Thursday, 14 April 2011

Event: "The River Aire" in Castleford, Fr.,15.April, 18:30

On Friday, 15.April 2011 at 18:30 a preview event will be held for an exhibition at the Bridge Arts Gallery in Castleford (at the Sagar Street). I will be there to present my music "The River Aire" in the context of other art work which is related to this river. This event will be the opening of 8 weeks filled with various events related to the "Free Uni****** of Castleford on Aire".

New Composition: "The River Aire"

Something different in this post, no Gustav Mahler music; instead this time it is my own. I have just uploaded my composition "The River Aire - A Symphonic Poem in 50 Nouns".

The composition was inspired by the poem by David Wilders "The River Aire - From Source to Castleford". This poem basically consists of a series of nouns, each preceded by "the" and grouped into a few segments. I took the "musification" quite literally and attempted to translate each word into a short musical phrase / theme / motif / segment. In October I had musified the first part ("birth of the river Aire"), by December I had added a further segment, and on 5.January 2011 I had come to the end of the poem - by skipping 11 nouns. That version was then played live to an audience on 10.January in India, as part of the Rivers Movement educational program.

A few days ago I sat down in the evenings and completed the missing part, and now the complete poem with all its 50 nouns has been musified. The rendition and the composition are tightly connected, as I was composing it through live improvisation of each instrumental voice on the keyboard while imagining each of the nouns and trying to capture their musical essence. Therefore, I do not yet have a score, because the recording is not available yet in a metric.

The musical language of this composition has been inspired by many composers. Naturally Smetana's "Moldau" ("Vltava") comes to mind, also Debussy's "La Mer". There are a few hints of Ravel and Frederic Delius as well, and Beethoven's "Pastorale" is apparent in the "Fauna" segment. The "Flora" segment appears actually to be inspired by one of Alexander Courage's side themes in some episodes of the StarTrek series - so a whole bunch of musical influences can be detected. All this is not deliberate, it just turns out that the music that came to my mind while I was trying to find associating themes for each word, originated from my sub-conscience, in which all these influences seem to have been stored. Overall there is of course again our friend Gustav Mahler apparent - I was not able to shake off the occupation with his music in the past months.

Hope that this music still can be classified as original and not as pastiche!

The MP3 and WMA files of this recording are available on the VPO website. I plan to release shortly a video with the music and the nouns of the poem in its current version. In the meantime, you can try to envision the words without aid while listening, or get the list of words directly from the poem by David Wilders.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Mahler plays Mahler

This week I have been on the road a bit: Monday to Hull, Tuesday and Wednesday to Manchester. The hour-long ride on the M62 provides a great opportunity to listen once again to some of the CDs to which I nowadays rarely listen. On Monday I chose the rarity "Mahler plays Mahler" from 1993, which contains recordings of Gustav playing the famous Welte-Mignon Piano, which is a kind of analogue predecessor MIDI file recording. The piano recorded attack and sustain onto a kind of piano roll, and the replay of that role with a special device reproduces exactly (more or less) what the player did play. Fascinating! When listening to Gustav playing piano versions of some of his Symphony movements (recorded in 1905), it becomes evident how he must have conducted his works. Surprisingly the tempo he chose is quite agitated, even though these are some of the slower movements. Not smooth long sweeps as most conductors take it today, but short, somewhat hectic playing, somewhat imprecise, some wrong notes rushed in a hurry, and a kind of unsteady tempo. Quite unexpected. This surely gives an insight into how the music would have to be performed "authentically".

But I think that the other interpretations which disregard this authenticity and chose a more soft, long sweeping tempo do have their justification as well. This is the beauty of "good classical music": it is subject to individual interpretation, and playing it in ways which the composer has not anticipated can also produce excellent results.

Very interesting on this CD is also a 26 minute long recording of interviews with people who knew Mahler. Quite fascinating insights there! One is that Mahler often changed his mind regarding tempo, from one day to another, and he justified that with being in a different mood. Excellent - gives now much more tolerance for a wide range of "authenticity".

The CD can be obtained from Amazon as used versions, or possibly from other venues.

Here is a review of this CD.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Version Numbering of Recordings

As I am creating new versions of my renditions regularly, I have to find a way of distinguishing them. Since in the past 20 years, people have gotten used to updates of software and numbering them, I am adopting this method here to.

