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Behind the Scenes: Rehearsing “The Old Beggar-Woman”

Soprano Lauren Jorgenson and I got to get some rehearsal time in this morning, working on The Old Beggar-Woman from my upcoming Bros. Grimm Song Cycle ! Not too shabby so far…

The lesson here… when you see an old woman catch on fire, for god’s sake, put out the flames! ??

Come to our Modern Musicale on April 7 to hear us perform it!

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A Note About Cognitive (Musical) Bias

Disclaimer: Please note, I’m not in any way knocking the budding talent of young Alma. This particular instance only serves as an interesting example of the cognitive bias we all encounter at various points in our lives…

Also note– the mistake elaborated on below could be as simple as her mind seeing B as B-flat– in old-school German notation B is B-flat, and B-flat is H

So here’s an interesting discussion– at the very beginning of the video, the first random note given is a B, not a B-flat. And she does call the B, “si” which is the accurate term for Fixed Do Solfege. Even so, she plays and sings a B-flat.

It’s very natural for musicians and composers to fall into this kind of “cognitive bias“, hearing/seeing the note you really want to, instead of what’s actually there. How many times have we as students and performers done this? ;-P

One time I wasted an entire part of a recording session because I was playing an original folk melody all in a minor tonality, even though it was written in major!!! Luckily I realized my mistake in time to re-record everything–I would have hated to have the composer hear the recording of their work done in an entirely “opposite” mode from what they had intended!

The human brain is powerful but subject to limitations. Cognitive biases are often a result of your brain’s attempt to simplify information processing. They are rules of thumb that help you make sense of the world and reach decisions with relative speed. (source)

Initially in the video, Alma mistakes the B for a B-flat, then, I think seeing the E-flat later reinforced that notion for her.

Theory-wise, she probably “hears” a B-flat, because it will go so much more easily (tonally) with the E-flat two notes later. That interval is a Perfect 4th. The B-natural to an E-flat is a Diminished 4th — much more challenging to work with, especially with an A in the mix, creating sort of a lowered 7th scenario if we were in B Major. In fact the A to the Eb is a Tritone that, again, is easier to “explain” in traditional theory if the B is flatted. (For more on intervals, visit my Music Nerds video on the topic.)

Personally I love the idea of using the Eb as, say, a lowered third in the realm of C Major or A minor (thereby keeping the B natural) and would have loved to see how she might have handled it. But kudos to her for playing with notes and music patterns as she does!

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Sneak Peek into Recording Prep for “Intrepid”

Coming up soon in these next couple of months, we’ll be recording the epic Fantasy for Oboe/English Horn Soloist and Chamber Orchestra, “Intrepid“! It will be an amazing compliment to the Leviathan E-Violin Concerto on the upcoming album! <3

To prep the upcoming strings-only session — to make the process as easy as possible on my dear friends helping to make this possible — I decided to record myself playing the 2 violin parts and viola part ahead of time. It’ll give me a lot more flexibility in mixing the tracks, and give my players a really solid footing when reading through this together.

One of the things I love about a process such as this, is getting to hear a larger piece broken up into its basic layers–getting to hear what components interact to create the overall effect–and it never ceases to amaze and thrill me! I love music that weaves in and out of itself like a sonic tapestry…

You can get a sense for the intricacy of this work by listening to the following two segments of this prep-recording. Enjoy! 🙂

Want to contribute to this recording? There are several ways you can help:

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#NewTuneThursday: Counterpoint Invariable

Welcome to #NewTuneThursday!

I am fascinated by the lessons the study of counterpoint can teach us! Combining this love for the rules of counterpoint with my nature to set up systems of patterns and let them run (to see what happens…) I embarked on a creative experiment using three violins…

Completed in 2011 for the Rosé Violin Trio of Los Angeles, this complex and experimental work consists of three movements:

I. Intervallic Structure (Andante con moto)
II. Tone and Color (Meno mosso)
III. Urban Rhythm (Allegro ma non troppo)

Based upon a strict and unvarying formula of patterns that are passed equally between the three violin parts, all three movements utilize this same precise structure of “A, B, C, and Ostinato” phrases, which were developed and plotted out meticulously by Wallin Huff prior to the actual composition of any one note. Each movement, however, while still based upon the same formulaic set of patterns, is then varied by the compositional material of the four phrases themselves. The phrases’ material is each based upon very different scalar patterns, depending on the particular movement’s character: Intervallic Structure is an exploration of pitting certain intervals against each other; Tone and Color is a wash of purely tonal and consonant patterns; Urban Rhythm strictly focuses on the pitting of rhythmic patterns of two’s versus three’s against one another in a “sterile” pentatonic tonal environment.

