Saturday, March 1, 2008

How do you know when to play and what to play..?

After each performance of Like Dirt there was a moderated Q&A between the audience and Rachel, Patty, myself and the performers. At both Q&As the same question came up directed to the musicians which went something along the lines of: "How do you know when to play and what to play?" Meaning, it was apparent in performance that the musicians and I were all doing certain gestures at certain moments within the dance. But it was also apparent that there was a lot of freedom for expression within the score and overall performance.

Flip did a great job both nights explaining to the audience how my charts provide specific musical directions but that it is also understood that each musician once they understand the basic template of the score must take off and improvise with it. As the composer, my job is to create a series of landscapes with some definite boundaries - not in the restrictive sense of the word, but as if there were aural elements indigenous to the landscape and others that are not indigenous. I think there were only two moments where - in rehearsals - I told the ensemble that what they were doing was absolutely not what I wanted. And if I found myself stuck for an explanation or guidance when the musicians needed it - I would go back to a broader more general description of how I wanted the score to sound. This usually got things back on track.

One friend asked me how much of what Helga was doing was composed and how much of it was improvised. To be clear, she did improvise, but she was starting her improvisations with some specific compositional ideas (which came from me or came from a process of the ensemble playing and improvising together). Another important point to remember is that she was reacting all the time not only to the other musicians (and their interpretive powers) but to the movement as well. The musicians and I had to rehearse this music with movement - although initially we worked as a separate unit just to work out the charts and directions I had come up with.

This is a very enjoyable way of creating music. I have no problem composing for specific people and in an intensely collaborative situation. I know that's not how it is for all composers...but it's a world I enjoy exploring.

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