Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Moonlight March

I turned my final grades in yesterday, so to what does a young (?) man's fancy turn when sprung free from the obligations of academia? Musical mashups, of course.
This one came about for fairly logical reasons. I've mentioned in two previous posts that NYC's wonderful operamission company is performing a double bill of Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire and Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat this weekend. The program is subtitled "Defining Classics" and indeed these two almost hundred-year-old works (from 1912 and 1918 respectively) are widely admired and wildly influential. The fact that they're being performed in the lobby of the Gershwin Hotel is particularly appropriate as each work is intentionally designed on the "chamber" scale, with small but distinctively colorful bands of instruments required. (It so happens that the two sets of instruments pair nicely: Stravinsky uses violin, bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, and percussion: Schoenberg calls for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano.)

Having invoked Gershwin's name, I might as well admit that I owe a significant debt to Kyo Yoshida who designed this amazing mashup of Gershwin's I Got Rhythm and a sampler platter of Schoenberg tunes. If you've never heard that, you should definitely follow the link. Although it's probably not fair to Schoenberg, something about the Gershwin context helps to anchor all those wild atonal outbursts. (Confession: I played this video for a music appreciation class once. I then played a piano recording of I Got Rhythm and went to the real piano where I swiped wildly across the keys in the spaces left open by Gershwin's melody - and it came out pretty well. But, I haven't come here to bash atonal music, I promise.)

Anyway, although it now looks as if I won't make it to New York this weekend, I've been thinking about and listening to both  the Schoenberg and the Stravinsky the past few weeks. At some point, it occurred to me that the opening movements of both works feature somewhat similar little riffs:

[click to listen - first each in isolation, then in context]

They are admittedly dissimilar in many ways, but they still tend to run together in my mind (and who's going to argue with my mind?), so this mashup was inspired by the idea of using Schoenberg's riff as figurative decoration for Stravinsky's opening "Soldier's March." (By the way, Kyo Yoshida also uses the Pierrot riff at the 1:19 mark of his Gershwin/Schoenberg tune.) [Listen to complete recordings of the originals here & here.]

Most of my past mashups have involved editing together two separate audio recordings. In this case, I wanted more precise control and, quite frankly, to use the Schoenberg in cut-and-paste fashion, eliminating the voice altogether. So, the simplest solution was to go to Finale and stitch things together there, creating a little virtual score. I was able to find MIDI versions of both selections online, so I didn't have to do a lot of crazy note entry.

It turned out to be a lot of fun deciding where bits of Schoenberg would best fit. The Stravinsky march plays obliviously from beginning to end, but I find that Pierrot's moonstruck interjections make a certain kind of sense. Maybe it's just me. (If your computer gives you balance control, all of the Schoenberg is only on the right channel, so you can choose to fade it down - or out.) I can't quite guess what it would be like to listen to this mashup if you don't know both of the originals. Part of the fun of mashups for me is letting the brain recognize two separate somethings simultaneously; but these two works do kind of belong together, and I think the pairing makes for a lively affair.

Since this was just intended as a fun little post-semester project, I did not invest much energy in making these virtual instruments sound great. I actually ended up using mostly the piano and flute from Schoenberg because the synthesized violin/cello sounds are so unsatisfactory, but it's all pretty canned. However, I don't think a live performance of this arrangement is likely, so use your imagination and enjoy some of the uncanny virtuosity of the Finale Chamber Players. (Remember, most of those Schoenberg licks are supposed to be played a good bit more slowly; it's kind of fun to hear them sped up.) Oh, and there's one little quote from another defining classic of the 20th century that's thrown in near the end.

Coming soon...another recent musical mashup of mine that is much sweeter and easier on the ears. Just waiting to get a live recording made of that.

In the meantime, check out these mashups from the past:

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