- a(012). 565 W Quincy St. CHICAGO, IL — 10:35 11/26/11
- b(013). Shannon's House Tulsa, OK — Dec. 24 2011 9:03
- c(014). Dad's House 2 Hillcrest Ponca City, OK — 12/28/11 9:51
- d(015). Miranda Dressing Room, HERE Arts Center New York, NY — last night 18:17 Jan 21 2012
- e(016). Sarah Lawrence College Rm. MF21 — Wed. Mar. 7 2012 17:05
- f(024). garden at il Bambino restaurant, Astoria, NY — Mon. 3/19/12 16:02
- g(025). CUNY Law (partially designed by Jenny) Rm. 101 — 4/21/2012 0:40
- h(026). SLC MF1 during Theory I Final — Tue. 5/8/2012 16:54
- i(027). Jan Pieter Heijestraat, Amsterdam, Nederland — vrijdag 8 juni 2012, 11.33 uur
- j(036). København, Danmark on Gormsgade near Ægirsgade — fredag d. 15. juni 09.16
- k(037). Øresundtåg to/from Malmö, Sverige — tisdag den 19 juni vecka 25 2012 20:12
- l(048). Vienna, VA near Washington D.C. the day after David Durst's wedding 9:44 @ Courtyard Marriott hotel — Sunday June 24 2012
Part of Series: Fr.#.a…
Martin Goldray premiered this piece in the Sarah Lawrence auditorium, and here's the recording of that premiere
on Soundcloud where you can download MP3s if you like as well. Below, I've added a YouTube video that autoscrolls the score during playback:
Or you can just stream the audio via this player:
Performed by: Marty Goldray (piano)
Fr.III.a–l is a member of my Fr.#.a… series, and like all such pieces is named as if each movement were being systematically labeled at a museum or archaelogical expedition. Each individual movement is also labeled with the date, time and circumstances of its initial composition. This is the third collection of these types of fragmentary sketches, and there are twelve of them—labeled a–l.
The following is mostly taken from the introductory pages of the score:
These twelve pieces are fragments written in one sitting (possibly with more or less extensive editing at a later date) during vacations, or on interesting dates, or at interesting locations in my day-to-day life. Although some large-scale structural connections exist (discussed in the next paragraph), each piece generally creates its own soundworld. I hope that each one is evocative in its own way, despite their often truncated and idiosyncratic characters. Think of them as mysterious archaeological artifacts of one person's transitory existence—abstract journal entires without clear-cut meaning.
Unlike most pieces in what I call my Fr.#.a… series, Fr.III.a–l has a unifying structural design for each movement and there is a clear "narrative" that gives significance to their chronological ordering. In set-class theory, there are twelve distinct combinations of three different notes that are possible. That is to say, if you look at every possible combination of three different notes, and eliminate superficial differences such as register and order, only twelve unique intervallic collections exist. I explored each of these trichordal set classes in order from the most compact to the least compact, with each movement serving as a meditation on both the harmonic and melodic possibilities of each one in turn. I further unified the movements by beginning and ending each movement with some kind of presentation of a special six-note collection called the all-trichord hexachord (012478). This set is very cool, because if one picks out individual three-note chunks of it one will find at least one representative of each of the twelve aforementioned trichords. Thus, each movement begins with a six-note event, but eventually three of those notes disappear from the texture, leaving behind the three-note set that the movement will proceed to explore. Similarly, each movement, ends with a simple presentation of its titular three-note set, which is then clouded by the reïintroduction of the three remaining notes of the all-trichord hexachord.
The pieces and the score have benefitted immeasurably due to the work, advice and eagle eyes of Martin Goldray. It was an enormous honor when he said he wanted to work on the pieces and perform them for our Sarah Lawrence students, and, in several rehearsals and e-mail conversations, he has made musical and notational suggestions that have been enthusiastically incorporated into the final draft. His musicality gave these pieces life, and I can't thank him enough.
Check the Detailed Analysis below for descriptions of the personal circumstances behind each individual movement.
In one sense, these pieces are deeply personal. Each movement was written in a relatively brief burst during my beloved vacations with my beloved wife, or on tours with my friends in Anti-Social Music, or in deeply-involving rehearsals. All of them were written rather quickly, and with as little self-editing as I could limit myself to.
In another sense, the idiosyncratic and abstract nature of each piece makes them deeply impersonal. Or at least I suspect that's the case. At no point did I decide to communicate a particular emotion, form or narrative; aren't those filters necessary for any kind of communication we could call personal? Maybe not, but I find myself very confused and unsure about it.
Which is more personal? Is revealing the ramblings of my unconscious or semi-conscious mind more personal, or is a rationally constructed—and thus rationally communicated—auto-biographical narrative? Indeed, which of these is more truly ME? Obviously, I'm both my conscious and my unconscious mind, but which has a stronger claim to my sense of self? Surely it's the more formally-constructed consciousness, and yet it's just as clear that I can deeply and falsely filter my self for public consumption. What the hell is going on here? And even if the unconscious mind is more theoretically revelatory of my deeper thoughts and feelings, does this really matter if the artistic result communicates more enigmatically?
I'm at a loss to explain it, but I love poking at the conundrum, and these stream-of-consciousness pieces seem to muddy the waters delightfully. For instance, why is it called stream of consciousness when it is quite clearly the unfiltered unconsciousness that is being presented?
Fuck it. I'm going to bed.