Counterpoint Invariable is a successful thought-experiment, turned to driving and evocative emotional artwork, highlighting Wallin Huff’s ongoing fascination with the logic of mechanical structure giving way to outward beauty. It is a true, fulfilling reward to perform and explore this work in its entirety.

This work was beautifully recorded by Parma and released on the Navona Records album, “Soul of the Machine”Parma even recommended it to the Grammys!

Enjoy the recording of these three movements below…

“Counterpoint Invariable” can be performed by an advanced ensemble. Get the sheet music here! And stay tuned for our new work of next week…

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#NewTuneThursday— Anima Mechanicae: Soul of the Machine

Welcome to #NewTuneThursday!

Today’s tune is another really special piece to me, with lots of good memories attached to it. ^_^

“Anima Mechanicae: Soul of the Machine” is a string quartet that I wrote in 2007, during my grad school days and toward the end of my utter obsession with Minimalism, specifically after the stylings of Philip Glass. Listening to the recording of it below, I’m sure you’ll be able to hear the similarities. :p

But this work has a story element to it, that’s near and dear to my heart. The Mechanical Star of the work is actually a character that makes her first appearance in the second book of my original Kesher Chronicles series, “Questions of Faith.”

This character, SARA (an advanced “Security Analysis and Records Archive’ malleable-Paradigm”) — over the course of the second and upcoming third books — becomes very involved in the lives of the humans around her and tries to orient herself within her constantly evolving thought-processes…

You can see why I included the following quote in the score to the quartet:

Dedicated to the computers and robots of the future, who long to dream as the humans do.

The structural details behind this almost-12 minute work include:

…moments of mechanical coldness [in the opening], gradually giving way to moments of tender and emotional beauty. Wallin Huff intentionally derived and fashioned her various rhythmic and tonal patterns throughout the work from strict mathematical relationships — to showcase that a mechanically constructed framework can give way to striking beauty on its surface, much in the way a computer program of the future might evolve into its abstract dream-state.

The sections of this single-movement work include: Mechanically, Quixotically, Pensively, With impish behavior, Tenderly, and Surreal.

I’ll never forget the opportunity I had in 2012, traveling to Boston to hear the New EnglandString Quartet record this work for PARMA Recordings. You can hear them in that very session on the album “Soul of the Machine” below:

 

Two years later, “Anima Mechanicae” got its European debut at a concert at the Exeter Phoenix Auditorium in Devon, England!

I do have sketches and outlines for a multi-movement “sister” piece for quartet …something about Consciousness… :p It would be nice to complete that one someday soon… I’ll keep you posted! 🙂

“Anima Mechanicae: Soul of the Machine” can be performed by an advanced string quartet. Get the sheet music here! And stay tuned for our new work of next week…

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#NewTuneThursday: Phillipy is Fragmented

Welcome to #NewTuneThursday!

Today’s tune is our next track from “Music for The Book of I” — Phillipy is Fragmented.

Phillipy refers to himself in the third person, as if existing as a separate entity from his very self. I find the habit interesting, a sport of sorts, a way of explaining one’s actions from a distance.
Phillipy knocks at the door…three times…
“…three times, that’s all Phillipy can take.”
He can tell when thoughts are tangled. He may speak in the third person but he is linear, he follows one thought with the next… 

In creating this track, I wanted to really feature Phillipy’s autistic obsession with precision and the number 3 in the following ways:

  • the work features a solo trio (violin, viola, and cello) against the backdrop of the string orchestra.
  • the main sections “plunk” along with pedantic and clockwork rigor
  • at around 1:58 in the recording, the accompanying harmonies are outlined with ascending triadic arpeggios… (meanwhile, the harmonic progression is descending… pretty cool, right??) ^_^
  • at two points in the recording (1:58 and 3:48), the main theme is broken up by two variant themes that move the rhythm along in 3/4 as opposed to the methodical 4/4 we started in.
  • at around 2:58 in the recording, the solo trio plucks out the dissonant “knock three times” motif that is one of Phillipy’s compulsions — and they repeat this three-note motif…three times in a row…

And finally, toward the very end of the work (around 4:04), we hear the descending glide of the violins as Phillipy “goes to meet his mother”… and we finish with a stark, triplet rendition of the main theme from “I Know What Death Sounds Like“… a theme that tends to emerge everywhere you look in this Suite… 😉

Enjoy the recording of “Phillipy is Fragmented” below — featuring Darrell Peries on solo violin; Cathy Alonzo on solo viola; and Jenna Ford on solo cello.

