Saturday, June 11, 2011

Carbon Reflux, my first venture into Serialism

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Definition of Summertime

When I was younger, the season of summer was a carefree time for relaxation, when a kid could just screw around all day without having to worry about what might happen tomorrow. I remember losing all track of the time and date, and whether I was by myself or with friends, things like that never really seemed to matter. We would run around outside like giddy, rabid squirrels, at last free from the confines of grade school, if only for a few months. It was pure bliss. Sometimes I wish my summers could still be like that, but the life of a college student can be rough, especially when school costs 35,000 dollars every year! Whether or not I feel ready for "the real world" as it's called, time keeps moving and I am slowly being pushed into this world of adulthood, responsibility, and for me especially, increased worry. Summertime as I knew it when I was a younger kid is a thing of the past now, but the one thing I really do appreciate about this shift in definition is that a lot of the work I'm continually obligated to do is writing music. If I hadn't been able to set up my life this way, who knows what state of mental disarray I'd be in right now! So, let me tell you a bit about my summer, and what you can (hopefully) expect from me musically over the next few months.

First and foremost, a huge part of the reason why "carefree" is no longer a part of my definition of summertime is my current job. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, or 3M, is a vast and relatively successful company that designs and produces tens of thousands of different products worldwide. Since my dad has worked at the factory here in Hutch for over ten years, and since I am a college student, I am able to take part in 3M's summer temporary program. Last year, when I first started this blog, I wrote a bit about my experience at 3M that summer. I had my fair share of difficulty working that job, but it was fairly nice overall, since I only worked 40 hours per week and I was able to sit down and move around a little every day. The tough part was the fact that it consumed my entire summer. This year, however, I'm only working until the end of July. While that may sound like it creates a nice month-long vacation for me, in reality, I've sectioned off all of August to compose, practice, and listen to a ton of music in preparation for the coming school year. Last summer, I could keep up with my music on the weekends. This summer, however, I work an average of over 60 hours per week, often more. The pay is fantastic, the copious amounts of overtime pay even better, and in a period of only ten weeks I could earn well over 6000 dollars. My coworkers are some of the nicest people I've ever met; I don't think I could make it through these weeks if it wasn't for that. Good things aside, the hours really eat up my energy and my time!

Despite my job, which leaves me really short on time for my music, I try to make what room I can to compose and practice. The funny thing about my job at 3M is that there is just enough white noise and mindless repetition that I can literally compose several minutes of music in my head over the course of a shift. Because of this, I've actually accomplished quite a bit more than I thought I would be able to. The project for my roommate Steve is nearly finished, and in total I've been working on it for about three weeks so far. It is titled "Metal and Water," and it is an exciting, colorful saxophone quartet composition for Steve's Junior Recital this coming fall. Slow sections that twist in unusual harmonic loops contrast with faster sections, where syncopated rhythms and tango-esque patterns are plentiful. Once I'm done with this piece, I plan to move on as quickly as possible to the symphonic band project, which needs to be complete by November. As I've said in previous posts, this is going to be a monstrous project, and I'm going to need to set aside a great deal of composing time for it. I'm already planning on brainstorming for ideas during my shifts this coming week at 3M! Since I'm starting such a major project, I figured it would be fitting to upgrade my Finale notation software after five years! That's right, I'm getting Finale 2012 :)

