Composition, Arrangement and Orchestration

Day 264 Week 39 Q3  Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Bass Fingers Pirates
Composition Process
A short 23 second noodle

There is perhaps a musical continuum flowing like a river all of the way from fooling around up to writing a composition to be performed by an orchestra. And I am confidently paddling down this river, having already been musically in an ocean and in a small pond. The small pond, in some ways, resembles an ocean for some as well. Let me circle back and explain a bit about these things. 

A singer-songwriter is probably where it all begins. A person has an idea, and it can be musical or narrative, meaning it either being with notes or words, and it does not matter which. But through either fooling around on a page or with an instrument, something happens. A turn of phrase can be literary or sonic, but it sticks with you, and you feel the need to explore further. And you can just go for a walk in the county, which ends up turning into a hike or even a trek, Or you can noodle some chords together on a polyphonic instrument that encapsulates a myriad of possible melodic possibilities. Or you can simply come up with a melody or even a tiny part of a melody that hooks you and might hook others. There is no one way to create. There is no single creative process. And the more experience you have trekking, paddling or navigating, the more options you have. And in fact, you can have so many options that you can get lost in them, which many creative outliers do. But ultimately, it is not nearly as satisfying to be only a starter as it is to be a starter and a finisher.

So, where are we going with this? Well, as is true most of the time, context is everything. Are you writing an orchestral piece, are you arranging for a big band, or yo getting ready to go to an open mic and try out a song on an audience for the first time? Well, are you feeling like orchestrating, arranging or composing? These are related by a continuum yet are distinctly different and here is the essential difference.

Composers start with nothing, but arrangers and orchestrators start with something, and the thing they start with is a composition, and that composition could be as minimal as a singer-songwriter lead sheet or as maximal as an extended piano performance or string quartet. In terms of what arrangers versus orchestrators add? The essential difference is while both arrangers and orchestrators add new material, they are different types of material. The orchestrator usually is not adding new thematic material. Not in the form of counterpoint, harmonic material, key changes or time signature changes, nor new sections like bridges. 

Arrangers can and do add all of these, making them more akin to composers. As I said, there is a continuum. But where do they both begin? They both begin with a piece of music which could be a song that is meant to be sung or a tune that does not necessarily have lyrics or vocals, but in all cases, they do begin with a composition, and it is time to define this. 

A composition manually has a single monophonic melody and harmonic underpinning, which can be expressed on a single staff in a single clef with a single set of chord symbols above it. Now is a composition a performance? Ah, a new word to add. Well, it is quite possible to define every note and every duration and a sense of a style or a rhythm in a score, but for me, that is not a composition because it is way too subdimensional. This is not true for everyone. Many people in most of the current classical world can take their machining orders from the combination of the score and pedagogy reinforced or even manifest by recordings or live performances. Are these musicians creative? Sure by their terms and no, not by mine. For me, the act of creating is beginning something into being that was not there before. And can one do this extemporaneously? Of course, they can, but does that make it a composition? No, that makes it a performance.  Is the bad or good or indifferent? Well, I guess it depends on your perspective. Are you a follower or a leader? Are you a renderer or a manifestor? 

Wow, these are heavy topics and seem to have drifted far afield, but I do not have to answer any of these questions for anyone except myself and here is the answer for me. Begin with the minimal unambiguous manifestation, and let’s call this a composition. Is a set of chord changes a composition? Well, not quite. It can be the underpinning for a performance that is extemporaneously delivered, but that does not make it a composition. On the other hand, if one has declared a set of chord changes and captured the in a recording, can that be called composition? Well, perhaps, but for me, it does need to be put under the microscope and perfected some and then scored for only playing it does not ever result in the same piece of music for me as mentioned, embedded within that set of chord changes are an infinite set of pieces of music, and for me, the challenge is which one is or which ones are, the compositions.

I may have a different creative process or different internal understanding, but I guess I am tired of talking and ready to be composing, so it is time to stop here and now.

Now What: The importance of Framework

Day 263 Week 39 Q3  Tuesday, September 20, 2022

On this 263rd day of my 69th year, I have finally come up with a framework to contain the rest of my professional life.  What are you kidding me, you say.  No, I am not. And I am not recommending this for anyone else but me, after all, it is my life. Then why should anyone else be interested? Probably they shouldn’t but I need to write this for myself anyway so here goes. And by the way, if not all of my spheres are publishable to the public, at the moment, I am my only public anyway, so I am publishing for me and that is part of the framework, which of course, has more than one part but does appear to have a closed form solution as silly as I two this to be considering how nonlinear life and reality are but still, it is worth me creating guard rails and let’s say this is the topic? Because Ia sure I am not the only one who wonders in preparing to enter their eighth decade, Now What?

