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Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Sun Apr 28, 2013 4:01 pm
by ottomc
Many of us Notion users look upon ourselves as composers of some kind of 'classical' music, I suppose. But what are our stylistic options today, within the 'contemporary classical' compartment? Are we left with the opportunity to select remnants from the 'grand' tradition that lasted until the breakthrough of minimalism and other 'post-modern' styles in the 1960s, combining bits and pieces from the past (and perhaps from 'popular' culture, like folk/jazz/pop/rock elements) in new patterns? In my opinion, it is in fact a relief to have been liberated from the hard core avant-garde imperatives of 'high' modernism, but this liberty makes it somewhat difficult to choose among the almost infinite number of stylistic options that have become available. Personally, I love to listen to music from the early modernist period that still has some ties to tonality and that has a strong rhythmical impulse (like Stravinsky and Prokofiev, as well as quite a few French and American composers), and I tend to make music that is inspired by this 'moderate' modernist approach. Since I might be writing an article on the topic, it would be interesting to hear what you other guys/girls consider as your stylistic options within the contemporary 'classical' landscape -- and it would also be great if you could post a few words about whether composing with computers directs your stylistic choices in some way or another.

I post a link to my latest work that is inspired by the moderate approach of certain early modernist composers -- a clarinet sonata in three movements. All three movements are named 'Kind of .......', so it is probably a true 'post-modern' work. BTW, I posted a link to the first movement a few weeks ago, but here is the complete piece in a single YouTube-video,


Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Mon Apr 29, 2013 1:30 am
by fabiolcati
Nice post, Otto.

Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 11:48 pm
by elerouxx
I think your music is great, Otto!

I'm in a similar situation, and I feel most of the ideas you are sharing here. I decided to take music seriously just now at 42, and I'm a (re)starting composition student at the university, and I think it's a great moment to create music. 'Contemporary classical' music is in fact getting loose from those 'revolutionary' ideas that ended back being rather conservatory at some point. Now you are free to use perfect chords! you aren't tied to your teacher's ideas anymore, and you won't be chased for writing a 'melody' (yuck!).

And also, popular music is becoming richer with both the technique and the freedom of just using sound to make music, which is a primal concept. Notes, 'beat, harmony, chord progressions... they all depend on genre, and genres are small worlds if compared to the infinity of sound and music. Soon we learn that there are more important things like density, loudness, texture, which are present of any style.

However I don't completely agree in that you have to choose among these stylistic options. Maybe yes, in the never-ending learning process, you will want to mimic a specific style you really like. As I like Prokofiev and Poulenc. But I think that our goal is not to choose, but to get free from the strings of a known style. You see, at the end there's a last person from which we have to get free, and that's ourselves.

From other point of view, I like to compare the music with any other language, like speaking. Of course there are grammar books and dictionaries, but our main source for being an articulate storyteller isn't there - it's in what we listen from our parents and friends, at school, at movies or music, what we read on a novel, and our talent to retain and use what we learn.

At some point, composers became some kind of language geeks, specialists in deeply complex grammar and in foreign languages, as if that would turn them into good novel writers. The fact is that you only need one language to tell a story, and you don't even have to know it deeply in all aspects (which is impossible by the way).

So maybe it's easier if you think that you are not imitating a style, but just using elements that are familiar to you and are becoming part of your vocabulary, and with time you transform them into something more. That's what we do in any language.

Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Wed May 08, 2013 12:57 pm
by crosati
I like it a lot!
Just one thing, from a mixing perspective I would have put the clarinet more "in front" and the piano a bit back, maybe keeping the clarinet a bit dryer and putting a bit more reverb on the piano (a bus reverb, filtered to not conflicting with the clarinet most prominent - and beautiful - frequencies).

Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Sun May 12, 2013 4:37 pm
by ottomc
Thanks a lot for your comments, Fabio, Emilio and Claudio.