I have several new Youtube videos on the way, as well! Remember my mentioning of "Carbon Reflux," my serial composition for Music Theory, in my last post? I decided to upload a video of it, and you can watch it HERE. The twelve-tone rows I used to construct the melodic and harmonic content of the piece are shown at the beginning of the video, but the many ways in which I manipulated these rows to create different musical shapes is left buried in the notes. Although it makes me anxious, I included the sheet music as the video display itself. In addition to this recent video, I have several more new videos on the way, and I think they're going to turn out exceptionally well, given how unique they are. My sister, who has been a dancer for several years now, recently danced to an edited version of Flight, one of my piano solos, and I had the opportunity to play it live onstage with her at the dance academy's performance. It was tons of fun, and provided I'm not infringing on any copyrights, the video of the event should make it to my channel eventually. "Trance," a rather jazzy and ethnic flavored piece I composed for a large chamber ensemble, will also be made into a video soon. Like some of my other videos, this one will use the enhanced MIDI recording from the Finale 2007 file, with a simple slideshow to go along with it. A pretty cool guy from my church who doesn't afraid of anything agreed to play violin with me on "Forever Sunshine," the duet I wrote for violin and piano last semester. It's a tough piece, but we've been practicing it together for a few weeks now and I think it will turn out well. My good ol' friend Bryan agreed to video tape the live performance of it, which will most likely take place in August, and you can count on seeing it on Youtube! He also agreed to record me performing "Sea Refractions," a gorgeous four-mallet marimba solo by composer and percussion instructor Mitchell Peters. I've begun preparing for a possible Junior composition recital next spring, which would be a great way for me to collaborate with my classmates at Concordia to prepare and perform quite a few of my original compositions. Obviously, recordings from this concert will be made into videos for Youtube, as well.

Last and certainly not least is the recording project I'm currently working on, "Nothingness," which is quite possibly the darkest piece of music and poetry I've ever written. It's a choral song for a four-voice male choir, giving it a deep, dark texture. When I wrote it way back in December, I was super excited about recording it using nothing but my own voice. By singing each part four times and layering everything together, I could turn my vocal chords into my own personal choir! Unfortunately, using headphones to record didn't work out so well for this particular song. Recording audio with headphones is an easy way to get a decent quality recording, but headphones aren't really designed to be used as microphones (obviously), and they do pick up some background noise. While this isn't even noticeable on a one-track recording, with many simultaneous tracks (sixteen in this case), this noise compounds upon itself and becomes extremely overbearing. However, Bryan recently discovered that the USB microphone packaged with the latest Guitar Hero game doubles in function as a decent recording microphone, nullifying most background noise and even condensing slightly. This was a wonderful surprise for me! What started as a six-month setback ended with an abrupt and simple solution. I've started the process of recording and tracking my voice for "Nothingness," and you can expect to see its video on Youtube... Whenever I find the time to finish it. Darn 3M!

My search for a decent microphone isn't the only thing that ended abruptly recently. Video games have been a huge part of my life, as a hobby and often as an obsession, for many years. However, all that has come to an abrupt end this summer, just another one of the many things that has made this summer a period of change for me. About a week ago, all of my GameCube memory cards suddenly bricked. ALL of them. The data became corrupt, possibly from a corrupted Paper Mario save file that I had on three separate cards, and not only was my data erased, the memory cards themselves were rendered useless. In about ten minutes, I lost probably 500 solid hours of gaming from more than seven years of my life. Because of this, I promptly decided to discontinue being a customer of Nintendo, and sell all of my games. Perhaps I'm making the whole ordeal sound nonchalant in this post; I was really quite upset about losing all of the hard work I put into my GameCube games. On the plus side, I'm earning some money for video games I haven't touched in years! By the way, if you want to know what games I have to sell, just contact me at my email or on Facebook - nothing but Nintendo products, sorry Sony/Microsoft fans! I've decided that one positive thing needs to result from this. So, I've decided to put together a second tutorial video for some of the music from one of my all-time favorite games, Golden Sun: The Lost Age for the Game Boy Advance. If you know the game, chances are you also know about the memorable, emotionally stirring soundtrack composed by Motoi Sakuraba, who is also responsible for the glorious Tales of Symphonia soundtrack. I really wish I had a job like his, composing music for video games! Anyway, the music I've transcribed for keyboard is the background music from the town of Garoh, as I mentioned in my last post. It's a sad, somber little piece that can be played fairly easily on the piano, and I really feel that many people would appreciate an instructional video for it, like the one I made for the Salad Fingers music.

I have no doubts that certain parts of this summer will be difficult and tedious for me. As I continue through the painful transition into adulthood, I need to learn to deal with and work through situations like these. As a musician and composer, I need to be prepared for financial and emotional hardship in the future, and do what I can to avoid it now, even if that means rethinking my youthful expectations of the summer season. While I doubt I'll ever really "grow up," it's times like these that help to make me even more thankful for the time I am able to spend with my music. I look forward to finishing all of the projects I've set out to complete and more, and I hope you can be patient, since my schedule will be more than a little bit rough for the next few months! Still, keep an eye out for new posts, new videos, and updated news about my composing. So long for now!

