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Saturday, May 05, 2007


I am doing a happy dance! The Alumni Association gave me a lovely, lovely scholarship!

This is an especially happy dance because I am ineligible for financial aid. See, Matt and I like having an investment portfolio. It is not only lucrative, but informative, and it keeps us interested in the stock market and economic news. When we bought our house last year, we decided not to throw all our investment money into the house, but to keep it and get a home loan. The interest we earn on our investments is greater than the interest we're paying on our loan anyway.

Unfortunately, the existence of our investment portfolio means I can't get a lick of financial aid other than unsubsidized loans. The fact that my liabilities are worth far more than my assets is immaterial to Federal Student Aid. In fact, several FAFSA sites advised me to spend my investment portfolio in order to qualify for aid. This seems to me a really stupid thing to do.

So, my only alternative was scholarships. I couldn't apply last semester because I was a transfer student and therefore ineligible for most scholarships. I put my mind to kicking arse so I could maybe land one this semester.

And they gave me one!! They gave me four thousand dollars!!! Callooh! Callay!

In composition news, I am working on two things.


This semester, I took Music History I and Theory IV, so I was studying early music and twentieth century music at the same time. This was, in my view, helpful. The periods before and after the "tyranny" of the common practice have a sort of Wild West similarity to each other. It was particularly interesting to see that most of the techniques used to develop twelve-tone themes were firmly established in the fifteenth century (The main difference, as I see it, is that the composers of the fifteenth century actually gave a shit what their music sounded like to regular people).

I fell vastly in love with Ockeghem, a Bach-like genius who is virtually ignored today. I also found myself fascinated by a technique in which he excelled - the mensuration canon, which was developed before modern time signatures came about and died afterwards. When my history professor explained the concept of a mensuration canon in class, I was intrigued by the mind-blowing mathematics involved. My first instinct was to assume they didn't sound all that interesting. Then he played the Kyrie from the Missa Prolationum to us, and I had a hard time not bursting into tears - partly because it was so beautiful, and partly because Ockeghem must have had a brain of god-like proportions.

When faced with a god, the first instinct is to worship; the second is to emulate (to be "Closer to God AHAHAHAA"). "I will write a mensuration canon!" I decided. "It will be a lot easier now than it was then, anyway, since I can make horrible dissonances and everyone will just think it's modern!" I started to write a piece with the working title Ockeghem's Razor. It was supposed to be sort of jokey.

Then the Virginia Tech massacre happened, which made me think about a lot of things that are wrong with the world. I was probably listening to too much NPR again. At any rate, the music that I was writing sounded awfully depressed. I couldn't call it "Ockeghem's Razor" anymore.

Around the same time in Music History, we studied the cantus firmus mass. Back in the day, the day being the fourteenth and fifteenth century, everyone and his dog wrote a cantus firmus mass to the tune of "L'Homme Armé," a little French folk song.

The armed man should be feared.
Everywhere it has been proclaimed
That each man shall arm himself
With a coat of iron mail.
The armed man should be feared.

The tune is as relevant today as it was five hundred years ago, not only because of the gun violence in the USA, but because the original song was a call to arms for the crusades. Here we are in the 21st century, still having at the Muslims. I'm fairly angry and upset about that too.

So, I threw the "L'Homme Armé" in as a cantus firmus in the cello line, put it in retrograde in the clarinet line, wrote a mensuration canon between a theremin and a tenor (seriously), and threw a French horn in with some free counterpoint for good measure. Currently I'm spiking the whole thing with vaguely Reich-flavored news grabs and audio samples on a tape (figuratively speaking; actually Cubase).

It's either going to be fairly moving, or the sort of thing you get sick of after about thirty seconds, because I'm really ramming my anti-second-amendment anti-violence message down your throat.


In 1951, Pierre Boulez wrote an angry essay titled "Schoenberg is Dead," in which he blasts Schoenberg for not going far enough in his pursuit of serialism. Yeah, I know, can you believe this guy? According to him, we should serialize not only pitches, but note duration, attack, dynamics, you name it. He invented insane compositional processes that were absolutely impossible for any listener to discern, and the results are only listenable if the performer makes them so by hard-selling them.

Boulez really pisses me off. But it would be pointless to protest his philosophy by writing a tonal piece, so instead I am taking the ironic stance that Boulez didn't go far enough. Serializing pitch, rhythm, and dynamics is all well and good, but did he serialize the actual sound? Nooooo. What a pussy.

With some help from Matt, I put together a program in C# that generates randomly a 90-second piece for theremin, cello, and General MIDI. All three parts have pitch, rhythm, and dynamics serialized. However, the third part also serializes the 128 voices of general MIDI, which - for those of you who have never played with a crappy Casio keyboard in your youth - includes not only MIDI approximations of the usual orchestral instruments, but "bird tweet," "seashore," "goblins," "telephone ring," and "helicopter."

It sounds like balls. That's the point. The best part is that we put a picture of Hannibal Lecter in the background of the program's GUI. He is swinging a telescoping baton and looks like he's conducting. It's a serial piece, get it? Also, the "Go" button says "Kill Boulez," and when the piece has been generated, a message is displayed: "BOULEZ IS DEAD."

The full title of the piece will be "Boulez is Dead: A serialist piece in C#." Ahahaha, I kill me.

One more quick composition story before I get back to finishing writing these two pieces: the other day while I was driving, an interview on NPR reminded me of the short story "The Nose" by Gogol. I read this story years ago and loved it. Suddenly, I thought to myself, "By god, that would make a terrific modern one-act opera!" I turned off the radio and began composing themes for the opera out loud. I had pictures in my head of a guy in a nose costume singing my tunes. When I got home, I raced to Google to seek out the story and read it again.

Can you fucking believe it? Shostakovich already did it. In 1930, he wrote an opera based on "The Nose." I swear, I didn't know. I thought of it entirely independently. That fucking bastard Shostakovich.

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