Behind the Music: Septem

One thing a composer (or any artist for that matter) needs from time to time is feedback. We spend so much time with an idea eating away at the fleshy walls of our head that we have no idea what effect the finished product will have on an external mind.

For months, this string quartet has been festering in the depths of my brain. It wasn't even particularly inspired by anything, but because I had to write a piece, it was created. I struggled for a lengthy amount of time with no usable material.

Then, that dreaded day came when I had absolutely nothing to show for the past week's work. I was scared to death that I would be reamed that day, but instead I was given the opportunity to work on an idea during that hour and to develop it over the following week.

I had kicked around a few formal ideas, but specific melodic ideas had never been formulated. I sat in the music library for an hour with my CasioTone and pecked out an A minor triad. It was hopeless.

Ever since I was introduced to the string quartet as a ensemble and a genre of art music, I found it a breeding ground for pretentiousness. All the iconic composers of ages gone by have written tons of string quartets with varying degrees of success.

An example I won't soon forget is Vivaldi's contribution to music history with the Four Seasons. I couldn't believe how long it was, and honestly, I thought he said all he could say about 15 minutes in. And it drug on for nearly four times that. I can't comprehend why he wrote any more quartets after that; I'd be completely drained of any ideas.

While many things bothered me about the string quartet, there was no avoiding its creation, so I had to plunge forward. My ongoing obsession of seven kept screaming at my subconscious, "1-2-1-2-1-2-3" over and over again. A rhythmic pattern I don't recall having ever heard in the context of a string quartet.

Combining that idea with the CasioTone's A minor chord and I had entirely one measure of material to work with. It didn't seem like anything to base seven minutes of audio around, but it was at least something I could present at next week's lesson.

The following weeks were a blur. I vaguely recall traveling to Louisiana twice while working on the piece, and an entire electronic piece was produced from my distraction. Somehow, I came up with a piece, and the only thing I distinctly remember composing was the melody. A melody of the most angular, unnatural intervals imaginable.

The process of filling in the measures with music was largely based in the copy-paste technique popularized by modern pop music. With that single measure of triad-outlining, I generated seven minutes worth of music. Some call it minimalism, I prefer to call it convenience. Later, I was clued in on a minimalist device to make the repetition more interesting and began editing the piece from the bottom up.

As you could imagine, I regarded the piece as a trifle. It wasn't magnificently important by any stretch of the imagination, but yet it made me sweat for weeks at a time, simply because I had so little inspiration for it.

According to the monogram on the last page of the score, I finished the first edition of Septem in October. There it sat, momentarily getting brushed off for a conducting project, until last week. The performance was yesterday, after which I got some very valuable feedback from a man who, until that point had never made any specific reference to my existence as an individual.

He declared to me that, while he clearly identified the influences of the composers cited in my program notes, he also heard my own style shining through the texture.

That solidified it. I have a style.

I have no idea what that style is, but apparently, to the academic world it is plainly apparent.

I suppose this means that whatever I write, my voice as a composer will stick out and declare Trey-ness to the rest of society without me having to think about it.

With this affirmation, I can set off for composing my electronic works knowing that regardless of what I do, so long as it is festering inside me somewhere, and so long as my external aesthetics are applied to the end product, quality sonic events with my own personal watermark will emerge.

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