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Hello,

I know it is a bit with a delay now - and perhaps almost too much to (selfishly) ask for: would anybody be kind enough to give me a little more feedback on my piece "Dream Machine" from the recent Competition?

I am, which will have been apparent, a real amateur / kind of novice - also new to this forum, so, have lots more to learn, but would be interested in any comments, good or bad, on how the Dream Machine could potentially have been improved.

Just as additional info, which may or may not have helped in the description for the competition:

1) I used a number of references from classic composers, so, J.S Bach's "Come, o death, brother of sleep" (the first part of the Choral is in bars 36-41, shared between first violin and Viola, and, the second part of the choral, creepily modified, in the first violin in bars 9-17).

2) The part from bars 25-35 is a mix of J. Brahm's "Lullaby", which I smashed into small chunks and completely re-constructed altogether.

3) The other slow passages of the piece have taken inspiration from Shostakovich's first string quartet.

The aim was, overall, to link everything in the piece to sleep, dreams and nightmares.Perhaps this approach was too complicated, unintuitive, bizarre, theoretical and (auditorily) unattractive - even though I still quite like it. I hope it also remained original enough, despite the multiple quotes.

Thank you in anticipation for any comments, which will support further development and learning! You may well see or suggest things within seconds, that would take me hours to spot or realise.

You can see and listen to the score here: http://composersforum.ning.com/forum/topics/imaginary-machines-cont...

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Great that you got it into the competition.

I did have a few problems, the big one was administrative: neither the score nor rendering had any dynamic markings. Had they been notated in the score I’d have worked from that. So, many potential subtleties were lost, especially for a work on dreams. I can’t be sure I picked up any of the quotes but I wasn’t looking out for any. I found the moves in and out of the strict diatonic awkward (possibly to me because resolution didn’t occur in the direction I expected. Example in bar 3, the viola C# against 2 other C naturals sounded simply like a wrong note partly because it just slid back onto a C natural rather than resolving onto a different note chromatic or otherwise. The viola G# in bar 5 was less intrusive because, sustained, it sounded intentional).  However, issues of harmony are about taste and if it’s what you wanted, that’s that! Given what seemed an overall smoothness of harmonic progression there were a few other points where things didn’t seem to “be right.”

 The ostinato that starts in bar 36 palled – esp after repeating the section in full and on to bar 44. (All straight on after a similar sounding effect from bar 30). This is where dynamics may have helped. The tune carried by Violin 1 was lost.

 The crossing of inner parts sometimes seemed to be arbitrary. Again if you were aiming for a timbral effect it was lost in the mix. I tried to imagine what the effect would be from the score.

 

All in all it came over dirge-like but given the subject of dreams this is possibly what you wanted.  

I can’t pretend I liked the work but it does have its interesting moments. A bit nightmare-y here and there. Thank you for submitting the score.

All the best,

Dane.

 

I have very little to add from Dane's feedback, except that you could certainly use a bit more counterpoint studies and you should always plaster your scores with instructions, articulations and intention.

Many thanks!

Admittedly, I struggled with some of the harmonic changes in the beginning, as I wanted to avoid doubling up or break lines too much whilst keeping the sound as aimed for. That is clearly a skill issue to work on - I need to consider how to approach this best (probably with the good old rule of re-visiting very basic harmonic customs and structures to start with...).

The comment on the lack of instructions, dynamics, articulations etc. within the score is interesting. Perhaps these are much more important for non-string players (if I may generalise for a moment), as the colour of the music may not develop as easily or intuitively on other instruments (especially the piano) during play as it, probably, would do with strings. I still have to test the piece out with a real string quartet. However, I would expect (I am a violinist), that it becomes clear quickly, without too much direction or explanation, how it is intended. But, I may be wrong! It certainly was not any deliberate laziness on my part to practically omit these elements, but more an assumption, that it would evolve.

I certainly take the point, that, during the process of mixing up the quotes, I may have gone too far in parts. So, I possibly, actually, ended up sometimes just breaking lines beyond repair, which then negatively affected clarity.

Thank you again. If there are any more comments, they will be most gratefully received.

   

Just as interesting, your query about dynamics as they may relate to (in particular) woodwind ensembles. Wind instruments have dynamic issues embedded in themselves so their placing in harmony/melody can be critical. For example, the oboe can play between pp and ff from about its low E to high C. Above C it starts to get weaker; below E it starts to get coarser. No way could it play a true pp on its bottom Bb. So depending on what's going on in the music, you'd place it where it sounds best. The Clarinet alone can manage a pp to ff over almost all its range. Only its highest reaches get screechy.  

Even with string dynamics...well, it depends what you want. If you need to emphasise an entry or bring a tune to the front (even in a quartet where 3 instruments are accompanying a solo) or just simply shade in nuances of sound (you speak of colour) you have to tell the players what to do. You notate accentuation and staccato. Why not the rest, the general volume, crescendos and things? It would have made a difference.

Hi Tillerich,

I must say I like your style - partly due I suppose to you living in such a delightful place as York.

When I listened and commented on your competition piece 'The Dream Machine' I thought it didn't quite meet the brief, notwithstanding you have the word 'machine' in the title. 

You say in your biog that you have only a rudimentary understanding of musical theory and I'm afraid that shows a bit - however, that having been said, the positive side is that much of your composition is entertaining and satisfying to listen to. Dane (as ever) has made some very erudite comments and I fully endorse them.

I have been involved in composing for many (many, many, many) years and have found a thorough grounding in musical theory a great boon to my own writing - it's so much easier to 'break the mould' when you know what the mould is. My own philosophy is that if it sounds OK then it is OK - no ifs or buts about it - but good training will out, so I'm sort of tethered to good practice and that aids coherence in my music.

So, where I'm leading is to say that whatever you do, keep writing, always listen to music critically as part of the process of learning about what does and what does not work, and study written theory whilst maintaining your own style. There is no short cut to writing music that others' will understand, appreciate and enjoy (unless your name happens to be Gershwin!).

CF, as you're discovering, is a great site with some very experienced and bright members - I haven't come across a better one for sure - stick with us because I'm certain I'm one of many looking forward to watching/hearing your progress over time.

It's good to have you with us.

Tillerich said:

Many thanks!

Admittedly, I struggled with some of the harmonic changes in the beginning, as I wanted to avoid doubling up or break lines too much whilst keeping the sound as aimed for. That is clearly a skill issue to work on - I need to consider how to approach this best (probably with the good old rule of re-visiting very basic harmonic customs and structures to start with...).

The comment on the lack of instructions, dynamics, articulations etc. within the score is interesting. Perhaps these are much more important for non-string players (if I may generalise for a moment), as the colour of the music may not develop as easily or intuitively on other instruments (especially the piano) during play as it, probably, would do with strings. I still have to test the piece out with a real string quartet. However, I would expect (I am a violinist), that it becomes clear quickly, without too much direction or explanation, how it is intended. But, I may be wrong! It certainly was not any deliberate laziness on my part to practically omit these elements, but more an assumption, that it would evolve.

I certainly take the point, that, during the process of mixing up the quotes, I may have gone too far in parts. So, I possibly, actually, ended up sometimes just breaking lines beyond repair, which then negatively affected clarity.

Thank you again. If there are any more comments, they will be most gratefully received.

   

" If you need to emphasise an entry or bring a tune to the front (even in a quartet where 3 instruments are accompanying a solo) or just simply shade in nuances of sound (you speak of colour) you have to tell the players what to do. You notate accentuation and staccato. Why not the rest, the general volume, crescendos and things? It would have made a difference."

Okay, point taken - it was a regrettable omission, that apparently made the approach for listeners more difficult, and, it was a lost opportunity to clarify passages etc. 

Admittedly, I probably somewhat ran a bit out steam / energy as well to think and take care of that aspect. I had rather spontaneously jumped into the competition at last minute and the deadline started to approach...so, it seemed "good enough". It would be slightly embarrassing to state how long it took to put this little piece together, as a more experienced writer probably would have needed a fraction of that - for a better result, But, hey, that is the price for gaining some experience :-)

Thank you also for the insightful information on the technicalities of dynamics in woodwind instruments - I had no idea, but it makes a lot of sense.



Dane Aubrun said:

Just as interesting, your query about dynamics as they may relate to (in particular) woodwind ensembles. Wind instruments have dynamic issues embedded in themselves so their placing in harmony/melody can be critical. For example, the oboe can play between pp and ff from about its low E to high C. Above C it starts to get weaker; below E it starts to get coarser. No way could it play a true pp on its bottom Bb. So depending on what's going on in the music, you'd place it where it sounds best. The Clarinet alone can manage a pp to ff over almost all its range. Only its highest reaches get screechy.  

Even with string dynamics...well, it depends what you want. If you need to emphasise an entry or bring a tune to the front (even in a quartet where 3 instruments are accompanying a solo) or just simply shade in nuances of sound (you speak of colour) you have to tell the players what to do. You notate accentuation and staccato. Why not the rest, the general volume, crescendos and things? It would have made a difference.

"When I listened and commented on your competition piece 'The Dream Machine' I thought it didn't quite meet the brief, notwithstanding you have the word 'machine' in the title."

