Sunday, December 14, 2014

In Season (The 12 Musings of Christmas #2)

Today's offering is actually the most recent of the MMmusing Christmas creations, but since it debuted a bit pre-seasonally in November, here it is again as Day #2 of "The 12 Musings of Christmas."

I've done a few live readings of this with the family, but since we number only five (two violins, two cellos, and piano), we're a little thin texture-wise. Plus, two of our performers are under 10. Hopefully, I'll get some document of that posted eventually.

In the meantime, I only learned yesterday, via this epic Matthew Guerrieri article, of the amazing "In C" Performer iPad app. It lets you control 12 independent parts performing Terry Riley's minimalist masterpiece, the work on which my humble little creation is based. My first reaction to that news was to be a little disappointed, because I'd been fantasizing about creating a program to do much the same thing; but the truth is, I probably wouldn't have gotten around to it (not even sure I have the programming chops), certainly not before In C's 50th anniversary years ends in a few weeks.

So, I downloaded the free app, started "playing," and thirty minutes later, I'd overseen a complete, somewhat rushed, performance. It was somewhat rushed because my 7-year old son (who loves anything called "app") was supposed to be going to bed, and he was almost as mesmerized as I was watching things unfold. I didn't want to get us in trouble for keeping him up past his bedtime, so I punched through some of the fragments pretty quickly. (If you try it, I recommend following Riley's loose instructions and keeping all the parts within 2-3 patterns of each other, though that often enough broadened out to 3-5.)

Guerrieri cheerfully concedes that the app is "compulsively fun," though he also expresses some speculation about how it might undermine Riley's idea/ideals:
"The In C iPad app can even be interpreted as underlining the factory-like aspects of the piece. The performers, the cogs—the workers, just like so many others—have been replaced by technology: cheaper, more efficient, more pliable."
It's true that the "community" aspect of the music is lost when it's just me working the buttons on an iPad screen, but the app underlines another important aspect of In C and In Season and so many mashups (more on those in days ahead) - that random or semi-random juxtapositions can lead to all sorts of satisfying possibilities. Yes, it's true that a great performance of In C probably depends on performers who know how to listen and make good decisions in the moment, but the outcome still relies on chance much more than the typical jazz improvisation. I'm not sure how many more times I'll "play" the app (my fear is that every time I open it, I'll be lost to the world for an hour or so), but it's like magic watching/hearing varieties of interlocking patterns (Riley called them "fantastic shapes") emerge. I know that I'm exercising some limited amount of control, but the texture is so rich that I have to admit that many of the most delightful intersections simply seem to materialize on their own.

Perhaps I'll set my sights on designing a program to help you create your own In Season performance...

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