And you know, this is a very good question we should all ask ourselves. Now What? By the way, Apple acquired Beats for over $2B because purportedly they could answer the question of when listening to music when one song ends, Now What do I play? Yes, Now What. And Netflix manifested its market-share, in my opinion by also answering this question Now What? Specifically, Now What does the person who is watching Netflix want to see next? In fact, even the news supposedly arbiters of true balanced information is subject to viewer ratings. Yes, that’s right, you mean you did not know that what they show on the news is a function of Now What do we think our listeners or viewers want to hear or see next?

So our entire universe has become a Now What place. Politicians ask Now What will keep me in power, Now What will get me elected, Now What do they need to hear to vote for me, Now What do I want to do that I can get away with? or on a more positive note collaborate my way to. 

I am not trying to be cynical here, well maybe a little? But have you realized just how important it is to answer this question for yourself? Sure your answer also may reflect what your family or your boss needs. What if, as you are entering your eighth decade, you have no boss, nor any dependents living at home? In fact, you might even be alone. Essentially you are now responsible to yourself just as all adults are. So asking the question Now What is not that crazy after all is it? You may not have been spending too much energy thinking about this for the last seventy years because it may have been obvious or at least appeared to be obvious but now things have changed, haven’t they?

In any case, I have answered the question for myself and it is probably not relevant to others but if you are still with me I suppose you might be wondering so I will tell you a super abbreviated version.  For what is likely to be my last professional career become a concertizing keynoter based on a 100-sphere body of work underpinned by 10 arrangements of each of 10 compositions.

Confused? Thought so. But I am not. And that is the point. Now What, is a personal question you have to answer for yourself Of course I could bore you all with more details and definitions and probably will elsewhere, but not here. That is not the point. The point is for you to each answer the question, Now What for yourself.

Answering will help you guide your own way forward on your own path. 

What’s that you say? You do not have or need a path? Okay fine with me. But I do, and so I have now answered the question, Now What? My answer is not going to be worth the over $2B scored by Beats, even though, to my ear, Pandora answered that same question in an infinitely better manner for $3.5B when acquired by Sirius which only has a $25 billion dollar market cap. This does not compare to Netflix’s 100 billion dollar market cap answering the same question for video not audio. After all, we are a nation of watchers, not listeners.  

When someone answers the question Now What, it can generate an awful lot of value in the world.

Sometimes Just Messin’ 

Day 262 Week 39 Q3  Monday, September 19, 2022

Sometimes Just Messin’ 

I tried using logic live loops without reading anything.

Did not anywhere either but am intrigued.

Did, however, get a two-chord vamp with drums and overdub lead.

That said it is time to investigate as I think this is going to be the Logic version of Ableton.

At least, I do believe I have heard this from Ray.

Maybe this is something to watch at the gym while working out in the not-too-distant future.

Like in a half hour.

Just Messin’

Hole in being Whole 

Art by William Reynis

Day 261 Week 39 Q3  Sunday September 18, 2022

Music and Prose by Howard Lieberman

What does it mean to be whole or to be made whole? Well, in financial and legal terms, it means being made solvent or back to where you were before something wrong happened and ended up being righted. There are so many different kinds of wholeness. Spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, artistically and dare I say it creatively whole. I tried looking up definitions and found myself swimming in an ocean of them. Everyone seemingly has an opinion, so why not throw in mine?

Remember, this is addressed to a population I loosely call creative outliers, loosely meaning more creative than normal. Of course, this, too, can have very many definitions. But most people agree that holiness is a good thing, whether you get there from restitution or diligent application of effort. But what if you never get there? Many people have a hard time holding themselves and others to the standards they cling to or espouse. I have known of people who have fired others, gotten fired, or even resigned because of the inability to make things whole as a shorthand for the way they things to be.

There seems to be a hole in wholeness, one which I noticed this morning when waking from distressing dreams about things imagined not lived, or at least not in a long time. After feeling, I thought whole for quite a while, and I suddenly realized I was not and then gave myself some dreams to feel the pain of it. I guess one had better not cling too tightly to being whole because reality rarely is. Things come up. Mathematicians talk about closed-form solutions. These are equations that completely describe how things operate or are in the world. And it is comforting to know that Newton’s Laws can help us design and build a bridge and that Ohm’s Law can help us understand the behavior of an electrical circuit both with very high degrees of accuracy.

But creative outliers do not live in a world that can be completely described mathematically or with words which is why they often express themselves using other mediums for their creations. And this is why it can be hard to tell when a painting or a music composition is done. Of course, usually, if you want to monetize creativity, you have to deliver results. Innovators do not just have innovative ideas; and they have to produce innovations.  Ah, but the wholeness issue rears its head – when is the work whole, when are you whole?

And this is why I say there is a hole in wholeness. Because it can be hard to tell if you are ever there, then you can feel incomplete (not whole). This is sometimes reasonable and sometimes not. And this can be time-varying in that some days what you did seems terrific and others days inept, and I am not talking about two different results; I am talking about the same result evaluated on two different days. This is why there seems to be a hole in wholeness if you try to define it too precisely. If you are an engineer, a salesperson may take away your product and say we have to ship this because I promised it to a customer, and if we do not deliver, then you do not get paid. Artists and Musicians also have to give something to someone, and they may be perfectly happy or even thrilled with something that you do not feel is whole, or you do not feel whole about.

