Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Neil Welch - September 4th, 2011

Texture as Composition

When I set out to compose a new piece on paper, I’m often pulled one of three ways: I choose rhythmic, melodic or harmonic action as a guiding force.  After spending some time considering why this might be, I’ve come to believe that any one of these three routes explores fundamentally identical areas.  Though one may seem to play a larger part, I argue that it’s impossible to create a composition and have touched on only one of these areas.  Improvisation mirrors this as well, though of course as a spontaneous form of composition. To elaborate, I’ll explore below the idea of composing from a “melodic” perspective. 

If I compose a work using 10 fixed pitches, after stating these pitches both I and the listener become attuned to their shape and sound.  When consciously viewed in an artistic perspective, I define sound as melody. Even if these pitches are undefined by tempo or meter, my phrasing and individual interpretation of these pitches determines some sort of motion.   I argue that motion of any kind can be called rhythm.   If I play this set order of pitches and improvise freely with them, I begin to create sonic movement and define order in the mind.  I view this as harmonic order.  In this way, by playing a set of pitches I’ve now established melodic, rhythmic and harmonic structure.  The same could then be argued in beginning a composition from a rhythmic or harmonic perspective.

From this vantage point I’ve become interested in a merger of melodic, rhythmic and harmonic action in composition and improvisation.  I’ve classified this merger as texture.  It seems that to truly be different, texture must create a fundamental separation from melody, rhythm and harmony.  There must be a balance of these areas to become something new unto itself.  I feel that in most, but not necessarily all “free” music, texture is what we’re after.  On the whole texture doesn’t place particular emphasis on any one of the three compositional areas.  Many free improvisations default on long, “drone”-like sounds or “click and clack” sounds because these techniques immediately draw a line between traditional compositional methodologies and texture.   

The Music:

As a great lover of textural playing, I’ve become interested in adding stricter textural parameters to my music.   This week I’ve composed a piece for a large ensemble which aims to avoid melody, rhythm or harmony and enter squarely into the field of composed-texture.  In the composition I’ve chosen many parameters that are traditional, but we’ll attempt to treat them in a textural fashion.  For example, this piece is notated in standard notation on a page, the pitches are fixed and they follow a relatively steady yet movable pulse.  Our aim, however, will be to eliminate these thoughts in the listener and leave only composed-texture as the result.  Performing with me are:

Andrew Swanson, tenor // Levi Gillis, tenor // Greg Campbell, percussion // Tom Campbell, percussion // Jared Borkowski, guitar

Audio Example: Ketawang Puspawarna

A fantastic example from which my composition was directly inspired is the above recording of Javanese Court Gamelan.  Though there is rhythm, vocal sound and fixed pitches, when I reflect on the broader group sound it becomes clear to me that I’m listening to a composition supported by texture precepts.  Though, this texture is absolutely defined by strict compositional and improvisational parameters. 

The Improvisations:

I’d like the first few groups to explore compositional texture in free improvisation.  I ask that you consider what I’ve written above and define some compositional parameters that are specific enough to be discussed with others, yet broad enough to be achieved purely in a textural medium.