One More Composition: “When She Dreams of Moonlight” (1994)

I’ve added another composition to my Music page: it’s an underwhelming score, in fact a royal mess, but I figured it was worth notating in Musescore for the practice, as well as to capture the way I thought about music and composing in 1994, about halfway through my formal music studies. I suppose you could call it my attempt to compose “Third Stream” music: that is, music that combined jazz and classical approaches to create something new and alien to both sides of the divide.

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Here’s a copy of the score, though it’s pretty useless without the tape (and still somewhat useless with the tape):

The score is an absolute mess. The piano notation sucks–I tried to clean it up but, not being a pianist, I don’t even know how to situate the pedal and dynamics markings in relation to one another, and frankly, this is good enough given the quality of the piece. Were I interested in actually having this piece looked at or performed today, I’d take a very different approach to the notation, but I don’t see the point now: I’m only trying to preserve this piece in a more readable format than the one it’s been in, being carried around in boxes and plastic bags for decades. Therefore, with very few exceptions, I’ve simply gone with what I had on the page, as best I could input it using Musescore.

Here are some comments on the piece, for those interested…

I composed this piece probably inspired by three different influences:

  1. Hearing John Sampen play as a visiting performer at my university: he played a fair bit of music for tape and alto saxophone when he visited, and some of it was really beautiful or impressive.
  2. Taking a course in electro-acoustic music with Canadian composer David R. Scott, who approached the course with the philosophy that hands-on experimentation was important: I not only heard a lot of electro-acoustic music by many great composers, but was given a chance to try work with the same techniques and materials myself.
  3. Listening to The Orb, a popular ambient group who used spoken word (interview materials) as samples in their music.

The thing is: this was 1994. I had my first computer–a desktop Mac–but I couldn’t use it for anything as complex as a live music performance. (I paid a lot of money for it believing I could, on the say-so of the drummer who ran the computer shop on campus, but my computer was somewhat underpowered for the purpose, I couldn’t afford any music-related software, and anyway it was impractical to carry it around, as it was a massive modular collection of hardware. It was, as I’ve observed before, my first and last desktop computer.)

Were I to write something like this piece today, I’d likely use Ableton Live, and would be able to achieve all kinds of effects that I wanted in 1994, but couldn’t achieve. I’d probably do away with the live piano, and use a foot pedal to trigger events, to control feedback loops, to control effects applied to the live saxophone audio, and so on. It would be kind of cool to compose something like that today, I think, if I were still in the composing game.

But in 1994, I ended up going with reel-to-reel tape manipulation and with reel-to-reel tape as my final performance output device for the electroacoustic portion of the performance. The piece was performed sometime in 1994, I think probably in March or April. Darryl Webb was tape operator, Jamie Shupena played piano, and I played the soprano saxophone part myself.

The score betrays an impatience with the idea that a composer should have to notate every musical phrase to be played: my exposure to jazz was such that I couldn’t fathom how a “musician” (so-called) could be unable to take a mode or scale and improvise freely on it. (Indeed, I remember trying to arrange an improvisation workshop and being baffled at just how frightened of improvisation some of the most musical and gifted classical player sI knew turned out to be. The workshop was a failure, though I think if I led it today, with the teaching experience I have now, it would be much more productive.)

At the same time, I personally was struggling to understand just what kind of techniques and structures could be used to give form to a spontaneous improvisation fit into a single mode, as one sees in Indian music but also sees John Coltrane experimenting with later in his career.

Anyway, there are extensive notes on the composition. The only thing I haven’t discussed is the fact it was dedicated to the woman who was, at the time, my girlfriend. (In the notes, it says wife, but we were only engaged then, I realize now.) In any case, we have nothing to do with one another now, and that is for the good, but it was dedicated to her at one point… and I think the tape even featured a few words in her voice, somewhere along the way. We’ll see: I remember the tape one way, but it probably sounds far different. In any case, the tape may no longer exist. If not, I won’t be recreating it: it’s not worth the trouble.)

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