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"A Peek into a Boson" for Orchestra - my first "serious" music of scale for a decade - expert input?

Hi, friends. I just finished this last weekend, putting probably around 60 hours into it for about 9 days, really struggling to produce anything the first couple of days, and almost abandoning it several times. Now I'm pretty happy with it, though I know there's plenty of room to do better next time. I'd be so appreciative if some of you would be kind enough to tell me what could have been better, especially concerning the structuring of the composition, the substance or lack, if it's not novel enough or too this or that, etc. Or just whatever you want to throw out there is welcome.

So here's the audio + score in HD video: 

https://youtu.be/9zRUS5mzQrY

I can go into some of the structure and theory behind it if you want, but I figured first I'd let the music speak for itself.

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Hi Joel,

Wow, so much to enjoy in this and all in 9 days!

 I don't wish to detract from a great piece of writing Joel, but you've asked if it was novel enough and I'd have to say that it relies a bit too much on John Adams in places. The fab trumpet lines have the big sweep of short ride in a fast machine as does some scoring and rhythmic ostinatos. The Chairman Dances spring to mind too in places. The quaver writing at C put me in mind of his violin concerto. I could hear Ravel at letter O, especially Mother Goose and it looks as though you know Daphnis and Chloe (perhaps not) but you know what, we all have influences, I'm still trying to shake off Britten Tippet and Dutilleux and so listing influences in yours seems at best just silly and at worst, hypocritical. I will say though that it is hard to think of it as fully original with such a blatant reference to Adams. He has carved out such a unique voice in minimalism and because of the limited parameters of the genre it is hard to not source him in an orchestral context.

The scoring looked really neat to me on first run through and I could see you'd put some thought into bowing, especially considered at F for the leap over the strings and at the dynamic marked. Lovely scoring throughout with many things that would sound fine. I especially like the high G for the clt.

One moment seriously got to me though because I think it's so beautiful- the strings and celesta at E. How dare you steal music from the ether that I should have written : -)  And, what chords at S and W -  so effective.

For me, I would have started the accell. at R,  6 bars beforehand as it sounds a bit laboured.

Writing quality music like this Joel deserves better production. I don't know if you have any money lying around, but if so, to hell with the kids, spend it on a DAW and some quality orchestral samples - Spitfire, VSL, Orchestral Tools. Learn how to use them and you will get so much more out of your pieces. It wont be cheap and there's a big learning curve, but your music deserves it. Any chance of a live performance?

Thanks for the insightful input, Mike. You absolutely hit bull's eye on the John Adams and Ravel, because I adore Short Ride in a Fast Machine, it is currently my favorite piece, and I had recently studied and appreciated Ravel's work. I unashamedly imitated aspects of their sounds, though I didn't realize it would be so obvious, so maybe next time I should intentionally try to not sound like anyone else, or at least borrow less directly. And true I asked if it were novel enough. Because specifically I was wondering if this music might be accepted in a "new music" context such as a new music festival. It may very well not be new enough for many people. That could be a whole topic itself I should ask for more thoughts on. ...or probably there's already a thread on that somewhere here.

Hmm, I see what you mean on the accel at R. It was a bit uncomfortably slow for me too now that I think back, and for some reason I ignored that. Maybe I felt we needed some breathing space between the pastoral context and the agitato. But the celesta should get moving right away after the strings are done speaking probably. Maybe it was just bad performance interpretation when I made the recording :)

What encouraging words. I've been very bad at putting my music "out there". What would you do after you make a good recording with better samples? Sell an album or singles on the digital music stores like Amazon and iTunes? Advertise? I actually submitted this piece to the NC NewMusic competition last week, and they'll be performing the winner's work in March. But who ever expects to win a composition competition; too many chances of not winning :) But I'm not sure how else to get my music performed. I don't really have a great looking music resume or portfolio that conductors would take seriously. (I'm a programmer during the day)

Hi Joel, thanks for posting this, it's a wonderful piece and I enjoyed it. Having read Mike's very knowledgeable comments I listened to some Adams and yes you have that influence obviously, but there is much here that goes beyond that and your skill and creativity do deserve recognition. How successful you can be in the open market I can't say but you should feel good about this piece and definitely continue on!

Joel,

Really enjoyed this. It is rhythmical and repetitious like John Adams but you manage to incorporate some slow quiet passages. It is playful, mysterious, chaotic, weird, never a dull moment. I would think you would have no problem getting it performed.  I agree with Ingo, you have gone far beyond Adams.

My only criticism is that there are few melodic passages, more rhythm than melody, but then that is part of its appeal.