So from now on, all my renditions and compositions will have a version number. This will also be applied to actual releases / publications, so that the tracks can be uniquely identified through that number. On my site, the track name actually includes the date in the form YYMMDD, which already provides a unique identifier. But the version number tells more: a number of 0 indicates that this is not yet completed; number 1 is the first complete release; subversions such as 1.1 indicate updates, whereas full increments indicate a complete re-recording, using for example new samples or synthesizers.

In some of the latest renditions I have already embedded the version number in the comments.

So now you will be able to see that a music is not really in its final state before the version 3 is out, in analogy to software products.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

New Renditions: Mahler, Symphony No.1, 1st and 2nd movement

In my effort to improve the string sounds of my rendition of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.1, I have now added additional string layers to the 1st and 2nd movement. The first movement only has one new additional layer per string group, providing a more punchy attack, whereas for the 2nd movement I have added two layers per string group: one with more attack, the other with more smooth sustain. The results are now online on the VPO website on the pages for the first movement and the second movement.

There is a slight inaudible (at least I think so) clipping in these renditions, due to the increased overall loudness, which I need to fix in an upcoming version.

Next will be the 3rd movement, then all parts of Symphony No.1 will have improved string sound. I will then go through a final round of checks and edits, to release the album "From the Life of a Lonely One" in time for the 100th anniversary commemoration of Gustav Mahler's death on 18.May 1911.

And for that date I also plan a special rendition of a single movement from his symphonies, which I am not yet revealing - will be a surprise.

Monday, 4 April 2011

New Rendition: Mahler, Symphony #1, 4th movement

In my pursuit of creating good renditions of the orchestral music by Gustav Mahler, I have completed another step: A new rendition of the 4th movement of Symphony No.1 is now online. A few days ago I did release an intermittent version, in which I put more emphasis on the strings, similar to what I had done with the "Blumine" movement, but more consequent: I added two additional layers for each of the string tracks, not only for the violins. This now creates a fuller sound and adds more "punch" to those staccato fp string attacks that are prevalent throughout this movement.

After I had put that intermittent version online, I addressed once again the tempo. Editing the tempo through the currently available methods in sequencer software is quite simple: I can simply edit tempo values at any instance, or can draw tempo curves over the time axis. While this editing is very easy, it is very difficult to achieve a consistent tempo flow which could be considered to be "musical". Because what would be the rule for it? What does it mean "allegro"? 120bpm? or maybe 125 bpm? This is currently all a matter of try and error... I put tempi in the tempo map, then listen to the result until it sounds pleasing enough. There are, however, more problems: leaving the tempo at a constant pace and having quantised music notes makes the rendition sound like a machine gun. Would be ok for Techno music, but is unsuitable for anything else. There are two ways of avoiding this: shifting the notes out of their strict quantisation, or drawing additional tempo values into the tempo map. Neither of these methods allows a natural intuitive musical play, because the process of doing this requires offline try-and-error. There is one "middle" ground which allows a direct entering of such tempo subtleties: during the recording process, play live. This allows a direct tempo interpretation as is done in a real live play of the orchestra resp. the instruments. I did try this method in the 2nd movement, but then I encountered errors when trying to homogenise the overall recording: because the notes were due to tempo fluctiations not exactly on the metronomic beat, it was very difficult to match properly the various tracks or deliberately place consistent tempo chances. Therefore in this 4th movement I have resorted to the method of drawing tempo values into the tempo graphics. This leaves the music notes within each bar quantised to their metric position, but then allows me to introduce tempo changes within bars, e.g. subtle accelerations and slight ritardandi at the end note wherever appropriate. The problem with this: I did it on one day, then a few days later listened, and found all those tempo changes inappropriate. So I had to go again through everything and change the tempo at all the locations where I thought it was not right. It seems that the judgement of how the tempo should be is quite subjective even by the same person, depending on the mood, on the time of the day, etc. So there is no absolute correct tempo map. But it would be nice if there would be some more overarching way of changing those tempo subtleties instead of having to change more than 700 bars of music individually each time the tempo does not seem to be right...

It would be great if there was a tool with which one could add/modify the tempo directly as the music is playing, and then record the result right away. A slider might work, but it does not truly reflect the concept of "energy" in the musical motion... I am working on a software that would enable a different concept, but that software is work in progress only.

In any case, this is my "interpretation" of how I thought this movement should sound on 3.April 2011. Maybe in a few days I would post another version...