Collaboration and counterpoint: Some thoughts on composing my 'Quite Early Morning, no. 2'
Yesterday I completed the score of Quite Early Morning, no. 2, a 10-minute piece for flute, percussion (vibraphone and woodblocks), and piano. Here are a few thoughts about the piece in an attempt to entice you all to come listen on July 18.
The title refers to the Pete Seeger song of the same name - a song which is ever more relevant. If my piece is 'about' anything, it is about collaboration and the struggle to create social relations where the individual and the collective are mutually supportive of each other, along the lines of the famous Marxist dictum: "Where the free development of each is bound up with the free development of all." In politics this is called communism. In music, we could call it counterpoint.
The piece is in fact an elaboration on a short experiment I wrote earlier this year (which is the version 'no. 1'). This original was recorded by Hannah, Alex, and Angus but not performed live. You can have a listen here: http://usageandcontinuation.com/recordings/
Workshopping the first version with the musicians and listening back to the recording obviously gave me the opportunity to reflect on its strengths and weaknesses, what worked well and what worked less well.
The path from the first version to the second, much longer, one is certainly not a linear one. I began by writing a whole host of new sections, sometimes related to the original material, sometimes totally new. Much of this was spontaneous and there was very little 'pre-compositional' planning. There's a certain joy in just sketching out an idea with no clear framework and no obligation to include it in the final piece. Elliott Carter used this method to compose his Night Fantasies, and apparently Debussy often worked like this.
Once I had enough new material, I exploded my original version back into its constituent sections (deleting some) and then began arranging a formal structure for all the sections in quite an intuitive manner. Once the new formal 'plan' was decided, I began writing the whole thing out, adding linking moments and altering any section so it will fit in. I'd like to think I came up with a compelling shape for the work, but let's wait for July 18 to find out...
The collaboration with the Kupka's performers made this process what it was. Yet on an even deeper level, the very raw materials of the work are an outgrowth of an ongoing collaboration. Beyond discussing and working out specific techniques on the flute or vibraphone, for instance, this is a collaboration that comes from knowing the musicians personally, and in a way intuitively knowing their musical personalities from having attended so many Kupka's Piano rehearsals, etc. In fact, when I imagine the piano playing a particular figure, it's hard to tell whether I'm not just hearing Alex playing that particular figure. In future pieces I'll want this collaboration even further radicalised to see what more individuality and energy can be injected directly into the compositions.