John Adams is a composer worth studying, though I doubt if there any of his scores on line yet. I prefer not to listen to analyze a composer's work because eventually you end up copying melodies and rhythms. I look forward to hearing more of your music.

Hi Joel.

I heard this a while ago, and have been meaning to comment.

I thought it was just wonderful! Really great work!

I too noticed the Adams' influence, as i am a big fan of his work.  And it definitely seems you have understood well the Best of what he has brought to the table.. But also i hear elements that are not him..

Really good stuff. I look forward to hearing more!  (jeez, you did this in 9 days? - wow!)

Thank you all very much for sharing your comments, Ingo, Lawrence, gregorio X. I find all of your thoughts insightful.

Wow. I didn't know what to expect upon seeing the title, but the exciting opening captivated me instantly.  I had the feeling of descending, or rather zooming into, the microscopic world of dancing subatomic particles, busy with all mannner of curious things zipping around and flying about. I didn't quite know what to make of the slower passages in terms of interpretation, though musically I enjoyed them. There was one section that I think alludes to the triplets of dancing quarks that make up a (non-elementary) boson, or to the 3 dimensional interactions of quantum chromodynamics; that was a very nice touch. It almost sounds like a particle sitting in its steady state with occasional interruptions from outside -- some interaction with a stray passing photon, perhaps. It's very picturesque and evocative.

I didn't quite know what to make of the passage (around R, IIRC) with basically just a sequence of cluster chords.  I understood that musically they are good for a climactic setup of tension, but I didn't know how to interpret them. So it was almost a relief when eventually the opening theme returns to round off a very nicely done piece.

Overall, it has a rather Holst-like sound, and seems like a very fun piece both to perform and to hear. Good work, and thanks for sharing it here!

I enjoyed your imaginative interpretation! Thanks for listening and for sharing your thoughts.

Concerning the big planing chords, I didn't have any concrete things in mind for any of the piece really, just abstract ideas. But for the planing chords and pastoral theme I had a vague idea behind them. I picture that the explorer of the boson has come to some realization that is so profound as to be frightening, and in such clarity not possible until this "peek into" the full detail of an elementary particle. Some idea that one maybe tries to keep from thinking about in full consciousness because it is so deep as to threaten to be mentally traumatic. (I'm sure there's some obscure English word for that, found in the "Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows".) Perhaps a full realization that the "levels of detail" of the physical universe never end, an infinite chain of effects explained by causes which in turn require, and have, their own causes. Maybe at the same time he encounters in that infinity an end to the natural, and the necessity of a supernatural, infinite, eternal, all-encompassing and even personal, entity which is the very source of space-time-energy-morality. But it seems he has found peace with that inescapable entity, hence the return of the pastoral theme and then a conclusion to the thrilling journey. Obviously this gets philosophical quickly, but there you have it. 

Partly I was musically experimenting with building tension by increasing simultaneous pitch classes, while also maintaining near-optimal consonance for the given number of pclasses and given pitch range. So the first time those planing chords appear (E) they are 8-chords (and they're stating the main theme, appealing to octave-equivalency to constrain the pitches to a smaller range). The 2nd time (M), where it appears in the woodwinds, doesn't build but is more of a recall (M); there they are 7-chords. Then a brief allusion occurs at S, threatening with full 12-chords, then after the full build they finally come in full force at W, with the 12-chords repeating the first 3 notes of the theme, but preserving the original leaps this time, also with a mirror inversion in the bottom part.

...But then you all may have already understood most of that when you listened, so please don't be insulted. :) I hope I haven't rambled; we all enjoy talking music theory don't we?


H. S. Teoh said:

Wow. I didn't know what to expect upon seeing the title, but the exciting opening captivated me instantly.  I had the feeling of descending, or rather zooming into, the microscopic world of dancing subatomic particles, busy with all mannner of curious things zipping around and flying about. I didn't quite know what to make of the slower passages in terms of interpretation, though musically I enjoyed them. There was one section that I think alludes to the triplets of dancing quarks that make up a (non-elementary) boson, or to the 3 dimensional interactions of quantum chromodynamics; that was a very nice touch. It almost sounds like a particle sitting in its steady state with occasional interruptions from outside -- some interaction with a stray passing photon, perhaps. It's very picturesque and evocative.

I didn't quite know what to make of the passage (around R, IIRC) with basically just a sequence of cluster chords.  I understood that musically they are good for a climactic setup of tension, but I didn't know how to interpret them. So it was almost a relief when eventually the opening theme returns to round off a very nicely done piece.