Thank you. That still surprises me a bit.

I had a little machine in mind, a bit like a "pacemaker" in the brain, that clicked from one dream phase to the next (do I need to mention, that I work in the medical field...?!).

I thought, these changes of sleep-phases were fairly clearly reflected in the music. But, actually, I could have indicated that more explicitly indeed (e.g. the "faster" part with repetitions is, "of course" the so-called REM-phase of sleep, so, I could have plainly written that into the score).

To me, an Imaginary Machine did not have to be monumental, but could be rather small and, perhaps, precise, instead.

Are there any top tips for any resources to bump up musical theory knowledge (for amateurs), that you could perhaps recommend, please?

Thank you again!

Btw: It is very kind to suggest, that there may even be a hint of a certain "style" noticeable. I have to admit, that many of my favourite composers tend to be a bit niche and somewhat eccentric (Erik Satie, Arvo Pärt, Minimalists etc.), which probably makes sense and shows here already quite clearly. I know that it is likely to be limiting, and I will need to expand on that, for more choice and variety. 


Stephen Lines said:

Hi Tillerich,

I must say I like your style - partly due I suppose to you living in such a delightful place as York.

When I listened and commented on your competition piece 'The Dream Machine' I thought it didn't quite meet the brief, notwithstanding you have the word 'machine' in the title. 

You say in your biog that you have only a rudimentary understanding of musical theory and I'm afraid that shows a bit - however, that having been said, the positive side is that much of your composition is entertaining and satisfying to listen to. Dane (as ever) has made some very erudite comments and I fully endorse them.

I have been involved in composing for many (many, many, many) years and have found a thorough grounding in musical theory a great boon to my own writing - it's so much easier to 'break the mould' when you know what the mould is. My own philosophy is that if it sounds OK then it is OK - no ifs or buts about it - but good training will out, so I'm sort of tethered to good practice and that aids coherence in my music.

So, where I'm leading is to say that whatever you do, keep writing, always listen to music critically as part of the process of learning about what does and what does not work, and study written theory whilst maintaining your own style. There is no short cut to writing music that others' will understand, appreciate and enjoy (unless your name happens to be Gershwin!).

CF, as you're discovering, is a great site with some very experienced and bright members - I haven't come across a better one for sure - stick with us because I'm certain I'm one of many looking forward to watching/hearing your progress over time.

It's good to have you with us.

Yes, I understand quite well where you're coming from now that you've explained what was in your mind - I'm a psychologist by profession so I would, wouldn't I!

That notwithstanding I had my own ideas about what a machine might be and clearly this impacted on the way I listened and judged your and others' work.

You may find it useful to write a short explanatory note when entering future competitions of this kind - it helps busy people to zone in on your intentions and will result in better understanding all round.

I repeat, you have a style of your own which is excellent and I'm sure we'll hear much more from you - I look forward to it.

I had a little machine in mind, a bit like a "pacemaker" in the brain, that clicked from one dream phase to the next (do I need to mention, that I work in the medical field...?!).

I thought, these changes of sleep-phases were fairly clearly reflected in the music. But, actually, I could have indicated that more explicitly indeed (e.g. the "faster" part with repetitions is, "of course" the so-called REM-phase of sleep, so, I could have plainly written that into the score).

To me, an Imaginary Machine did not have to be monumental, but could be rather small and, perhaps, precise, instead.


Stephen Lines said:

Hi Tillerich,

I must say I like your style - partly due I suppose to you living in such a delightful place as York.

When I listened and commented on your competition piece 'The Dream Machine' I thought it didn't quite meet the brief, notwithstanding you have the word 'machine' in the title. 

You say in your biog that you have only a rudimentary understanding of musical theory and I'm afraid that shows a bit - however, that having been said, the positive side is that much of your composition is entertaining and satisfying to listen to. Dane (as ever) has made some very erudite comments and I fully endorse them.

I have been involved in composing for many (many, many, many) years and have found a thorough grounding in musical theory a great boon to my own writing - it's so much easier to 'break the mould' when you know what the mould is. My own philosophy is that if it sounds OK then it is OK - no ifs or buts about it - but good training will out, so I'm sort of tethered to good practice and that aids coherence in my music.

So, where I'm leading is to say that whatever you do, keep writing, always listen to music critically as part of the process of learning about what does and what does not work, and study written theory whilst maintaining your own style. There is no short cut to writing music that others' will understand, appreciate and enjoy (unless your name happens to be Gershwin!).

CF, as you're discovering, is a great site with some very experienced and bright members - I haven't come across a better one for sure - stick with us because I'm certain I'm one of many looking forward to watching/hearing your progress over time.

It's good to have you with us.

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