My Youtube Channel!!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Inner Unity, performed by my classmates at Concordia

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another Semester Closer to Graduation!

It's hard to believe that I'm almost half done with my career as an undergraduate college student. Part of me still feels like I'm somehow in High School, and I've left for some absurdly long music camp known as Concordia. Another part of me is sad that the camp won't last longer than 4 years! On the other hand I am really glad this semester is coming to a close, because I don't think I've ever worked harder on schoolwork in my life. It's been a rough couple of months but I've learned a lot and grown considerably as a musician.

First of all, the video for my latest "regular" composition, "Going Home," is now on Youtube. As a rather eclectic piece for a modified wind quintet, it will be difficult to get a live performance of this piece, but I'm thankful to have finished composing it. I'm also done writing "Patience," a piano invention in the style of J.S. Bach, and I've begun working on a fugue, which represents one of the most difficult contrapuntal studies in the Baroque tradition. Every day, I practice Patience and my duet for violin and piano, "Forever Sunshine," since both of them will be getting live performances and recordings in the next few months. I am so thankful to all the musicians and organizations that have helped me get so many live performances this year; it's really exciting to hear my music played and heard by an audience! In addition to these upcoming videos, I'm also planning on making a video recording of "The Girl with Flaxen Hair" by Claude Debussy. It's an incredibly lovely piano solo in the impressionist style, and I've become quite fond of it over the month or two that I've spent studying it, so I figured it would be nice to get it recorded!

My most recently completed composition, "Carbon Reflux," is anything but regular for me. The instrumentation isn't too extravagant - Flute, Clarinet, and Cello - but what's really different about it is that it's my first serious attempt at composing using serialism and the twelve-tone methods of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. In a nutshell, I have to compose using various inversions and reversals of a prime row that I determine prior to writing the music. This prime row must contain all 12 pitches of the standard chromatic scale, with no pitches omitted or repeated. In other words, in each statement of a form of the prime row, I must use all twelve notes in some way or another before any of them can be repeated. What this produces is music without any tonal center or standard, functional harmonic chords; it's dissonant, complex, and difficult for the ear to follow. It's certainly not a style I want to be known for, but it was a very difficult project and I spent many hours trying to make the piece sound just right to my ear, yet still follow the rules and general purpose of serialism. I haven't decided whether or not to put it on Youtube...

However, what will be going on Youtube are two music tutorial videos that I'm sure will earn me a somewhat larger audience. As part of a rather unconventional project for one of my music classes, one of my classmates and I had to figure out the background music for the popular and disturbing "Salad Fingers" videos on piano. We also had to set the text of the first episode to music, which will be sung by a couple of our other classmates this Tuesday! Strangeness aside, I realized that I could make a tutorial video for the Salad Fingers music, including the short and simple sheet music. Only a few similar videos currently exist on Youtube, and most of them feature the full version of the piece, written by the Boards of Canada, titled "Beware the Friendly Stranger." To keep things concise I'll just focus on the looped section used by David Firth in his animations. I'm also thinking about doing a similar tutorial video for some video game music from Golden Sun: The Lost Age. I've transcribed the background music in the city of Garoh for piano, and I'm working on a couple others, and I'm sure plenty of viewers on Youtube would love to learn how to play such pieces themselves! All credits for this music would go to the marvelous video game composer Motoi Sakuraba, a big inspiration of mine.

I think that's just about everything! I'm really struggling to figure out exactly how to compose music for a full wind band, as I mentioned in my last post, since I am so unfamiliar with the ensemble. In addition to the band piece I need to start composing over the summer, I'll need to write something for saxophone quartet. My roommate, Steve, let me use his Music History textbooks for the semester, saving me hundreds of dollars (thanks Steve!), and in return I agreed to compose something with saxophone for his junior recital. The problem is, I'm pretty unfamiliar with saxophone quartet, similar to wind band! If anybody reading this knows of any music for either of these ensembles that I could listen to and study, that would be awesome. :) As always, thanks so much for reading, and have a great, musical day!!!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Insane Semester, Huge Opportunity!