I agree, Claudio, that the sonata could have gained from pushing the clarinet more forward in the mix. That would have brought the piece closer to reality -- but I just finished it off in order to send a demo to the performer. My main focus was more on the sheets than on sonic quality. But yes, I could definitely have given the mix a second thought before I uploaded it on YouTube!

And you are right, Emilio, when you don't accept the concept of 'choosing' between styles, as if they existed as autonomous, pre-packed entities. Momentarily feeling the weight of tradition as a burden -- as I sometimes do -- my words came out too negative. Most of the time, I feel relieved that we don't have to mimic the 'depth' and 'greatness' of the past in order to look upon ourselves as composers of 'contemporary classical' music (if we need to put a label on our musical undertakings). The opening up of musical landscapes during the last decades has, for the most part, been a liberating process, recovering the sheer joy of music making (that's the reason why I have returned to music, like you). Playfulness is an important quality of life. In fact, Notion makes it easier to steep yourself in life-enhancing, musical playfulness :)

Thanks again,

Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Mon May 20, 2013 4:28 pm
by Yves
I like your sonata... :) but it deserves realy a "lively" interpretation to avoid its too mechanical interpretation.. :cry:
your score is full of dense moment...
I hardly can compose for small numbers of players with partition and prefers "live" registration for this reason...

about stylistic ideals...

I am realy much in the same questioniong about what are our possibilities, what are our goals, and the meaning of modern compositions...

Since you first wrote your post Otto, I thought a lot of this... and like the idea that we need to be realy exigent about ourselves as modern composer. I think there is still a lot to achieve in modern composition, if we avoid traps.

Our modern Tools are fantastics to enjoy plays with real sounding while composing. But we need to superseed the ease of mimetisation of "over-heard" music lines: sampled libraries have this default to bring us too easily into this mimetisation and the result is sometimes beautifully romantic and cinematic, but most of the times it sounds as "already heard"...
I will not defend here the so-called "musique classique contemporaine", that explore noise, plucks, and that left most of the people so cold... but between this and the cinematic music, I believe there is so much modern comtemporary music that can be done!!!
Modern American composer shows us that the complexity and beauty can come from some very elementary items, that are for me the base of my researches and inspirations: Harmony / Rhythm / Repetition (ostinato) / Progression.

Hearing Philp Glass, or John Adams, should brings echos to all of us with with our modern Tools...

outside of cinematic music and "contemporary noise and silence music": modern, exigent, inovative and emotional composition really exists:
- John Adams (China's gate/fearfull Symmetries/Nixon in China/short ride in a fast machine...)
- Philip Glass (symphonies No4"heroes"/Symphoniy No5/Violin concerto No2/Glassworks...)
- Christopher Rouse (Flute concerto)
and our Young and similar to our age English composer
- Thomas Adès (with its incredible Piano Concerto: "in seven days")

just mentioning those modern composers fill me of enthousiasm about what we should achieve...

Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Tue May 21, 2013 4:32 pm
by fabiolcati
Man: Ah. I'd like to have an argument, please.
Receptionist: Certainly sir. Have you been here before?
Man: No, I haven't, this is my first time.

Hi Otto.

I'm not used at speculating about the process of making music — at least beyond the personal level of asking myself what am I doing.

In any case, I find the thread you started a very interesting one and I can't resist to add some free-form thoughts.

I agree about facing the tradition as THE issues of our work: we have so many traditions behind us, all of them available through the media.
Still, avant-garde seems to have left us in a waste land of useless musical (?) objects mostly spread along a noise-silence path.
I can see a way out starting from composer's ethos, the strength of inspiration makes the difference: "A poem can survive stylistic blemishes but it cannot survive a still-birth" (Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations)

I am disappointed every time people says that my music "fits well as a soundtrack".
It seems that the only way to be perceived for music today is to be part of a soundtrack, without a chance for a life on its own (I see it is not easy for me to argument about this, as far as I come from the Italian tradition of the opera): Fine arts, literature and even poetry seems to have more strings to their bows to survive the avant-garde ordeal.
Few complains about having figurative and informal painting living side by side.
The most acrobatic uses and abuses of language coexists with unfolding stories around a plot or a poem around a lyrical subject.
But what about writing a piece of music without asking to ourself "Is this composition enough up-to-date to sound contemporary?"

