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Friday, November 27, 2009

Hockey, Music, and Painting

I am in the middle of writing the last movement – titled "Hockey" – of my Chamber Concerto for the Turning Point Ensemble. As I fill up the pages of music for 16 musicians, I am struck by the similarities between the movement and rhythm of hockey and the lines and planes of an artist's finished canvas (those influenced by abstract expressionism). Working with these lines and densities of movement that are the visual feast of hockey, I am once again struck by how similar painting and composing are, especially as the ensemble of musicians becomes larger. Everything is a balancing act of line, density and movement. As I "pass the puck" among the musicians, the principles of orchestration that are taught in textbooks and in the classics of the repertoire continue to press their case to me. Depending on how much energy there is in the writing at any given moment, I need to adjust the orchestration of the line, or the various other elements, by densifying, colouring and altering with auxilliary materials, and so on. Of course, beyond "the classics," there is the whole range of experimental orchestration and composition that has occurred in music in the last one hundred years, some of which goes well beyond "line and plane." That becomes an issue of writing, rather than, strictly-speaking, "orchestration."

A blank orchestral score is like a blank canvas. And once you commit to certain materials, just like the first strokes on the canvas, your process is under way. Even if, as in a de Kooning painting, you end up obliterating or entirely recontextualizing the original material, it is still the cause of much that has happened on the canvas.

So I've taken a little break to give you a report on the commission so far, as promised! Now back to thickening, thinning, "scratching-out," recontextualizing, etc.!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Embracing the power chord and Ockhegem with 11 guitars

Over the past couple of days I did a new mix to demo my piece for 9 electric guitars and 2 electric basses called "11". I wrote this piece back in 2000, at the height of my embrace of familiar musical materials and a celebration of the early influences that inspired my young music-making. Out of this period came some strong post-minimalist works, like Forging Utopia and Raven Steals the Light for orchestra, the cabaret-like dramatic/political work Raven's Cryˆ for voices, piano and tape, and 11.

11 takes the attitude of rock electric guitar playing, the polyphonic procedures of Ockhegem and the driving power chords of the rock I grew up on – I might name The Who as the big influence – and rolls it into an hallucinogenic mixer. I conducted the premiere performance at SONIC BOOM in Vancouver in 2000 but it hasn't been played since. Any takers?

You can have a listen at this link:
http://earsay.com/johnolivermusic/audio/OliverElevenDemo.mp3
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