I'm releasing my first album, a collection of 12 original piano pieces. Through the course of creating the pieces and making the recordings, I found myself grappling with questions about being a composer versus being an improviser and performer. In the end, I found I had to change the way I was thinking about music composition in order to bring out my artistic voice - I decided to leave certain elements of the music out of the written part and let them happen spontaneously in the performance.
Many composers have experimented with music notation by leaving certain elements of the music up to the performer. Morton Feldman is a great 20th Century example of this. In several of his pieces, he removed the meter, which tells the musician how many beats to play or whether the piece is in 4/4 time or 3/4 time, and the rhythm, leaving them to the performer. He also created his own graphical system of music notation using squares where each square represents a period of time. Within each square is a number, representing how many notes are to be played in that period of time. One work he created using this system is a series of pieces called "Intersections" (1951-53). Another composer who experimented with graphical representation as opposed to standard musical notation was Karlheinz Stockhausen. Stockhausen wrote a piece entitled "Kontakte" (1958-60) where he had charted volume changes and timbre changes graphically for electronics and percussion - he also included detailed instructions on how to place the speakers (there were many) for the piece to be performed. In the case of Feldman, the piece is notated but there is an element of indeterminacy - that is, we don't know exactly which notes the performer will choose to play. By contrast, with Stockhausen, the piece is fully notated but there are graphical elements with room for varying interpretations particularly with regard to the electronics. Nonetheless, Stockhausen was very specific about what he wanted from the musicians so, in effect, he minimized the element of indeterminacy, although it's still there. This all begs the question: exactly what is music composition?
Getting back to my music, when I first set out to create a collection of new works, I thought I'd compose the music much as I do for any other piece. So I composed 12 piano pieces - notes on paper. But I wasn't satisfied. The pieces were nice, but they sounded a bit too rigid and they didn't reveal the voice that emerges when I'm improvising. So instead, I wrote several short themes or ideas that would serve as triggers for improvisation. In some cases they were just 4 or 6 measures; in other cases, I composed an entire minute or two of music. Each idea, with improvisation, resulted in a substantial piece. I practiced with these musical 'thoughts' and then went into the recording studio and let them flow.
Using short ideas or the beginning of a piece rather than trying to compose the entire piece, I found that I was able to play more naturally and allow my 'improv voice' to speak. The short idea written out was the spark that set my fingers in motion and started me down a path. Each piece had its own voice, too, one that I tried to be sensitive to. I hope that came out.
Here it is! "Static Planet" - CD or download: