Fr.II.a-k is a member of my Fr.#.a… series, and like all such pieces is named as if each movment were being systematically labeled at a museum or archaelogical expedition. Each individual movement is also labeled with the date, time and circumstances of its initial composition. This is the second collection of these types of fragmentary sketches, and there are eleven of them—labeled a-k. The following video mostly is about a different piece, but the first part discusses this one and gives a sample recording and score page:
The following is mostly taken from the introductory pages of the score:
Thes eleven pieces are fragmentary compositions written in one sitting (though often with relatively extensive revision later) on days that held significance to me in some way. Some were written on vacation, others during important rehearsals, and others on interesting dates. They are sort of like journal entries, although—with a few exceptions—there isn't any conscious attempt to reflect anything in particular about the day or experience. They are written for solo scordatura cello: the A-string is tuned down by a half-step and the C-string is tuned up by a half-step. The score uses colored notation to indicate which strings the notes are to be performed on. (This way, the performer can read music that looks like it's written for the tuning they're used to rather than having to calculate changes in their head). In the main staff, colored notation is used to easily distinguish notes played on the detuned strings from notes played on the regularly tuned strings. Green notes are to be played on I’ (∴ sounding a minor second lower that written) and red notes are played on IV’ (∴ sounding a minor second higher). I’ve been shocked to discover just how much like a new instrument this tuning makes my instrument become—actually it even freaked me out a bit at first. I hope these pieces showcase some of the unique or nearly unique musical possibilities that the tuning allows.
The pieces are not ordered chronologically, I put them in an order that seemed both musically interesting and that allows time to relax the hands a bit before particularly grueling movements. The performer should feel free to rearrange a bit, or even take out one or two if they like. The Detailed Analysis section below has brief descriptions of each movement if you're interested (the same as can be found in the score).
Check the Detailed Analysis below for descriptions of the personal circumstances behind each individual movement.
In one sense, these pieces are deeply personal. Each movement was written in a relatively brief burst during my beloved vacations with my beloved wife, or on tours with my friends in Anti-Social Music, or in deeply-involving rehearsals. All of them were written rather quickly, and with as little self-editing as I could limit myself to.
In another sense, the idiosyncratic and abstract nature of each piece makes them deeply impersonal. Or at least I suspect that's the case. At no point did I decide to communicate a particular emotion, form or narrative; aren't those filters necessary for any kind of communication we could call personal? Maybe not, but I find myself very confused and unsure about it.
Which is more personal? Is revealing the ramblings of my unconscious or semi-conscious mind more personal, or is a rationally constructed—and thus rationally communicated—auto-biographical narrative? Indeed, which of these is more truly ME? Obviously, I'm both my conscious and my unconscious mind, but which has a stronger claim to my sense of self? Surely it's the more formally-constructed consciousness, and yet it's just as clear that I can deeply and falsely filter my self for public consumption. What the hell is going on here? And even if the unconscious mind is more theoretically revelatory of my deeper thoughts and feelings, does this really matter if the artistic result communicates more enigmatically?
I'm at a loss to explain it, but I love poking at the conundrum, and these stream-of-consciousness pieces seem to muddy the waters delightfully. For instance, why is it called stream of consciousness when it is quite clearly the unfiltered unconsciousness that is being presented?
This fragment was written in my apartment in Astoria, Queens on 11/11/11. My old composition teacher, Carolyn Bremer, posted on Facebook that the day was All-Interval Tetrachord day, which seems exactly like the sort of holiday that should exist but doesn't. For those not versed in set-class theory, all-interval tetrachords are four-note harmonies that contain all six possible intervals simultaneously (which kind of sounds like a magic trick). There are only two such combinations possible, labeled (0146) and (0137)—E-F-G#-A# is an example of the former and E-F-G-B is an example of the latter. The "interval vector" for both of these set classes is <111111> (which is an efficient way of labeling interval content, in this case one of each interval), hence the connection to the date. Anyway, the harmonies have four notes and the cello has four strings, so how could I resist? "Pretty easily," you're no doubt thinking. Ah, but you forget that I am an inveterate music-theory nerd. I figured out every possible all-interval tetrachord that left at least two open strings, and proceeded to sketch out this musical exploration of all of them.
On most Christmases, my wife and I head to our ancestral homeland: Ponca City, Oklahoma. All of our parents live there, and it's always nice to see everyone even if I do hate Christmas pretty badly. This fragment was written in the morning at my Mom's house the day after Christmas, which apparently led me to write a piece composed largely of minor-seventh chords. (?)
