what I’ve been working on lately


A good friend has asked me to write a piece for a solo percussionist, probably either marimba or vibraphone. I’m definitely planning to get to this, and have started sketching out some ideas. But for quite some time, I’ve been letting an early piece of mine sit around undigitized  while I’ve worked on writing new compositions. Balancing the new with the old is tricky; like everyone else, I’d rather be writing something new. But I have a number of pieces I really like (and some I’d really rather pretend don’t exist) from the era before music notation software, and it would be great to get those into digital format and up on the music site. I did that a ways back with a 2-hour+ piece called textbook: music of descending landscapes in hyperspace (piece for IPS), and it went over pretty well.

Before writing textbook, I had written another long piece for piano called improvisational study no. 1: shingon mándaras. To this day, I still don’t know exactly how long it is, since I never played it in its entirety from start to finish. Probably somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours, but the exact duration is up for grabs. Anyway, it was my first postminimalist piece, written after another piano work, ineffabilities, which was the last 12-tone work I ever composed. IS1 is different from the music I write now, yet is also very similar. It’s in a number of movements, but works fine if everything is played without pause. I originally thought of it in two large sections: kongokai and taizokai. Kongokai, if I recall correctly, is a Buddhist term signifying the material world, while taizokai refers to the “diamond” world (it might mean something entirely different in other variants of Buddism). It’s been a long time since I studied Japanese art, which actually was the inspiration for the title. Shingon mándaras were Buddhist artworks in Japan that had these incredibly beautiful repetitive structures:

I had to take two art or music courses in college, and having no desire to take the academic music classes at the U of Chicago, opted for art instead. One class I took was in Japanese art, and it was not too great. It focused on memorizing dates of each piece of art we looked at, when all I really was interested in was appreciating the art itself. Despite the dry, academic nature of the course, the artwork blew me away, and it has stuck with me since.

Back to the music: I wrote IS1 during 1981 and 1982, and would very much like to get it notated in Finale  so that I can make a decent mp3 file from it. I’m almost there—it’s probably 80% done, but I still have work to do on it. The section I’m working on now is envisioned as including a female voice as an option, just as the first brief section of textbook can include two contrabassi. Impractical, sure, but the sonic results hopefully would be worth the effort. Here are two excerpts from the non-optimized version of the score: