Week 43 – Quadrivium

Quadrivium — from Latin, meaning “a crossroads.  A place where four roads meet

This composition is a modern choral of sorts, with four clarinet parts playing what might be more traditional sung in four part harmony, or played on an organ.  My inspiration came from the fabulous ECM recordings of saxophonist Jan Garbarek improvising over the top of the incredible four-part vocal group called the Hilliard Ensemble.  But, unlike their work, which sticks to very authentic early-music compositions, I chose to write a new piece with some modern twists thrown in.

Clay gets to play the part of Jan, using the melodica’s bright sound to cut through the darker sonority of the clarinets and bass clarinets below him.  Most of his part is improvised, with a short melodic hook that happens once in the middle and once at the end.

Special: Visual Animated Score for “Twenty Seven”

Most of the time, when I hear music, I have initial feelings about whether I like or dislike it and down the line (maybe next time I’m at a record store) that may influence my decision to buy or not buy the album.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across the EPK for Brad Mehldau’s newest album, titled “Highway Rider,” and hearing the music provoked a much more immediate reaction — I knew that I had to buy the album and listen to it immediately.  After buying and downloading the album from iTunes, I started digging around on Mehldau’s website and found an animated score for one of the songs.

This seemed like the perfect way to present the Duo Chronicles material.  We already provide videos and sheet music files, so why not combine the two?

After quite a bit of research and planning, I came up with what I thought would be the best method to create that sort of video using the tools at my disposal.  The final product was made with Finale 2010 (for the sheet music itself), Gimp (to edit the sheet music into separate image files), and Final Cut Express (to animate the image files and combine them with the audio track).

I chose to use the technique on “Twenty Seven,” a piece from a couple of weeks ago that was completely through composed, meaning that the score represented everything that was played — no improvisation to deal with.  “Twenty Seven” also had a few instruments (melodica, soprano sax, tenor sax, and piano), making the five-staff score more interesting to represent than just a piano/sax duet with only three staffs.

Without going into too much detail, the basic process for creation of the video was:

  • Create a score that fit on one page (about 110 inches long and 5 inches tall)
  • Cut the score horizontally to make separate files for each instrument
  • Cut those resulting files vertically to break up the piece into sections (the result was about 50 separate image files)
  • Line up the different sections of the score with the audio track in Final Cut and add animations

The amount of time that it took to create the project makes it prohibitive to do for each Duo Chronicles piece, but it’s definitely something we’d like to explore further for the occasional video.

Week 31 – Twenty Seven

This piece is different than what we’ve done before.

As I mentioned in Week 28, some of the performances from Norwegian groups at the Portland Jazz Festival inspired me to explore different avenues and directions with my compositions for Duo Chronicles.  This meant finding both a different sonic palette to write for as well as different compositional forms and note choices.

This particular piece is heavily inspired by the Christian Wallumrod Ensemble, which played a set of through-composed music at the festival — not the usual melody, solo, melody forms that we’re so used to hearing in jazz.  My piece, “Twenty Seven,” much like a classical piece, is fully through-composed and is the first of the Duo Chronicles pieces to not include any improvisation, besides phrasing and inflections.

Sometimes, when writing a piece and trying to explore new sounds, it’s useful to have some sort of ‘rule’ that makes you break out of your normal box as a composer.  When I studied with Dick Oatts in New York, he was big on this idea.  In fact, on his record South Paw, I believe nearly every piece was originally written as an exercise with some sort of rule in mind.  For this piece, I decided to try to justify every note in the piece by being either a 3rd or a 9th away from the previous note or another note in the chord.  This, combined with the fact that it was week 27 of the project when I started writing it, lead to the title (9 x 3 = 27).

Towards the end of the piece, I abandoned the rule briefly — I decided that it was better to break the rule and have the piece sound the way that I wanted rather than stick to the rule and compromise the sound — after all, the goal of the rule was to inspire a new sound, which I had achieved at the beginning of the piece.

I know that Clay and I both have some new compositions coming up soon that explore different sounds and instruments (note the new melodica Clay’s playing in “Twenty Seven”).  We’re excited to share these new ideas with you.

Remember, you can always get our videos from iTunes in podcast format (HD quality, too):

Week 4 – Legacy

Before the last days of summer escape us, Clay and I took a field trip to Laurelhurst Park for our Duo Chronicles song this week.

“Legacy” is a tune that I wrote a couple of years ago and have played in a variety of contexts, from a saxophone quartet arrangement, to an electric jazz/funk group.  This particular version (just melodica and saxophone) is the most sparse instrumentally that I’ve done, so we relied on a lot of counterpoint-style improvisation to get through.

Check out the sheet music to get an idea of what we were working with.