Listen on Amazon Music
Listen on YouTube Music

This heart-wrenching little musical sonnet 🙂 can be performed by an intermediate-advanced trio. Get the sheet music here! And stay tuned for our new work of next week…

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#NewTuneThursday: Pegasus

Welcome to #NewTuneThursday!

This work for violin, guitar, and piano holds such a special place in my heart. <3

I originally finished writing it in 2006, my last year at Cal Poly Pomona. When I had first sketched out my ideas for “Pegasus” it was right after one of my Middle Eastern Music classes (I loved my ethnomusicology classes!!!). During this particular class we had gotten just a taste of certain Middle East drumming patterns and practices, one of them being the 10/8 pattern the piano part outlines at the beginning of this work. In the table below, imagine the lower row is a deeper pitched drum while the upper row is a higher pitched drum; it goes a little something like this:

             
♩.      

Now listen to the opening piano part:

Listen on YouTube Music

Can you hear it? I’ve always thought it was pretty cool! :p

The thing is, once I’d written about the first minute-and-a-half, for only violin and piano at the time, I got stuck. At some point afterward I began taking composition lessons on the side of my normal studies with Dr. Peter Yates. Of course, being a phenomenal guitarist, he suggested I add a guitar part to the ensemble–I’m so glad I did. 🙂 Then he helped me think through the rest of the work–and we even debuted “Pegasus” on the Cal Poly stage one evening concert!

Since then, I didn’t get to record this work definitively until one of my fellow Cal Poly alums offered to record a few works for me in the studio. So, we got together more fellow alums–John-Paul Trotter on guitar and Mike Jung on piano–to have a giant reunion-style recording session! It was a blast!

“Pegasus” can be performed by an intermediate-advanced trio. Get the sheet music here! And stay tuned for our new work of next week…

Recording “Pegasus” (and “Butterfly Lullaby”): l to r– Dave Martinez (engineer), John-Paul Trotter, me, and Mike Jung.
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The Music Nerds! #6 – Setting Weird Lyrics

Enjoy this latest educational video, describing my thought processes on how I approach setting asymmetrical text to music as I work on finishing my Bros. Grimm Song Cycle!

Don’t forget you can check out the other videos in this series here!

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#NewTuneThursday: Resplendence

Welcome to #NewTuneThursday!

Let’s ring the bells for today’s new tune, since the New Year is just around the corner!

“Resplendence” is a five-and-a-half minute long work for 3.5 octave handbell choir. Composed in 2014, I used the opportunity to experiment with various sorts of combinatoriality (I really dig playing with aggregates!). I found that bells are a great way to experiment with such serialism because, like with a piano, the pitches are definite; the players can’t tweak them. And the resonant quality of the bells gives off such a glorious shower of shimmering sound!

☆*・゜゚・*\(^O^)/*・゜゚・*☆

Unfortunately no group has tackled this piece yet (but that may change in the coming year…) and, also unfortunately, no midi sound package I have access to contains all 3.5 octaves or bells. So in this recording, you’ll hear some piano with the bells… Use your imagination and envision the full handbell choir covering all those notes…

**And seriously, if you know of an advanced handbell group that might be interested in playing this piece for the first time (A World Premier!) hit me up! 🙂

Enjoy listening to the demo below…

“Resplendence” can be performed by an experienced ensemble with advanced ability. Get the sheet music here! And stay tuned for our new work of next week…

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Leviathan Recording Progress: Complete Cadenza

Check out the recorded version of the Cadenza from movement 3, “The Hunt”!

It’s such a neat way to hear the huge range of the 6-string electric violin without anything covering it… This cadenza incorporates elements from the solo found in all three movements– I really dig that it appears toward the end of the 3rd movement only, so it can really shine as a sort of recap to the whole work!

Also, in this little video you’ll see the actual waveform taken from the beginning of the second movement’s recording. And– there’s a special treat at the end of this video… Be sure to look for that image around on some swag in the near future… 😉

Remember, become a Backstage Member so you can download and stream this epic concerto when it’s out! It (and the aforementioned swag) will ONLY be available to Backstage-ers for a long time!

This recording is approximately half-way finished; the second movement is fully recorded and first-draft balanced, and that movement (“Sighting”) is as long as the other two movements combined!

Check out the teaser videos below to hear the orchestral and synth accompaniment to the two main themes in movement 2 (FYI for the music nerds– this movement is in a really cool Mirror Sonata Form!!):

Find out more about this Concerto here!