This semester has been a tough one. Amidst difficult classes, tough teachers, and more musical projects than I've ever attempted before, I have had almost no free time in the past few months. There are many things not to like about such a busy schedule, the thing that I do like more than anything is the number of composing opportunities that have come up! If you take a look at my previous post, you'll see my recent Youtube video, a slideshow presentation of a duet for violin and piano that I wrote in a couple weeks. It will be performed live in Hutchinson this May! Speaking of live performances, sometime in the next couple of days I'll be uploading the live recording of "Inner Unity" to Youtube as well.

But those are only two of the projects I've completed this semester. I also spent a couple of weeks writing a duet for marimba and piano, as part of an assignment for music theory. This was performed and recorded, and if I can find the time I may put a video together for that as well. I'm also in a counterpoint class studying the technique of J.S. Bach, and I composed two piano solos for that which have also found their way to Youtube. On top of all this, I've been working on a quintet for Cello, Horn in F, Bassoon, Soprano Saxophone, and Flute, and I'm drafting more ideas for my progressive metal composition, "Answers."

However, by far the most exciting project in my near future is the piece for symphonic wind band I've been asked to compose. Sometime next winter, the Symphonic Band at Concordia will be giving a concert specifically for student compositions. I am one of several students in the theory/composition program at Concordia who are writing music for this event, and I am so excited to be a part of it! Composing for wind band is quite a bit tougher than for orchestra. In the orchestra, there are a variety of ranges and colors to choose from amidst the strings and winds, and a workable number of instruments. The band is a bit more frustrating. As my professor Dr. Breedon said, you look out over a "massive sea" of wind instruments and wonder where to even start. There are so many instruments, and so many similar ranges, it's tough not to get a bit worried. Despite these difficulties, I feel I am up to the challenge, and I'm eager to get started. I'll keep you posted! So long for now, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Slew of New Projects!

Once again, I've been away from the internet life for quite a while. It's been about 3 months now since my last major post (sorry!) and so much has happened! After a considerable hiccup in my personal life, things seem to be more or less back on track and since I'm on "spring" break from school, I have finally found the time to write up a new post about my musical projects. As you can see below, the performance of Shards with the Concordia College Symphonia was a huge success, and thanks to my friend Bryan's camera skills, I have a wonderful recording of the event! Also, my bassoon and saxophone duet from last year, "Inner Unity," will have a reading and recording session soon, and the results should be on Youtube! I finished my percussion ensemble composition, and I have moved on to several new projects. I'd love to say more about them right now, but that will have to wait for later! :) Off to listen to medieval music...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Symphonia's Performance and Other News

Ugh. My hard drive is crashing. About a week ago, it seemed to be having incredible trouble booting up when I turned it on, and it started making a horrible clicking sound that I reluctantly identified as the click of death. My computer is considerably slower, but while this has put a bit of a dampener on the efficiency of my work, it hasn't succeeded to crush my spirits! I ordered a new hard drive for a very modest price on New Egg, so hopefully things will be back to normal soon.

There are only a few days left until the Symphonia Orchestra performs my composition live at Concordia, and I can't tell you how thankful I am for this opportunity. I'm extremely excited to have "Shards" performed and recorded, but I must admit that I'm also very nervous. Symphonia has done an admiral job overall with trying to prepare and coordinate such a difficult piece of music, and there are so many things being done well, I feel bad for demanding more polish. Many sections still sound sloppy for various reasons, and the biggest problem at this point is the tempo, which always seems to drag and sound muddy in places. Monday is the final tutti rehearsal before the concert, so I'm hoping things go well! Stay tuned for my report on the concert. UPDATE: Today's rehearsal went significantly better than the last time we played through Shards. Most things are sounding fairly smoothed out now, although the timpanist is having a hard time keeping up to speed. I'm concerned about that, since the timpani part is really the most important rhythmic part of the orchestra, and when he drags, the rest of the ensemble is pulled down as well.

