Saturday, November 14, 2009

Project 2 - Choice of (a) Musical Cliché or Genre Recontextualization, or (b) Text Setting

I handed out project #2 descriptions on October 26 in class, but never posted them to our class blog, so here they are:

→ You have a choice in your second project between (a) "recontextualizing" a musical cliché or genre for 3-4 performers (possibly including voice and/or electronics), or (b) composing a work for voice and 2-3 other instruments,.

(a) Below are links explaining the cliché-based project:

Duration: 3-5 minutes
  1. Aim to set the words as expressively as possible. ALL musical decisions should be based on textual considerations.

  2. The harmonic language should be original (i.e. not based on traditional harmonic sonorities), as was required for the first project. However, you need not begin by creating an original harmonic progression, as you did for the first project. The kinds of sonorities you choose should grow out of what is expressed by the text.

  3. Selecting the text takes time; you need to live with it for a while before knowing whether it will work in a song setting. Look for a text that can be enhanced by adding music to it, respecting the fact that poems work just fine without music. Setting a poem to music does not necessarily create better art than the original poem without music, and it may produce worse art! Setting a poem to music results in a different kind of art than that of the poem alone; it may touch the listener in a different way. Find a text that draws a meaningful response from you. When you feel you understand it thoroughly, you are ready to begin the process of setting it to music. You may need more than one text if choosing short poems.

  4. Recite the words many times, in many ways, in the same way that a trained actor practices reading the same line many different ways until they discover a delivery that most suits the line. Consider how and where emphasis, space (pauses), rhythm, and tempo can be manipulated most effectively for communicating meaning. Take notes!

  5. Emphasis, when reciting poetry, occurs on at least three different levels:
    a) Emphasis on the correct syllable within each word;
    b) Emphasis on a particular word within each line;
    c) Emphasis on a particular line within a verse; what is (are) the most important point(s) within a verse? How can you communicate this importance to the listener?

  6. Write the text on blank paper, leaving considerable space between lines. Then, using notes made during the previous two steps, begin the process of applying rhythm, meter, tempo, and space (rests) to the text, using standard rhythmic notation below each line of text.
  7. Hints:
    • The more space (i.e. time) you leave between lines (or within them, if appropriate), the easier it will be to add instrumental parts to the voice part. Well-written instrumental parts complement the text and can create a dialogue with the singer.

    • Explore alternatives to the natural tendency to place accented syllables on strong beats, or even strong parts of beats. Challenge yourself to discover other means of communicating emphasis (see #7 below)! Avoiding the obvious makes things less predictable.

    • Free your rhythm; mix simple and compound rhythmic values; use ties; consider other tuplet values.

    • Don’t forget to include rests; singers need places to breathe, and the text will have stronger impact if you give the listener sufficient time to absorb the meaning of each line; too many lines too quickly can result in information overload.

  8. Textual emphasis can be achieved in a variety of ways, such as:
    a) Metric (rhythmic) placement — expected or unexpected;
    b) Delaying the expected arrival of a word (i.e. “and … …cried!”);
    c) Lengthening the note value(s) for a word. Sometimes, shortening note values can have a similar effect;
    d) Using significantly higher (or lower) pitches for a word than were used for the rest of the line;
    e) Textural contrast; a word sung on its own, without accompaniment, can be quite effective;
    f) Text repetition; repeating a word, or even a line, is possible, and gives added emphasis;
    g) Orchestration; similar to (e), but this time the instruments can be used for reinforcement of particular words;
    h) Dynamics (e.g., suddenly louder or suddenly softer); perhaps the most obvious method, so avoid over-reliance on it, although when used in combination with any of the above techniques it is fine.

  9. Challenge yourself to find appropriate places to use extended vocal techniques.

  10. Challenge yourself to find appropriate places to use extended instrumental techniques.

  11. Score carefully; don’t make the singer fight to be heard! Become familiar with the voice you are writing for (where is it louder, where is it most comfortable, etc.), and become similarly familiar with each of the instruments you are using. The most common technical challenge we face when writing for voice is making the text intelligible to the listener; all your careful planning will not matter if the audience cannot understand the words (although even here there are exceptions; if setting Latin Mass movements (e.g., Agnus Dei) for an audience familiar with these texts, the lack of clarity in your text setting may not impede the audience's ability to understand it. Also, some composers, beginning around the mid-20th century, would deliberately set vowels or consonants in isolation from the words from which they originated. This, as you might imagine, can make it extremely difficult to understand the words, although the composer's goal was often expressive nevertheless.

  12. Another consideration in intelligibility is that it tends to be physiologically more difficult for singers have good diction in higher registers.

•Week 1: set text rhythmically, according to 4, 5, 6, & 7 above.
•Week 2: set it melodically. You will have to sing it in class!
•Weeks 3 and 4: finish the project, adding instrumental parts, and modifying the melody as needed. In-progress versions of your work must be workshopped (performed) in class every week.

Since some questions have arisen on the ever-popular topic of tonality/atonality, below are some blog links on the topic and a definition that may be helpful:
→ Tonality (Wikipedia): "The system of musical organization of the common practice period, and of Western-influenced popular music throughout much of the world today"


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meganbarnes said...

I was thinking about the steps to writing our text setting piece and how it changed when I finally got to the end of composing. I did set my text rhythmically first, which did help to find the natural inflection of words. It helps to really think of the text as being the reason for the music as opposed to just "writing something cool". But I also found that even though I wrote rhythms to the natural inflection of the words, those inflections sometimes felt awkward. I made a lot of changes to suit the melody and the phrasing ideas I had with the music.

Adam Batstone said...

Right from the start I had already decided that I was goign to write a piece based on a musical cliche, but I ended up setting a text. This was a great project and I ended up learning alot! not only through the setting of the text but also through figuring out how to use the guitar as an effectice accompanying intrument.... This does not sound difficult but I actually struggled quite a bit. I had to make a concious decision to give the singer enough space and to not over fill the texture at critical phrases in the text.

Aiden Hartery said...

Initially I wasn't sure which project I wanted to attempt. I eventually chose the text setting and began rhythmically setting my text. I tried to set it to the natural rhythms of speaking and inflections. I didn't do this for the entire piece though. Once I got going with composing the music I just kept the ball rolling with how I was doing it in the beginning and was able to do both at once. I wasn't concerned with writing a "beautiful" vocal line, or anything that would be flowing or typical to a vocal line. Since my piece was based on absurd ideas and crazy metric rhythms and whatnot, I tried to give my vocal line the same feel.
I attempted to compose a piece that would be heard in a circus setting and a sense of being unbalanced while walking on a tightrope. I felt good about my instrumental writing, and I got a lot of good comments from the class. My vocalist said that I had written text with good rhythmic inflections, which is great!
My biggest challenge was changing musical ideas ( i know i know..) but initially I had a musical idea of just three chords and I had a bit of trouble figuring out how to move on from there after using them to their extent. I eventually moved on, and found it easier to write down new ideas.