Thoughts on Form and Structure for Large Ensemble Compositions (December 2003)
|My main focus and interest in writing for large ensemble
is combining improvisation with notated music. In this sense, the orchestra
functions somewhere in between a traditional big band and a chamber orchestra,
with opportunities for soloists, duos, trios and quartets to emerge from
the massive sound. Through out, the use of the open form allows for improvisation.
Usually all that is agreed upon for these sections are the players improvising.
In my earliest works for SKO, i was very excited by the "concerto grosso"
concept of different groups (Return
to One, Quibble, Cosmologic,
NOD, etc.) improvising with the orchestra functioning with backgrounds
cued by the conductor. This is most apparent on raincastle, with
section D serving as an open improvising area for Return to One, with
seven backgrounds to be cued by the conductor. This idea was stretched
even further in section B of raincastle, as the conductor cues
the constant shift between two different improvising ensembles (the Scholl/Hubbard
duo and the trio of Stephanie Robinson/Scott Walton/Harris Eisenstadt
on the recording NH SKO) as well as cueing notated orchestra backgrounds.
This idea is also used (in different ways) in the compositions a murder
of crows and don't look says the crow (i don't believe you).
The use of smaller groupings also allows for a string quartet, brass ensemble,
sax quartet, percussion ensemble and many other possibilities. These different
groups can be heard in almost every piece i've written (for example the
flute quartet at the beginning, and the percussion ensemble at the end,
of sleeping against other warnings).
The idea of link structures, based on my work with Return to One, is used quite often in my pieces. Using improvisation to "link" notated structures poses different problems and outcomes for the players. Improvisers deal with the material preceding them, the shape the improvisation takes and where it must go at some point to realign with the composition. Among many examples, the use of this concept is heard in a murder of crows, where an orchestra improvisation melding into an improvisation by the quartet Cosmologic links an opening notated fugue (section E) with a repetition structure (section H).
Collage structures are used frequently, most notably in raincastle, section F. The orchestra is given a page of extended notation to read from, in any order at any time as a background for a soloist. The idea here was to give the soloist a constantly shifting background to improvise over, with members of the orchestra choosing how and when to interact. The collage structure was also used in a murder of crows. Section B is an open improvising territory with each section given five to seven notated cells. Each section leader cues the cells (by use of hand signs) at any time. The idea here was to present fragments of material that would appear later in section H .
As time past, i began to find less interest in these forms and began working on and writing different forms. In the piece don't look says the crow, a long notated twelve tone fugue sets the stage for a prepared piano/drum kit improvisation. Sections of the orchestra enter the improvisation with notation giving them general areas to work within. My hope was to allow for a more unified development. In the octet piece making my way thru it, the opening notated section flows into section B, where each duo (working at their own pace) improvises short melodic fragments between cued unison pitch material. This flows quite naturally into an open improvisation for the octet, allowing the notated material to give pitch and motivic material for everything to come.
My invitation is for the performer to create their own working structures in the music, with emphases on the idea of individuality working in a group situation. A community, if you would. Often when playing other peoples music, the situations that attract me the most are when i am allowed to place my own indentity on what i'm playing. Clearly this never happens in all situations, but i hope that the orchestra members are aware that the music would sound very different if they were not there. i think of this group as a band, and the piece i've written for the group are written for these people in mind. The scope of the different players and their involvement is very different, from well seasoned improvisers to classical players who rarely improvise. This, to me, is exciting, as different players with different backgrounds allow for varying and contrasting options within these compositions. This is when the compositions take on a life of their own, and i think at this point that is my greatest goal.
NMH Dec. 2003