This was written one evening after I commuted back home from teaching at Sarah Lawrence College. It was written at my wife's and my favorite bar, Sweet Afton, while I waited for her to get off work. According to my extensive notes, I drank a lovely Winter Ale by Peak Organic during the writing of the first half and downed a couple of Sweet Actions by Six Point during the second half. Huh. I guess Jenny worked kinda late that night.
The first piece composed for this collection. I remember being excited by how easy perfect fifths and fourths are in this strange tuning. This is one of two pieces in the collection written during Anti-Social Music's brief tour of Detroit, and, like the other, it was written at the loft space we stayed in, the home of Warn Defever of His Name is Alive. Halfway through writing it, a group of us made an excursion to Astro Coffee and had some amazing java, so if the piece seems to suddenly gather energy at the passage marked “Grandly” that's probably why. The left-hand pizz stuff is pretty difficult, sorry about that.
The other piece written in Detroit, this fragment explores some of the melodic possibilities of natural harmonics created by the funky tuning. The piece works best if you let each harmonic ring as much as possible. This is one of the few pieces in the collection that was written by actually improvising on my cello, and I think it's one of the more idiomatic pieces as a result.
In the Fall of 2011 and Spring of 2012, I’ve been teaching two advanced theory courses covering 20th-century compositional concepts such as set-class theory and serialism. I wanted to find an avenue for discussion outside of the usual all-Germany, all-the-time approach, so I read Twelve-Tone Music in America by Joe Straus. I was dismayed to discover that Elliott Carter had written a few pieces (Caténaire for example) using a vertical tone row—a row ordering the twelve pitches in register rather than time—an idea which I had previously thought was uniquely mine. Anyway, this piece was written during my office hours between the two classes, and explores a few different transformations of just such a “12-note chord.”
For the last several years, I’ve been involved as a performer in an opera by Kamala Sankaram called Miranda. Initially I was just a cellist in the chamber orchestra, but in the course of the opera's development the performers have been increasingly involved in the production as characters. By the final version, premiered in early 2012, I was surprised to find myself in the role of Izzy Wright: still playing cello but now also singing, acting and occasionally getting thrown into an evil supercomputer to be eaten alive. This fragment was written during a so-called q2q or “cue-to-cue” rehearsal, which is a fairly arduous process wherein small chunks of the show are performed in between extensive pauses to set up lighting, video, sound and other cues. The performers have to remain on stage, but have nothing to do other than take up space, so I wrote passages of this movement during the extensive downtime. I generally wrote music using the various themes or soundworlds that had been most recently rehearsed, hence the disjointed nature of the piece. Most of the melodies are by Kamala, although I often used the original fingerings without correcting for the detuning, so they are often warped in various ways. Sorry Kamala!
The second of two pieces in this set written during a quick trip Jenny and I took to Chicago, I wrote this fragment one morning in the apartment we rented for most of our stay, and which we got to share with a sweet little cat named Deuter. We discovered how different living in Chicago could be when we found a particularly striking thing in the basement of the building. It was easy to find: on the same floor as the large laundry room, across from the full-size gym and catty-corner from the movie-screening room. It was also easy to reach, because right there—through a brief maze of pool tables, ping-pong tables and a putting green (!)—was an honest-to-god, shit-you-not, two-lane bowling alley. I find this to be one of the most technically-challenging pieces in the collection, mostly because of its polyphonic design. The piece works best if you can make the constant, oscillating eighth notes sounds like they are part of a different world than the freer melodies happening above and below it. Oh, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll finding yourself bowling well over 100 after writing it, so there’s that.
Anti-Social Music rented a large van for our trip to Detroit, which was dubbed by me and no one else the ASM Mystery Machine. During the trip home I wrote this super-brief piece, cut short by my discovery that composing in a moving vehicle makes me car sick. I’m pretty sure Jean Cook was driving at the time, and that Prince was blasting on the stereo. This fragment is the fault of neither of them.
This is the other fragment written during our Chicago trip. It was written in a fairly fancy room at the Radisson BLU hotel by a window overlooking the city. That was nice.
This piece was also written during the Miranda run, when I showed up absurdly early for a dress rehearsal. The Miranda set was fairly extensive and included a raised circular daïs on the floor which we called the reënactment disk. The show within the show is a crime recreation program kind of like Unsolved Mysteries, and several scenes in the lead-up to the title character’s murder were played out on it. I was especially proud of the cello endpin hole that director Rob Reese had cut into it just for me. This movement calls for some fairly extensive thumb-position trickery, and those cellists with smaller hands might have to alter parts of it.