Overall, it has a rather Holst-like sound, and seems like a very fun piece both to perform and to hear. Good work, and thanks for sharing it here!

Joel,

     I want to play devil's advocate and opine on why this piece should not be performed. 

1. It's too much like John Adams, it' been done before.  Only small portions resemble Adams.  You have slow sections and themes more developed than Adams.

2.  It's too modern.  Most audiences will not like it.  If this forum is any indication, audiences will rave over it.

3.  It's too difficult to play.  It doesn't appear to be any more difficult than Ravel, Debussy, or Williams.

4.  It's too long, or too short.  It is the typical length of any symphony movement.

5.  No one has ever heard of  composer Joel Becker.  No one had ever heard of Beethoven before his first performance.

In short, there is no reason why this piece should not be performed.

Heheh, I liked that interesting approach. Glad the piece passed inspection :)



Lawrence Aurich said:

Joel,

     I want to play devil's advocate and opine on why this piece should not be performed. 

1. It's too much like John Adams, it' been done before.  Only small portions resemble Adams.  You have slow sections and themes more developed than Adams.

2.  It's too modern.  Most audiences will not like it.  If this forum is any indication, audiences will rave over it.

3.  It's too difficult to play.  It doesn't appear to be any more difficult than Ravel, Debussy, or Williams.

4.  It's too long, or too short.  It is the typical length of any symphony movement.

5.  No one has ever heard of  composer Joel Becker.  No one had ever heard of Beethoven before his first performance.

In short, there is no reason why this piece should not be performed.

Oh man, I wish I could make the MIDI recording sound way better. Either I don't have the patience or the ear for it...or the sample library. Right now I'm hoping one of a couple live performance possibilities will come through, however slight the chances may be; but if it is performed live then I won't have to worry about making a better MIDI recording :)  

But if there are some simple things I could do next time in the MIDI recording that would represent the music better, I certainly want to do that. I could talk to my bro who is a recording engineer, but he's no less busy than I. Maybe at some point I'll be inspired to get educated on better sample library utilization and mixing.

Wesley Lawrence Curry II said:

Hi Joel.

The fun melody and chord arrangements are fine.

But the SOUND....thats another matter.

You should consider "lightening" or making quieter some of the instruments to give it an orchestral sound.  Everything sounds Flat in you face with the mix.

Lighter glockenspiels....absolutely lighter horns.

Arrange the instruments in your DAW the same way they sit in an orchestra.  The Trumpets and French and Trombones are set BACk in the orchestra for a reason.....they are VERY LOUD instruments ....even when playing pianissimo.

And the GLOCKS....certainly a perfect accent to the orchestral palette....too should be quiter..to give it that TINGLE they are best at producing.

Your music is FUN,,and pretty good....your mixing is lacking a sound you could really use to impress somebody with especially in a work that is so well written.

All the best,

Wesley

Hey Joel, yes audio libraries and midi are tough, but I'm sure you have the ability to do whatever you want with them if you are willing to make the effort.  I'm currently trying to get better with that stuff so I'm probably not going to have much to offer but others here will I'm sure. Why don't you detail your current setup and what direction you'd like to go, maybe someone will have some suggestions?
 
Joel Becker said:

Oh man, I wish I could make the MIDI recording sound way better. Either I don't have the patience or the ear for it...or the sample library. Right now I'm hoping one of a couple live performance possibilities will come through, however slight the chances may be; but if it is performed live then I won't have to worry about making a better MIDI recording :)  

But if there are some simple things I could do next time in the MIDI recording that would represent the music better, I certainly want to do that. I could talk to my bro who is a recording engineer, but he's no less busy than I. Maybe at some point I'll be inspired to get educated on better sample library utilization and mixing.

Wesley Lawrence Curry II said:

Hi Joel.

The fun melody and chord arrangements are fine.

But the SOUND....thats another matter.

You should consider "lightening" or making quieter some of the instruments to give it an orchestral sound.  Everything sounds Flat in you face with the mix.

Lighter glockenspiels....absolutely lighter horns.

Arrange the instruments in your DAW the same way they sit in an orchestra.  The Trumpets and French and Trombones are set BACk in the orchestra for a reason.....they are VERY LOUD instruments ....even when playing pianissimo.

And the GLOCKS....certainly a perfect accent to the orchestral palette....too should be quiter..to give it that TINGLE they are best at producing.

Your music is FUN,,and pretty good....your mixing is lacking a sound you could really use to impress somebody with especially in a work that is so well written.

All the best,

Wesley

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