I’m returning to the Glass House Concerto after about a month or spent finishing up another piece (which I’ll probably blog about later in the main blog area of the website). Now that I’m distraction-free, I’m slowing going over sketches, spending a lot of time sitting staring blankly at the heavily worked pages, squeezing in tiny changes, and wondering what to do next.
I wish I had some deep insights into the benefits of putting away a work in progress and pulling it out later, especially in light of the paragraph above. I don’t, except to say that I know it works. The practice makes the piece seem almost as if you hadn’t written it yourself, more like a piece with which you’re really familiar but to which you aren’t “married.” Opportunities to improve or tweak become glaringly obvious. Faults may also show up in the form: perhaps the piece doesn’t flow the way you’d intended, or doesn’t hit the high or low points when it should. Even after literally cutting the movement up and pasting it back together in a different order, I’m still not sure I’m happy with its basic arc.
One of my other occupations has been reading Kyle Gann’s comprehensive, insightful, and very enjoyable book on American music. One of the threads of the work is the dichotomy between composers whose music is heavily structured, laden with precompositional concepts, and those whose process seems to be more “intuitive.” To me, the comparison rings a little false…aren’t at least some of every composer’s decisions intuitive, regardless of aesthetic bent? Even a composer as process-oriented as Milton Babbitt had to have some moment of what might be naively called “inspiration” before working out the thorny mathematics for which he’s remembered. Instead, it seems to be a matter of shades of gray…not that some composers are instinctual and some are not, but rather that some continue to pay heed to their intuition farther into the process than others. As much as I like algorithms, setting up little “machines” that will churn out musical materials, or having a map of a piece before I begin, I also like reviewing the results and massaging them to create an expressive experience and an interesting musical shape. For me, that is composition at its best.
Some of this became clearer with the second movement of the GHC (see previous post for a description). I found myself singing and conducting through the work only to get to the end of a passage and go off in a direction completely different from the one I’d actually written on the page. That’s usually a sign that there’s at least the option that you can rework things (or repeat and vary the materials as long as it stays interesting!). This is exactly what happened near the end of the movement…as I looked over it, I always found myself singing the main melody and an extended descending idea one last time before the written coda. I can’t think of a stronger hint that something needs “fixing” than listening to one’s gut feeling, or better yet, one’s unconscious!
Matthew Coley and I have been in contact quite a bit of late, talking about how the solo battery is going to work, what instruments are finally going to be used, and bouncing around lots and lots of questions about what mallets will work with which instruments. It dawned on me this week that the piece is going to have an interesting visual aspect as well, not only because of the unique glass instruments Matthew will be playing, but also because much of the battery will probably be hung from metal frames between Matthew and the audience…in essence creating the same wall of glass and metal that exists at the Glass House itself!