Sunday, February 21, 2021

Chopped Art = Chopzart

Early in my school vacation week, I was spinning the MM Multimedia Musing Machine wheel  (which you should do regularly as well) and ended up re-reading the post where I first started on my journey towards playing (with a partner) the Moonlight Sonata and Clair de lune at the same time. I wrote the following back in 2013:
A twitter acquaintance made note that an internet radio station was mistakenly cutting back and forth between two different recordings; another Twitter acquaintance helpfully (?) suggested this was just my sort of thing (see last post), and I was suddenly imagining what pieces might make nice jump-cut partners. I had the idea of splicing quickly and methodically back and forth between two distinct pieces to see if the ear could somehow hear each half as complete, but didn't get so far with that idea - yet.

There are many "roads not taken" in my musing past, but this splicing idea caught my interest again so I did some thought-experimenting. I started thinking about splicing two pictures together where the images are interwoven like...well, I couldn't find a great example, so I made this:

I call it The Screama Lisa. Although the color palettes actually merge surprisingly well, the effect is still quite disruptive, even though one can easily see all of both paintings. Notice that in the method above, all the information is kept in view, as opposed to this kind of merging technique in which the images overlap each other:

As with the contrast shown in those image creations, my first thought was to pair two musical works which are different in tone, but which also have formal qualities that make them sync fairly well. (In the case of The Mona Lisa and The Scream, in spite of their affective differences, each are proportioned similarly, with primary figures in the center and a more atmospheric background.)

Somehow, I ended up first with the very familiar first movement of Mozart's Sonata in C Major, K. 545 vs. Chopin's Etude in C-sharp Minor. I liked this contrast because, on the one hand, they are strikingly different in style. The Mozart is gentle and lyrical while the Chopin is fiery and without any real melody. The Mozart is in major, with C as tonic, and is mostly diatonic (meaning there aren't many accidentals), whereas the Chopin has a C-sharp tonic (the most dissonant relationship to C), in minor, and in highly chromatic style, with frequent modulations as well. One is nicknamed "Easy," and one is a formidable struggle - something I know, having fought Chopin's finger-twister many times. On the other hand, the pieces are in 4/4, similar in length, can be played at similar tempi, and feature lots of sixteenth notes. 

So, this first experiment is meant to sound pretty out there as a battle of opposites (and if you hate it, please do come back for my next post), but I find I can track both parts - with some effort - while also getting a thrill from the constant back-and-forth. It takes a little while to learn how to follow the score, so I added little animations to the first two measures to make the process clear - basically, the two pieces alternate every single beat. You can see the basic process in this snapshot of the MIDI file I created. (By the way, for the video below, you'll notice dynamics and other expressive marks are removed from the otherwise carefully prepared scores I prepared. This is not meant to be expressive playing!)

Each little line represents a note, and you can see that the parts never overlap. Of course, the effect is jarring with the constant switches of tonality, but it's exciting! (I had to add a little coda to the Mozart to make them end "together.") 

I don't expect everyone to enjoy listening to this as much as I do, but there are some fun moments along the way, and, having created dozens of mashups, it was interesting to use this different approach where the clashes are only via horizontal perception, never vertical. No information is eliminated for the listener, as would happen if switching quickly between two radio stations, and the dissonance never results from simultaneous sonorities.

I think it also works because the Mozart is so iconic that it provides a nice center of gravity. By the way, if you don't know it, there is a lovely "two-piano" version of this piece in which Grieg added an indulgent second piano part to Mozart's original, also taking advantage of its iconic status. (I've done a little additive composing along those lines as well...sort of.) For my little bit of Chopzart, I generally find it works best to listen with Mozart at the center of one's perception with Chopin providing a Bartókian chromatic blanket.

Still, this bit of Chopzart is pretty much a curiosity. In my next post, we'll get to a more interesting "discovery."

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