Culminating my SoundMakers composer-in-residence position with SoundStreams, I’m premiering a new piece, Longuement me sui tenus, in Toronto on March 20. A vocal quartet for electronically prepared voices, this piece is based on an Old French text by 14th-century poet Guillaume de Machaut.
I’ve been blogging about the piece on the SoundMakers website for the last few months, describing my compositional process, text-setting considerations, and the technology involved. The electronics processing changes the fundamental nature of the vocal sound, which forced me to write very different vocal lines. The end result is a lush, reverberant piece where layers of harmony cascade over each other, and I’me very excited to see it come to life.
For the January installment of my SoundMakers residency, I want to write about setting words to music. The piece I wrote for SoundStreams posed some interesting text-setting challenges, given the fact that it’s in Old French and every word echoes for 5–10 seconds after being sung. Text setting is an area where composers often miss the point, so I’m going to look at some of the key considerations involved, and then I’ll describe how those play out in a piece like Longuement me sui tenus.
Too many composers treat text setting like part making: an obligatory chore you have to do when you’re working with singers, but not an integral part of the compositional process. That’s a huge lost opportunity. (more…)
Machaut at a banquet (Bibliothèque National, Paris, public domain, Wikimedia Commons)
In the second of my SoundMakers Composer-in-Residence posts, I want to describe the piece I wrote (to be premiered spring 2015) and why I wrote what I did. Titled Longuement me sui tenus and scored for four vocal soloists (SATB) + electronics, the piece is based on a text by 14th-century French composer and poet Guillaume de Machaut. I didn’t set out to write a piece on a Machaut text, but as I did more research on themes connected to SoundMakers, Machaut kept coming up.
Longuement me sui tenus is the first line of Machaut’s Lay de Bonne Esperance, an epic 20-minute love song, to be performed a capella by a single singer. Musically, it doesn’t fit modern ideas of what a love song is, especially considering that it addresses unrequited love: it’s monotonous, strangely chipper, ramblingly bouncy, goes on forever, and doesn’t have much variety in terms of phrasing. Frankly, it’s kind of boring and I’ve never listened through an entire recording of the piece in one sitting. Yet still, something about the poetry stuck in my head. Somehow it felt like it was the right fit for my piece, even though I didn’t like the original very much. (more…)
This is the first post of my SoundMakers composer-in-residence position with Soundstreams. The residency is rooted in the idea of making the act of composing more visible, more tangible, more participatory. This is the main challenge for musical creators in 2014, and a subject I’m very passionate about.
We don’t live in a very composer-centric time. Celebrity chefs have taken over the cultural role composers used to play, and the performer-focused nature of the pop music scene has downplayed the importance of the composer’s craft. To most people, composers are a relic of a bygone age, or perhaps ultra-specialized craftspeople who serve at the pleasure of a film director. We are abstract and far removed from daily concerns, like the engineers that design traffic signal algorithms, and for that reason composers and composition receive scant attention from the public at large. (more…)