Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Inside In Season

In our last episode, I debuted a new little holiday piece, In Season, inspired by Terry Riley's In C. Although it's silly and lighthearted, I seriously hope it will inspire a few people to give it a try, so I've given the arrangement its only little webpage. In addition to making new versions of the score available in alto/bass clefs and Bb/Eb/F transpositions, I made a new version of the video with highlighting to show which fragments are being played at a given time. (Sorry, no link to the video here; you've got to visit the page!) Although my knowledge of javascript is pretty sketchy, I also managed to build some cool little "chapter" buttons* below the video which allow the user to jump instantaneously to any of the 14 entry points.

I took no small delight in watching my two younger children (9 and 7) push the buttons and follow the highlighting, listening for the melodic fragments to emerge from the mild cacophony. This is a fun little pedagogical aspect of this kind of project, as it takes a particular kind of listening focus to hear through such a dense texture. It's a bit like one of those magic eye puzzles, except here you have to "squint" your ears to zero in on a particular register or sonority or whatever. Even though I had the "performance" notated explicitly in Finale, so that I could track exactly when and where each fragment begins and ends, it wasn't always immediately easy for me to hear certain parts - and then, suddenly, the same parts would sound with absolute clarity. I found this to be true especially with the high-register glockenspiel tones, which often sound virtually un-pitched until I really tune in to those frequencies.

This kind of skill is, of course, quite handy when listening to just about any kind of music; as I've observed many times before, I suspect much of the pleasure I get from mashups* is the way they challenge the brain to distill discrete musical meanings from the mixed-up muddle. Of course, performing a piece like this (or, better yet, In C) is also great for learning group improvisational dynamics within a pretty non-threatening context. There's really no "wrong" way to play or repeat the fragments in a group performance, but learning to respond to what you hear around you and create inter-relationships on the spot is a great exercise for just about every part of your musical brain.

Anyway, I hope you'll take a second to check out this new In Season page. Did I mention that the page elements are designed to look like a snowman? 

OK, it's kind of a slightly creepy robot snowman, but I'm still not going to embed the new highlighted video in this post - you've got to face the snowman to give it a try.

* The chapter buttons work better on an iPad/tablet or computer than on smaller phone screens - at least on my iPhone, the video automatically goes full-screen when it plays, which means the chapter buttons become unavailable.

** Note that just about any kind of music is a mashup at some level.

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