The way out for me is to think and evaluate relativistically or comparatively, not absolutely. Sometimes it makes sense to just do the best you can and then move on and not spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror because you might crash if you are not liking in front of you. Wholeness can do that to you when you are pursuing it too single-mindedly. We have all heard the phrase paralyzed by perfectionism, and most of us have experienced this upon occasion.

Maybe the holes in wholeness are where the light comes in?   Maybe the holes represent the nonlinearities that make expression authentic. Maybe authenticity is more important than perfection.

Can you feel whole even if you are imperfect? I sure hope so because if you can not, you are going to be very hard to deal with because you will be having a hard time dealing with yourself.

Do not try to perfect – try to be real. Reality is not perfect. And I can feel whole about that. Just some Sunday morning thoughts after a bad dream.

Seasonal Routines

Day 260 Week 38  Q3 Saturday, September 17, 2022

The power of narrative and was I expecting to publish something here? Perhaps and perhaps not. Do you have any somewhat profound thoughts this morning? Well, as a matter of fact I do.

Seasonal Routines

Depending on where you live there can be seasons ands there may not be. Having spent two decades in northern California where seasonal variations are minor compared to upstate New York, I can assure you the seasons have more or less impact depending upon where you live.  And for creative outliers who sometimes utilize routines to maintain productivity things can change pretty dramatically. For example, the last two days began in the high thirties instead of the high sixties and of course the sun rises later as well. This shifts many things the least of which can be driving a ragtop with the top down which still works for me at least down to fifty degrees but less than that is pretty questionable. 

And which studio do you work in? The larger colder room which is pretty terrific when the temperature breaks 80 in the summer but less exciting when it is 39 degrees when you awaken. What don’t you have heat and air conditioning I hear you asking. Well yes and it is not a wood brining stove and opening the windows, there is central air and a conventional oil bring furnace but hey again this is a seasonal thing I did not worry too much about in northern California. Basically Silicon Valley does not have to worry about weather and New England does.

But have you ever stopped to consider the internal weather forecast? Tom Waits did – look ti up. But  …….

hey this can become something so keep goin with it.

Routine and Fooling Around

Having a morning routine or habit loop is a wonderful way to deal daily with the challenge of synchronizing your internal model of the universe and what the outside delivers to you. This delicate act integrates and balances to a good extent what you think you know and the multitude of incoming inputs into your mind and body through an active act of additive synthesis. One can not simply filter out the incoming as it is incomplete and needs integration to even be understood such as the transformation from still images to motion. Our nervous system receives only still images but our brain turns them into motion. This combining of imagination to create mental models of what is happening and synchronization synthesis also occurs in every creative act. Let me describe this in terms of the top of mind for me creative act which is composing music.

There are many ways to begin to compose music. One can start with a lyric or a story or a melody or a rhythm or a commission but for me and many others the simple way to begin is by fooling around which is a large part of my personal calibrating and cresting routine. I know that many other composers do this as well and that fooling around is far more aesthetically useful and relevant than composing through theory. Even if you have the kind of mind that can process theory and other forms on linear rational explanation in nearly real time there is no substitution for fooling around so I will describe it a little more here.

Play any combination of two notes or two chords or two rhyme singular impulses and you begin to have the beginning of a pattern. Some of these combinations work and some do not. Some of these are interesting enough to hold your attention long enough to continue to mess sound or fool around with. Simply playing two chords that seem to go well together in an interesting or rather surprising way is enough for me to get rolling. Fool round with them and find a combination of chords played in a specific register in a specific way in terms of duration and repetition and if you find yourself delighted by this combination you had better embed it into a song or a piece of music. If you find yourself still playing around or fooling around minutes if not hours or even days later with this combination then you have to do something with it.

This doing something utilizing what you have been fooling around with, generally results in what I call a rhythmic harmonic scaffolding and through the years I have tried dozens of ways to capture these interesting curious combinations ranging from index cards to musical scores to fingering diagrams to audio recoding to video recordings. I think you can get form anywhere to anywhere else and some of the time even find theoretical justification for it some of the time but it almost always begins with fooling around.

And I am certain that most if not all composers are involved in this discovery and searching process. Is invention involved? Is this simply aseptic question? Is invention different than discovery? The words do not matter as the music is to express different things than words can express but what does matter is the routine. This routine of fooling around. Show up eery day for it and some of th time it will be grand and some of the time not too useful but if you do not show up to fool around there is no chance of anything happening. Let your imagination and perception commingle and synthesize discover or invent, hey the words do not matter but the routine of fooling around does.    

Just Do it. And then you will have the material to perfect from.