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I recently received an offer to have this piece of music (or parts of it) used in a film that will premiere next year in an International Film Festival.  I invite people to take a listen and make any comments that they think might be useful.  Any observations about orchestration, timbre, dynamics, rhythm, tempo, melodic content or harmonization would be appreciated.

 I am particularly interested in reactions to the passage that starts at 6:50.

 Western instrumentation predominates, but listeners will also hear an Indian sitar and Japanese koto at various points.


Here is the link to the piece as it appears on youtube.

(The film has little or nothing to do with the images that accompany this youtube video).

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I listened to all of it. It certainly shows a certain mastery over sound manipulation/overlayering, though I am not sure if I would call it a composition or a collection of sounds. I was trying to think of what kind of movie this would play under and came up with two ideas - 1) battles of insects; 2) Aliens attacking the earth. I listened particularly at 6:50 but could not find anything to say about that region - a section you are particularly proud of? One thing did strike me in general and that was that while the piece had extremes - highs, lows, silences, that the range from the highest high to the silences was not very wide, and that seemed to me to set a ceiling on the excitement level of the piece. Anyway, you held my attention, which counts for something, I usually tune out within a few seconds if I don't like something. Good luck with your film thing!

Well said both.  I needn't comment further, just a +1 will suffice.


Frederick said,


"Sounds contrived."


Those two words can lead to some profound thinking about music.


I am not sure, however, exactly what you, Frederick, mean by those words, with regard to music of any degree of complexity. Perhaps you can explain a bit more.  The composer John Tavener says virtually all classical music is "contrived," including Mozart and Beethoven.


[He writes in a sort of pre-Baroque, or even pre-Rennaissance style.]


Maybe his is the style you prefer, and if that is the case, you may be making a very good point.


You can hear some of Tavener’s work here:


. . .  and an interview, in which he explains why even Beethoven and Mozart do not satisfy him.


"Western music is, on the whole, rather contrived and unnatural," he says.


It's an interesting observation, if you think about it deeply, and listen to the interview. 


Now, Frederick, you went on to say


“There is lots of ‘music’ constructed according to some organizational principles of math, Fibonacci in particualr.” 


Of course, the music is constructed according to organizational principles; and as far as I know, the only principles according to which music can be organized are (ultimately) mathematical.  That has been true of music since the days of Pythagoras, hasn’t it?   What other organizational principles do you advocate?


However, I have to point out, I did not use any Fibonacci sequences in this piece.  I wonder why you think I did.  Where did you think I used them, and which ones?  (I did use a Fibonacci sequence in another piece I wrote, however, just not here).


Some of the themes in the work are based on expanded integer sequences, having to do with gambling algorithms.  (This is explained on the site).  One of the main themes was “spontaneously composed,” if I can use that phrase.


You find that the result does not satisfy you, and that is fine, of course.  But I have trouble locating any useful information in your comments, information that shows me you have actually “dissected,” the piece.  This is “music dissection,” and I believe that means taking the piece apart, analyzing it, or looking at it carefully in some way.


You concluded your remark by saying,


“I don't know what deep or pithy message the film will attempt to convey but I would guess that the "inviation" to use your score was driven by your opinon that rampant speculation is destrucitve and moral and spiritual forces are constructive (when you have lived a little longer you will see that it is exactly the other way around).”


No, the invitation actually had nothing to do with that.


I said, in the statement introducing this discussion, that the film in question has nothing do with the images in the video; though the arrangement of images in this specific youtube video is intended raise questions about the benefits of certain types of “financial speculation.”

I wonder how much of your view of the music is derived from your opposition to the critique implied by the imagery in the video.  It’s something to consider.


But I don’t really understand your final philosophical point.  Are you saying, in all sincerity that “rampant speculation is constructive,” and that “moral and spiritual forces are destructive”?  


We need not debate that here, since that is more of an ethical question than an aesthetic one.  Still, you might want to ask yourself, isn’t a little presumptuous predicting what other people will believe or not believe when they “have lived a little longer?”   People outgrow Ayn Randyism and adolescent Nietzscheanism as well.  


[A final friendly suggestion.  If you want me, or other people to take your comments a bit more seriously, would you please consider doing a spell check or some sort of proofing before you post them.  Misspellings like “particualr” for “particular,” “inviation” for “invitation,” “opinon” for “opinion,” and “destrucitve” for “destructive” are distracting.   They make it appear that you don’t take the time to consider what you are listening to, what you are thinking, or what you are writing.  How can a person take your remarks seriously if you don’t care enough to make them appear as intelligible as possible?  For instance, I thought the comment about Eratosthenes was worth making, but you undercut it by misspelling the word “sieve.”]


