I sketched this piece in the summer of 2018, then set it aside to work on other pieces (with deadlines and performances lined up!). Earlier this year I had the opportunity to present a string quartet on a concert at Hunter College and had an amazing experience working on this piece with the quartet:
Pala Garcia, violin
Leah Asher, violin
Wendy Richman, viola
Michael Nicolas, cello
This quartet begins by providing a glimpse of three distinct musical ideas. They seem totally unrelated, but the music seeks to confound this initial expectation. Related textural contrasts are developed between dialogical textures and the quartet speaking as one voice. The pitch material combines just intonation with twelve tone equal temperament.
This work was inspired by an erasure poem I created collaboratively for a class project in April. After thinking about what I wanted to do musically for about a week, I picked up the bass and essentially just improvised. I recorded in one take (well, okay there was a false start that I’m not counting!) and then cut out and discarded large chunks, crafting the final piece. There are no added effects or processing except just a little sprinkling of reverb. This process of recording myself improvising or working out material is entirely new to me. It worked for this piece and it just might be sneaking its way into my process. For now, please enjoy the recording … I need to go and write this down somehow…
“…washed out to sea” was composed, performed, and recorded by Scott A Miller II
Special thanks to Stefan Reichtenstein, an insightful collaborator, gifted photographer, and all-around cool guy for working with me to create the inspiration for this piece. Cheers!
Organum is a composition that borrows its name from the style of medieval sacred music characterized by drones and perfect intervals. However, it is important to note that this piece is not intended to be historical and no stylistic choices were made to align it with the practices of authentic organum. The music is constructed out of two main ideas: a ‘pendulum’ consisting of a chromatic scale fragment swinging down from concert E-flat to concert B-natural and back up, eventually coming to rest in the middle, on a concert D-flat; and a five-note tone row (E-flat – A – B-flat – D-flat) which provides most of the melodic material through a rotational process borrowed from Stravinsky (i.e. “Stravinsky Verticals”). Two similarities are immediately apparent: both musical ideas begin on E-flat and end (eventually) on D-flat, and both contain five different pitches. The second of these becomes the root for the form of the entire piece, the number five playing a significant role in every aspect of the musical development. There is a section of music for each note of the pendulum figure as it unfolds on the macro level. Rhythmic grouping of different numbers (1 through 5) conflict at each transition until 5 has ‘defeated’ 1-4. The pendulum figure only occurs explicitly in the beginning (while the tone row is being presented in retrograde), in the middle (over a D-flat drone, the eventual destination), and at the end (when the destination is finally reached).
An important theme in this piece is the natural versus the artificial. This is embodied respectively in the ‘organic’ pendulum figure versus serial composition techniques as well as the free, meterless flow of the piece versus the exactitude of certain rhythms.
Performed here by the incredible Jacob Swanson and Sarah Marchitelli: