This Is The New Music: German For Bad Luck (work in progress)

Saturday 22 August 2015

It’s been a while since I posted any new music. The Chain Of Ponds project is in its final stages and I hope will be released soon, in some form or other. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt from another work in progress, German For Bad Luck (Variations on a Theme of Arnold Schoenberg).

The piece began as an attempt to reconcile several supposedly incompatible tendencies in 20th century music: serialism, minimal music i.e. drones, and microtonal tuning. German For Bad Luck is built from a scale of 13 notes to the octave instead of the usual twelve, using tuning ratios from just intonation instead of boring old equal temperament. These notes are arranged into a row. Five different drones play the row simultaneously, but with each one starting on a different note.

Each of the first notes played is held for a long time. Each of the long notes has its own specified duration, determined by its pitch. At the end of each long note, the drone quickly cycles through the entire row until it reaches the next note in the sequence, and so holds that note for its specified long duration.

The piece is, in effect, a 13-note series that simply repeats through different rotations. The result is a series of chords which transform by one note at a time. These transitions are relatively brief, leaving the bulk of the music to stable drones. The note row is composed so that each of these stable chords tends to alternate between ‘consonant’ and ‘dissonant’ harmonies.

Confession: I have a problem with drones, at least when I make them. They sound too simple, too neat. Some element is needed to complicate things. The piece is therefore going to be pressed into service as the basis of an opera, on the apposite subject of Schoenberg’s triskaidekaphobia. I’m working on the libretto now.

Below you can hear an excerpt from the drone. This is the point where the first chord goes through its transition to the second.