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January Projects Update: Clouds and Lectures

The new semester is off to a great start, and thanks to a bunch of work I put in this winter to streamline my lesson planning, I'm finding more time for creative projects. In an attempt to update the blog more, I'm planning on doing a monthly review of the projects I'm working on. So let's get started!

New IMPROV! Century Ensemble

After an 18-month hiatus, OU has chosen to re-launch the New Improv Century Ensemble (N!CE) with equal focus on established improv repertoire, new works by OU composers, and laptop ensemble experimentation. We've had a healthy showing so far, and our fearless leader Joshua Tomlinson has plans for us to play Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4, if only we can find enough radios. 

As part of that ensemble, I'm writing a piece for audience participation and computing cloud, creatively titled CloudMusic. I'm still finessing the details and the interface, but what I envsion is that the audience will create “clouds” by selecting variables in a web interface, and a performance computer running Max 7 will poll the computing cloud to render those “clouds”shortly after. The performance interface in Max is adorable:

Cloudmusic

Saxophone and Fixed Media Piece

I have a commission sitting on my desk for Andrew Allen at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, that I spent a lot of work on last semester. Unfortunately I'm not terribly happy with the interaction between the saxophone and fixed media, so I'll be doing substantial work to that piece in February.

Norton Lecture Series: Inspiration/Perspiration: Exploring the Creative Process

As part of OU's Norton Lecture Series, I'm working on a presentation on the creative process and how we teach the creative process, especially as it relates to Music Composition. It's been simmering for six months, and I'm in the process of writing it as we speak, or at least I should be writing it but I'm updating the blog… February 22: 5pm at OU-Catlett Music Center 131.

Oklahoma Student Composers Workshop: A Keynote I Need To Title and Write.

The composition students at OU are working on creating a statewide student composers workshop, a statewide forum for composition students to get together and discuss their music and issues in their field and in Oklahoma specifically. I've been asked to give the keynote speech, which will likely involve composer marketing. February 18: 10am at OU-Catlett Music Center Pitman Recital Hall.

That's it for right now…off to work!

Creativity November: Tempest in a Teakettle

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and for the past three years or so I've used that as an excuse to cofound “Creativity November” among my friends in Norman. The rules are simple: Like NaNoWriMo, during the month of November you must start and complete a creative work of your choosing. The planning can occur before November, but the actual work has to take place during the month. If the work is completed by the time we meet for our annual December Third meal, you win. If you don't finish, you owe the rest of the participants a cake. 

My project this year was a piece I created the title first (Tempest in a Teakettle), and recorded my stove for an abnormally long time. And my teakettle. I already had a good number of water and storm noises from across the country, and the bulk of the work was just whipping fairly tame storms into an epic tempest. And then I ran a storm siren through a granular sampler and annoyed my neighbors. The resulting eight-minute piece is my first in four-channel surround, and I'm pretty happy with it.

Of course, like many of my recent pieces, I asked Walter Jordan for a program note, and he delivered a beautiful one. 

‘Tempest in a Teakettle’ uses a common household scene to explore the universal feeling of watching small problems grow. As the title suggests, we often minimize these problems, and are left watching and waiting as they compound silently within us. ‘Waiting’ is explored in several ways throughout, and uses the medium to augment these daily dramas until we will allow ourselves to view them center-stage.
As the piece begins, we listen to the ritual of a kettle being filled and placed on a stove. The ring of metal and the hiss of the burner are stretched into storm winds as the listener is drawn down into the kettle. Where we were waiting for the kettle to boil, we are now waiting for the approaching rain. 

Pressure builds, and a palette of familiar storm sounds beat against the sonic space, ushered in by the tornado siren which will haunt the background. The tempest is in full force, even though it is built of milder layers: light rains and distant thunder recorded across the United States layered on top of one another until they slosh from one side of the space to the other. A feeling as familiar on the plains as on the coast, we are now waiting for the storm to pass.

The siren, which has since been drowned out in the wind and rain, reasserts itself. The wail is distorted and layered into shifting harmonies, striking a balance between a lull and a claxon. Through these elements, we explore the sense of obsession that comes from being kept constantly on alert. Fears become disassociated and aimless, until only the waiting itself remains. We are waiting—now that the storm is over—for whatever comes next.

In perfect time to interrupt the cycle, the tea kettle set to boil at the start begins to whistle. The pinging inside as it is removed from the heat echoes that of rain on a tin roof, heard earlier. Just like the sonic manipulations alter and extend the soundscape of the piece, the unease of waiting blurs the sense of scale between the tempest and the teakettle. 

And the abbreviated note:

The title suggests the small problems we consider on a daily basis, waiting as they build within us. ‘Waiting’ is explored in several ways throughout, and uses the medium to augment these daily dramas until we will allow ourselves to view them center-stage.

After being introduced to the teakettle in which we’ll be experiencing the storm, the noise of rain and wind quickly begin to fill the sonic space. Soft rains and distant thunder churn over one another in a tempest, finally giving way to cautious harmonies fashioned from the wail of a storm siren. Through these elements, we explore the sense of obsession that comes from being kept constantly on alert. We wait for the storm, wait for it to pass, and are waiting for what comes next.

Just as soon, the sirens fade, and a full kettle has come to boil while we were preoccupied. As the sonic manipulations alter and extend the soundscape of the piece, the unease of waiting blurs the sense of scale between the tempest and the teakettle.

Program notes by Walter Jordan