Using Audacity once again, I recorded the Finale 2007 playback for "Shards" and uploaded it to Youtube as a demo of what Symphonia will be playing. This video can be found embedded at the bottom of this post. I also uploaded a terrifying slide show video of "The Snarly Song," a short and random recording I made a few years back. The lyrics have absolutely no significance to anything, so don't ask! Some of the horrible artwork comes from my friend and accomplice, Bryan Folstad.

I'm starting several new composition projects in addition to everything I'm already doing, which makes me think that perhaps I really am out of my mind, trying to write so much music at once! I'm nearly finished with "Ellipse," my ambitious percussion ensemble composition, and I'm beginning work on a choral composition for four male voices. Working with all male voices will restrict the range I can use significantly and add a fresh challenge to my plate, but first I need to write a poem to set to music! My roommate and his friend have asked me to compose a duet for alto saxophone and trombone, for them to perform at a spring recital. In addition to these projects, I've started drafting musical ideas for a ballad my girlfriend and I have been working on. It will be written for piano and our two voices in tandem. It's quite a surprise that I still find time to sleep and eat amidst all this music!

Here's the video I mentioned earlier in my post. It's the Finale demo for "Shards," my orchestral composition. As always, I'd love to hear feedback! Have a nice day :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Determining Goals for the Future

Trying to make a career out of some sort of art is very risky business. It's true that a lot of very talented artists get lucky enough to be successful at it in their lifetimes, but often this is not the case. Sometimes you just don't get recognized, despite your best efforts and promotion. Sometimes, untalented "artists" become disproportionately successful, and this can be even more discouraging (see Ke$ha). But I think it's important to remember that if you care about your art form passionately, and you know you have something to offer to the world through it, don't get discouraged. I've been more and more concerned about my future career as a musician and composer, since it is such a risky life to attempt. For a long time now, my plan has been to find commissions as a freelance composer and to try to work my way into the video gaming business, while teaching piano and composition lessons. While these are still future goal for me, I'm seriously reconsidering going to graduate school for a masters degree or something. I'd love to hear any thoughts my readers have regarding this!

I just finished writing "Inner Unity," a two-movement duet for bassoon and saxophone, and I'm super excited to announce that it will be performed and recorded with the help of two of my most talented classmates. The piece was a challenging one for me to compose, since I struggle with keeping purely melodic instrumentals interesting and consistent. Not being able to rely on the thick textures of a piano or a large ensemble is crippling for me, but obviously that was the point of the project; to push my creative boundaries. I'm very happy with how the piece turned out, so I suppose that makes the project a success!

The Symphonia Orchestra is doing great with my piece, "Shards," and with less than three weeks until the performance, I'm glad that it seems to be coming together. I wish I could share some demos with you, but unfortunately that won't be possible until at least next week, if ever! If you want to hear more of what I've written, just check out my Youtube. I've uploaded several new videos in the last week or so, since I kinda went on a video-making binge, and they showcase a lot of my recent work. As always, more videos are on the way as well! With every piece of music I write, and even the ones I learn, I make it my tentative goal to somehow get it performed and recorded.

It's time for some homework! Last week, my composition professor was like, "for your next lesson, put together a list of everything you want to accomplish in your major before you graduate." I'm a sophomore at Concordia in Moorhead, so whether I like it or not, I'm nearing the half-way point for my time undergraduate college. I have peter pan complex. I don't want to grow up! :'( But anyway, I thought I'd tackle this assignment in this post, to give you, my readers, an idea of what I'm planning for my near future.

> Finish my composition for percussion ensemble and have it performed
> Write an anthem for full choir with an african drum ensemble
> Compose something for a fully electronic ensemble in a techno/industrial style
> Complete all five movements of the Black Storm Symphony
> Attempt to create something feasible for a full concert band
> Finish a brass quintet piece, and finish my progressive metal song
> Try composing a soundtrack to a short film
> Somehow, write some music for a video game setting
> Push into different styles and periods of composing, such as Jazz, Impressionist, etc.