Finally, you might say I am deflecting.  But if you genuinely believe the music here is “contrived,” or “too mathematically organized,” or you have some less vague, more specific criticism, I ask you to put it forward on the basis of dissection, with reference to particulars.  If you think Tavener-- or some other composer who opposes “contrived” music-- can offer me inspiration, then offer him (or someone else) as an exemplar.  If you can think of a composer who does NOT rely overly much on mathematical principles of organization, then cite that composer, and then I’ll know where you stand, and what you are trying to say.  Those kinds of remarks can be extremely helpful.   


I would put Gav Brown’s comments in the category of “helpful remarks,” because they do refer to specifics, and they show attention to both detail and general characteristics of the piece.  (I will write him a reply later).


I thank you, in advance, Frederick, for any further comments you might make.    I will repeat this point, to indicate, in spite of what you may think of what I said above: your remark about Eratosthenes’ sieve is a worthwhile one.  I have profound respect for you, given some things you have said in the past.  Anyone who can mention Eratosthenes’ sieve in this context indicates a deep understanding of one of the central problems of modernist music.  For Iannis Xenakis, it was THE central problem.   For me it was A problem, which I tried to solve in my own way.  


Gav Brown said:


“I listened to all of it.”



Thank you, Gav Brown.  I appreciate your willingness to take time out from your own work in order to hear the piece.



“ It certainly shows a certain mastery over sound manipulation/overlayering. . .”


Mastery over sound could be considered one of the primary goals of the modern creator of what James McHard calls “art music.”  His emphasis is precisely on what theorists call “sound-based composition.” Gerard Pape and other musicologists define this as “music based on the transformation of raw sounds from one characteristic state to another.”


So you are correct when you point to “manipulation” and “overlayering,” as elements in the procedure.


You said,


“I am not sure if I would call it a composition or a collection of sounds.”


One could call it either. 


The emphasis in “sound based composition,” is not so much on an established method, as in the case of serialism, for instance.  The focus is on listener’s perceptions.





“I was trying to think of what kind of movie this would play under…”


Maybe I was mistaken to mention the movie, since the question naturally forces itself to the front of the mind.


Maybe it is not a good idea to put photos on the youtube video to accompany the music, since it can distract from the music or create an impression which might otherwise be unwarranted.   Virtually all the music I write is without a pre-conceived programmatic notion, or even a hint of visual imagery in my own mind.  I just don’t tend to think of music that way, and I have always favored what some call “absolute music,” that is, music without words or specific text. When I put photos or paintings on the video, it’s almost always as an afterthought, just as a pleasant exercise.  But in this case, the music itself was inspired by a visit I took to the Occupy Wall Street activities that took place in Zucotti Park in New York.


You had your own impressions:



“ and came up with two ideas - 1) battles of insects; 2) Aliens attacking the earth.”



One can speak of the idea of attack and struggle in the piece, an attack, and then a contest between something human and something inhuman.  So I see what you are saying.   The first theme in the piece, which is derived from a gambling algorithm, is intended to have a certain anti-human, or inhumane inexorability about it.  


You asked me a question:


“ I listened particularly at 6:50 but could not find anything to say about that region - a section you are particularly proud of?”


I hope not.  Pride would be the worst obstacle to one’s improvement as an artist.  This is a passage that is tied to the film in question, an important scene in which a human being is manipulated in somewhat the same way that a puppeteer manipulates the marionette.  The scene is a struggle between “master” and the “slave,” so to speak. (Coincidentally, there is a photo of puppet master in the youtube video).  Whether this musical passage is suitable for the scene is a question being discussed, but I did not intend to pose that question here.  I was merely interested in how that particular sound progression was perceived by listeners, what emotions were evoked.


“One thing did strike me in general and that was that while the piece had extremes - highs, lows, silences, that the range from the highest high to the silences was not very wide and that seemed to me to set a ceiling on the excitement level of the piece.”


That’s a very fascinating observation to me personally.  I thought there was fairly wide range between moments of loudness and moments of quiet.    Perhaps I need to examine those moments where shifts in sound intensity occur more carefully, and then accentuate differences that are there with increases in volume or orchestration.  I admit, most of my emphasis was on textural variation, on changes in timbre; and on changes in tempo.  The orchestration may appear a bit thin at times, but this was to allow for the full expression of the timbre of the exotic instruments:  not only the sitar and the koto, but also a Chinese erhu (two stringed violin) and Japanese shakuhachi flute.


The passage starting at 6:50 does begin relatively quietly, and then increases in volume and density of musical lines.  I wonder if this is the sort of increase in range that you have in mind, that should be more characteristic of the piece as a whole?     


You said,


 “Anyway, you held my attention, which counts for something”


Well, nothing could be more important for the musician than holding someone’s attention, so I thank you for that concluding remark.





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