Finally, soundtrack music is so clichey today.
I can identify two main trends: cinematic (mostly American) and faux-chamber (mostly European).
The Mars inspired cinematic revolves around bombastic ruminating low strings ostinatos (with software companies building sample libraries sporting built in sequencers suited for short bits of notes).
On the other side of the Ocean, Venus arises from the water with accompaniment of sparse piano bling-blongs over slushy arpeggios. Almost on elemental harmonies.
Italian soundtrack composers often rely on string quartets with a choice for solo cello.
If you can afford a large budget, the best is a solo cello mourning over piano bling-blongs etc etc


Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Wed May 22, 2013 11:45 am
by Grawnque
It seems to me that what you've described is basically a condensation of the history of music in general. Each period was building on the one that came before it, and it usually took awhile for anyone to fully realize that they were in a new period. For that matter, studying music history by dividing it into different periods didn't really begin until around the beginning of the 120h century.

Each period had its innovations, from Bach's Well-Tempered system to Wagner's redesign of the orchestra as we know it, as well as Italy's two century long party that we now call the Renaissance. Here in the US the biggest innovation we've been able to offer has been electronics, thanks to Dr. Moog and IBM. I would have mentioned Jazz, but that we kind of appropriated from immigrants that were "invited" from Africa. (Their current descendants are still a bit sensitive about the "invited" part...)

Yes, the methods used for composition have changed with the coming of digital tools like Notion, but that was undoubtedly the case with the keyboard, to say nothing of modern mensuration. (Specific pitches for given lines and spaces... What a concept!) Granted, not every innovation was successful; for some of us, atonality is a good example, though not everyone agrees. But music in general continued to advance, and the process continues still.

Oh, and to answer your question, I can't say that using Notion directs my options so much as it enhances them. Before I start entering anything into my computer, I compose it all on staff paper first. (I'm told I may be one of the last few people to still do this, but the jury's still out on that.) What Notion does for me is let me hear what I've got so I can make corrections. (The modern-day orchestra is just a bit outside of my price range...)

Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

PostPosted: Sun Aug 18, 2013 8:48 am
by ottomc
Thanks for your thoughts, and sorry for not having given feedback to all of you (busy times, you know...).

Yes, Yves & Fabio, you easily become trapped by the sound of the lush,"cinematic" libraries floating around, and it is tempting to write watered down "classical" music in the romantic vein, seasoned with a few 20th century tricks, at best making it sound something like the soundtrack to the latest second rate TV soap you were watching. This is not the way to find your own voice -- and the problem of finding your personal voice was the main concern behind my first post. (Of course, lots of great film music has been made throughout the years and is still being made, and the movie, TV and game industry definitely makes it possible to make a living for many first rate composers). Mimicking the useless complexities of the now more or less defunct post-war avant-garde is another option which has become rather "easy" with our impressive technological tools (that the US has brought us, as you point out, Grawnque) -- but this is not the way to go either, if you are searching for your own voice. But technological tools like Notion has made this search easier after all, since they enable us to audition and edit our musical ideas in a very efficient way. We are all bearers of countless musical traditions and influences, and we must aim at bringing these together in a personal idiom, the personal being the "new" element that each one of us add to the tradition. So composing music is a way of exploring and evaluating your personal pecularities, so to speak. And in this process Notion has come in very handy for many of us. It has helped me in my explorations, and it has enabled me to compose a few pieces written in what I perhaps might venture to call my "own" style -- four of which have been accepted for printing by a British music publisher (the clarinet sonata being one of them, in a slightly revised version). The publisher uses Sibelius, but the export function in Notion gives very clean MusicXML files, which may easily be imported and edited in Sibelius.

Best regards :)

Re: Stylistic ideals (and a Sonata)

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