- Jenny and I took a very brief trip to Chicago for Thanksgiving, because why not? For most of the trip we stayed in an apartment we found on AirBnB that came with a cat named Deuter. She was a total sweetheart. Anyway, I wrote this piece outside on the patio even though it was cold enough to numb my hands a bit, which, in retrospect, was kind of stupid. The (012) harmonies that pervade the movement quickly metastasize into chromatic scales and large clusters.
- When Jenny and I return to our ancestral homeland of Ponca City, OK, we try to always fly into Tulsa so we can hang out at my sister's place. I wrote this fragment on Christmas Eve morning, and it was a sad time because Shannon's beloved cat Pogo was very sick and in the hospital. For some reason, that inspired this deeply weird and angry piece. In my head the beginning sounds like some sort of demented 50s torch song, but I'm positive that no one else in the world would hear the connection…
- Sadly, Pogo took a serious turn for the worse in the days after Christmas, and I think a lot of that sadness came out in this fragment, which was completed only a few hours before he died. This movement—probably my favorite in the collection—is dedicated to his memory.
- My friend Kamala Sankaram wrote an opera called Miranda, and I've been a part of its performances for several years. Although I was initially only the cellist, as the piece evolved I was eventually playing the role of her father—singing countertenor parts, "acting" and doing basic choreography. Eventually, it was a full production with sets and New York Times reviews, and I wrote this fragment in our dressing room on the last night of the two-week run. Hopefully we'll revive the show sometime soon, because it was a blast. A nerve-wracking, body-punishing blast. [Full disclosure: there are some fairly complicated integrations of multi-planar presentation of the (015) trichord in this piece, which were only hazily sketched out in the dressing room. I built the specific pitch relationships much later. Mea maxima culpa.]
- In 2012, a few Sarah Lawrence music professors were on sabbatical, so I got to teach a couple of extra classes as well as—gasp!—have a few hours of downtime during the days. I wrote this fragment during one of those breaks, and it was a nice chance to properly abuse the piano in my main classroom. I pretended I was teaching a class to no one about the (016) trichord, and wrote a ton of notes and calculations on the board before diving into the actual composition. As a result, I think this is one of the more effectively-structured fragments in the set.
- Probably my all-time favorite place to eat lunch in my home neighborhood is a little panini shop called il Bambino, and they have a lovely garden out back where you can sit and eat and converse and chill and compose weird abstract piano pieces. This is definitely the dreamiest and most impressionistic of the fragments, something that always happens to me when I focus on whole-tone stuff.
- Although many aspects of the project were absolutely horrible for Jenny, her work on the new CUNY Law School in Long Island City nevertheless culminated in a cool design. Late one night she had to go over most of the classrooms with a fine-toothed comb to find all the dumb mistakes the contractors made, and I tagged along to provide moral support. I wrote this fragment while sitting in the moot courtroom; Jenny was quietly cursing to herself the whole time because contractors suck.
- At the very end of the 2012 school year, I gave a final exam to my Theory I class, and while the students sweated over it, I worked on this fragment. Weirdly, I am currently writing these words as the students of the following year's Theory I class take the same final. I think of this piece as what Beethoven might have written instead of the "Moonlight" Sonata if he lived in an alternate universe wherein tritones have replaced perfect fifths and fourths, and wherein he sucked at writing piano pieces.
- The beginning and ending of this fragment totally rips-off the Touches bloguées movement from Ligeti's first book of piano etudes, in that the pianist uses one hand to block some keys so that the other hand's scales have "holes" in them. This is the first fragment I wrote during a trip Jenny and I took with Shannon to Amsterdam. We had a crazy two-story apartment with a spiral staircase connecting the floors. The stairs also led up to a small roof garden, which was cool, but the coolest part of this was the bubble-shaped skylight/hatch that opened onto it. When it was raining, you could poke your head up into the bubble and look out at the city as if from a turret. Mm. 14-17 are possibly the most technically difficult in the entire piece—feel free to leave out the occasional quarter-note triplet or fudge the rhythm in order to get through it with the appropriate sense of continuity. Sorry about that!
- After Amsterdam, we hopped on a train to Copenhagen (København), and stayed in a little apartment in the Nørrebro neighborhood. In addition to seeing lots of cool Viking shit, and some motherfucking runes from olden times, we watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 2 each night to get to sleep. These are random facts that have no bearing on anything. In looking back over these fragments, I'm noticing that a more mechanistic spirit starting invading my style in the later pieces, combined with WAY more instances of 3 against 2 and 4 against 3 rhythms. I wonder what happened?
- Copenhagen is far too close to Malmö in Sweden, with its glorious Calatrava building called the Turning Torso, for us not to jump on a train over the Öresund and add one more country to our trip. I wrote this movement on the various buses and trains we had to use to get there. (037) is the trichord set that includes major and minor triads, so, like any red-blooded American, I was compelled to explore the hexatonic system of neo-Riemannian transformations between major and minor. This movement is all about terrifying machines also. What did Northern Europe do to me?
- The last fragment is filled to the brim with augmented harmonies, and was composed the morning after the wedding of my good friend and fellow Anti-Social Music-er David Durst. I went down to the lobby of the Courtyard Marriott and wrote this one. I meant to capture a celebratory spirit, but I think the augmented chords shift the soundworld into something substantially more manic and creepy than that. I fought it at first, but quickly gave up and just let it happen. I was reminded of the great Alfred Schnittke quote, "I set down a beautiful chord on paper—and suddenly it rusts."
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