Towards a Different Kind of Unity

Having finished rereading Morton Feldman’s “Give My Regards to Eight Street” last week, I’ve now been engaged with Mark Rothko’s The Artist’s Reality : Philosophies of Art. The book is written in a very different than Feldman’s and I find I am taking a much slower approach to the text, but am finding it very thoughtful indeed. Today, in the section “Emotional and Dramatic Impressionism”, Rothko discusses individual and universal human experiences, and in discussing that which is a common binder of human experience, writes:

Suffice it to say that this is a trusim: that it is through the tragic element that we seem to achieve the generalization of human emotionality.

I had never thought of that really in such terms but can’t argue with it so much. We do tend to find ourselves uniting in experiences of the tragic, and less so otherwise. But what of the otherwise?

I remember a little more than a year ago, in writing “On the Sensations of Tone”, that I was (and am) very interested in much warmer colors. I was very much contemplating aspects of Messiaen’s colors and writings about him, thinking about a seriousness that could be warm, something akin to that review of Cage I read a while ago that mentioned him as “a happy existentialist”.

I think perhaps these ideas are part of a much larger shift in ways of thinking for me, of moving towards a different kind of unity than that offered in the tragic. It’s what attracts me to Scelsi, to later Feldman, to Scriabin’s music. It’s interesting to come across Rothko’s writing now as I’m at a point in this composition where there are many good moments but I’ve been waiting some days now, searching, wondering how it all works together, where it’s all going, listening on and on to understand its nature, its qualities. The sound world has cooled a bit since the initial brilliance of the opening moments of the piece, so now to experiment and see if these ideas aren’t what moves the piece, and myself, forward…

Internal Dialogue

Being in Krakow, when Lisa is either in class or researching at the librayr, I find that there will be long stretches of time where I simply do not speak, perhaps a few hours at a time. In this experience I’ve noticed that as external dialogue diminishes, the internal dialogue grows, and that this exercise has been quite good for me.

I remember back to when I was composing a lot in college: my schedule usually involved going to school and rehearsals until around 7:00pm, then a quick dinner at home before going to my favorite coffee shops to sit at for hours on end (it was not unusual to leave the coffee shop after midnight), before going home or to the studio to work on music for hours after that. (I drank alot of coffee in those days.) During the time I spent at the coffee shops I often read texts by composers, computer music books, novels, poetry, and various books of other types. I remember too in those nightly reading sessions I would spend a lot of time also not speaking, internalizing a dialogue, and I think that helped me very much to focus when I later went to work on music, late into the night.

I think perhaps in the time since school, since becoming a programmer and simply living life, that kind of internal dialogue and quiet observation has not been as exercised regularly. It is something now that I am thinking about very much and I hope this kind of focus can be maintained once I return to work life.

Organ Sounds and Pyramid Envelopes

I’ve always found that there was something to the weight of the sound of the Organ, yet, I rarely found myself engaged with much music that used it. More often than not, the more organ there was, the less engaged I was with the music. But that fascination…

Whenever I’ve tried to use organ-like sounds (additively built-up sine waves with Csound in my case), I never felt really at ease with the sound. In the piece I’ve been working on, I was at a point where I was interested to add more flavors into the dish, so to speak, and so went into my library of instruments and pulled out an additive synthesis organ I thought I would try. I had saved some presets from the last time I had tried using it in a piece but none of them really blended well with what was already there. So after adjusting the strengths of the partials to get a more hollow, square-wave-ish sound I found that it had started to blend in quite well… but something was still a little off.

I have been working with pyramid envelopes for quite some time now, where the sound starts from 0, rises to full value halfway through the note, then back to 0 at the end of the note. I’ve been using this in most of my electronic musical work for quite some time now as I find the sounds then to have a very gentle quality to it and that you can really taste the sound this way. This envelope type also has much more variety to it than a typical ADSR, as the rate of rise and decay in the pyramid envelope is really dependent on the duration of the note.

For the organ instrument I had been using, I had largely always been using a typical envelope for an organ, I guess what would be called an ASR (Attack, Sustain, Release). This envelope has a fixed attack time, then sustains for most of the note, then has a sharp release. This kind of amplitude envelope is very characteristic of real organs and how they work.

So, the natural thing for me to try was to use the organ sound with a pyramid envelope, and that ended up being what really brought it together with the rest of the sounds. Amazing! By applying that to the organ sounds, I really began to feel more understanding of the pyramid envelope and why and how it works very well for me, as well as understanding other aspects of instrument/sound design.

For a sound so pure as in additive synthesis, ADSR or ASR is not enough variety for my ear. Perhaps if the music has notes which change very quickly, or if the sound is mixed within a large variety of other sounds it would work for me, but as I’ve been very much into a much longer duration of note lately, this doesn’t work. On the other hand, if I should want to use that kind of envelope with this type of sound, I think I have a better idea of what the character of the music would have to be for it to work for me.

(Note to self: The pyramid envelope too doesn’t work in shorter durations unless short-enough to create a percussive sound, otherwise, it is too much change in sound.)

Again Lost in Feldman

When I was packing for my trip to Poland and was deciding which books to bring, looking at the many I had purchased but not yet read, I ended up bringing mostly those which I had read before but had wanted to read again. Amongst those were the collection of Feldman essays, Give My Regards to Eighth Street, an absolutely wonderful and deep collection of writings I return to every once in a while. It seems like every time I go through this book or the Zimmerman collection of Feldman’s Essays, it’s always exactly what I needed to read at that time. Never more than ever I think.

I came across this link from a website (perhaps the Sequenza21 wiki?) that is a search of for MP3’s of Feldman conversations. It is located
here and I have been enjoying listening to Feldman and Cage very, very much. After coming across these and putting them on my PDA to listen to, I put down the Tai-Chi book I was reading and picked up the Feldman book to read, and really haven’t put it down since.

Feldman has played an incredible part of my life–musical and otherwise–both in the sheer beauty of his music and also in his thoughts about music and the music world. I remember reading the Zimmerman collections of Feldman’s Essays in college and finding myself connecting very much with Feldman’s attitude on it all. Reading him now and listening to him speaking, I feel like a certain part of me has somehow really woken back up, as if I was just a little tired for a long while and now that I’ve yawned and wiped my eyes, I’m begining to wake up and see out into the world again.

So I’m lost in Feldman again, in his spirt for music, art, life… but don’t worry, I might be lost in Feldman, but I’m as here as ever, if not more so from it all.

Another Felman Interview I found, which I much rather enjoyed.

In Krakow

It’s been some 10 days now in Krakow… it feels very different here in the Summertime than when I was here a few years ago in the late-Fall, beginings of Winter. Many more people out and about in the main square. I think in some ways I very much preferred it in the colder times as the vastness of the main square was much more apparent then, the atmosphere much quieter. It is perhaps that I’m in a contemplative mood and the austerity of that time was so suitable for the mood I was in then and now.

The city though is as beautiful as I remember it. The warmer weather has been good for sitting in the park that surrounds the main square, and I’ve spent a number of hours there now reading, listening to drafts of music, and writing in my notebook thoughts on music and ideas to try out.

My schedule has largely been the same so far. On the mornings where the weather has been amenable and when I can wake up early enough, I’ve gone out in front of the dorm I am staying at (it doubles as a hotel in the Summer) and do some warmups and tai-chi. I’ve been enjoying that morning time very much, and since having missed doing so this morning, I found very much I’d like not to miss my morning session. I’ve tried to do so in the morning before seven as I find many of the people then are still asleep or just waking up, and that perhaps doing Tai-Chi at the time won’t be too much noticed. I still feel a little strange about working on sword form in the morning, so have tried to find a good place for that. There are still many days ahead here, so perhaps it’s all just a matter of finding a good place to do my practice in the morning.

The mornings so far have been spent in my room, working away on music, counterpoint exercises, programming blue, and reading. The work goes well at this time as the bulk of the students and hotel guests are gone to their classes or left for the day. The windows of my room face the East, so if the sun is out the room can get quite warm. The table I am sitting at and working is adjacent to the window, so if the sun is shining I close the curtains to work, which I’d much rather prefer not to have to do as I like to look outside to the green lawn and trees which are adjacent to the building. Otherwise, the quietness and situation has been very ideal for work.

Lunch–as most meals–are with Lisa, which is great to spend time daily with each other. ^_^

After lunch I have been spending time in and around the main center. I seem to have found myself a spot in the park that surrounds the main square that I am fond of, and I have been bringing books, music, notebooks, etc. there to do some contemplative work. Today, I listened to interviews with Feldman while sitting and enjoying the beautiful park, and finding myself with that rare opportunity (well, rare at least in how I’ve found my life as of late) just to sit and listen and to think. More on Feldman in another post…

Dinners with Lisa have been very enjoyable; at first we mainly stayed at the cafeteria, but after a week we started to explore some restaurants in town, mainly going to many which I had been to in my first time in Krakow, which I enjoyed every bit this time as last.

The evenings have been mostly filled with continuing the work from the morning, having had the afternoon’s time to review and consider. An electric kettle and tea or instant coffee usually accompanies the evening at some time, and work goes well. The students have been somewhat loud in the evenings when we first arrived, but that seems to have died down a bit. (I noticed signs today that “Quiet Hours” are now from 11:00pm to 6:00am as there have been complaints by people trying to sleep; I was very happy to see these signs. =) )

The evening turns into night, the day finishes and I fall asleep to start the cycle once again. Thus far it’s all gone mostly well, and a feeling of satisfaction greets each night and morning.