the vast resources inherent in a complex professional multi-track digital audio editing software program like Digital Performer in this note. Suffice it to say, you can do a lot with it.
There are numerous places in the piece where you might think you’re hearing a single fragment, but where you are in fact hearing two, three, four or more distinct fragments taken from different pieces of music, combined, edited and mixed together to form a complete sounding gesture or texture. There are also numerous examples of fragments, which have been so extensively altered, that they bear little or no resemblance to the original. An example of this would be the highly “electronic” sounding material in the last third of the piece. All of that material was constructed from purely acoustic string quartet samples, which were heavily altered in the computer. If the listener were not aware of the origin of the original unaltered samples, it would be highly unlikely that they would perceive them as being those of an acoustic string quartet.
The 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 improvisa-tional impulses. It is in fact a kind of slowed down improvisation. I started by creating the opening seconds of the piece. Once I was satisfied with how that sounded, I listened for what I thought should follow immediately thereafter. Once I had that in place and I was happy with how it sounded, I listened through from the beginning and tried to feel what should come next. I tried 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 followed 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, is simply that which came naturally by following this compositional method.
The following is a list of compositions from which musical fragments were extracted to create this piece:
Black Angels - George Crumb // Cat O’ Nine Tails - John Zorn // Digital - Elliott Sharp // Forbidden Fruit - John Zorn // Four For Tango - Astor Piazolla // Fratres - Arvo Part // Quartet #2 - Sofia Gubaiduntina // Quartet #3 - Alfred Schnittke // Quartet #8 - Dimitri Shostakovich // Bagatelles - Anton Webern // Spectre - John Oswald