bs piece (double canon for bill solomon)


I don’t write 12-tone music anymore, and haven’t since I wrote ineffabilities over 25 years ago. Don’t get me wrong; I really like a lot of the 12-tone music I used to write, especially ineffabilities. But I moved on, and aside from some occasional 12-tone passages (generally a series of four three-note chords that get repeated a lot), all my music is written intuitively. That is, I don’t have any technique other than improvisation, nor do I care to have a ”technique.“

All that said, I did something I wouldn’t normally do: I wrote using a standard technique (canonical writing along with dodecaphony). In the process, I ended up writing a long 12-tone canon for six marimbas that is at the same time perfectly postminimalist. I have to say, though, that this was a very uncomfortable piece for me to compose, since I really don’t like being straitjacketed. I had a lot of doubts about the piece, and at first wrote it more as an academic exercise or experiment, and fully expected to ditch it and move onto something more intuitive and comfortable. But as I ruminated over this piece, it really grew on me. So I finished it, pretty rapidly actually (it helps to be holed up in a Palo Alto, CA hotel for a few days while in the Bay Area at work).

I had been asked by Bill Solomon, who participated in the premiere of objects, to write a work either for straight percussion, marimba or vibraphone. I really liked the concept, but didn’t have any ideas. Even worse, I didn’t have much time to play around and eventually manage to write something. But I was toying around with two 12-tone rows, more as an academic exercise than anything (and I could argue that for most 12-tone composers post-Schoenberg, all they did amounted to an academic exercise. But I digress). The rows had some interesting properties, in that they the even numbered notes were inversions of the odd numbered notes. So it occurred to me that the rows were themselves very basic canons. Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could run with it. Not necessarily compelling, but at least interesting.

That’s when it got tricky, since nothing really was coming out of this that was that interesting to me. But I stuck with it a bit longer, since I had nothing much else to work with. First I thought about writing a really challenging piece for solo marimbist, that would have a lot of canonical writing but would be a bear to play with two hands and four mallets. So I asked Bill if marimba + prerecorded tape might be an option, and he was open to the suggestion. So I wrote the work in a matter of days. I thought of the title before even starting the work, since the concept for the piece struck me as more an academic exercise than anything else, hence the double entendre (note to self: tell the kids the title reflects Bill’s initials).

It’s a very different type of piece for me. Still, I really like it, and according to his Twitter response, so does Bill. I could only keep the strict canonical writing going for so long, and a little bit towards the end I fell into my old habits of intuitive writing (although it still uses one of the two rows). I also got a bit sarcastic at the end, with a very uncharacteristic few bars of tonality in C, but interrupted at the end by a single 12-note chord. It was a tough day, and I needed some humor.

Anyway, the MP3 is here. The long version of the score is here, and the condensed version is here. The audio file is pretty quiet, so if you don’t hear anything, feel free to turn up the volume.

Now I need to come up with a piece for saxophone quartet for Brian Kauth. I think I’ll return to intuition for that one.

Wow, it’s 1:15 AM here on the left coast (4:15 AM in Wyncote, PA time), so I’m outta here. Anyway, the piece is up on the site for anyone to download and share.