Friday, May 18, 2007

Scarcity of Material

Last week was the first time I've been to a concert at Lawrence since my time in Boston (I somehow avoided it while home for Christmas) and suitably to my new music wonkiness I got the chance to revisit my friends in the composition studio. All and all a pretty gnarly concert, my friends Graham and Wilmer produced two fantastic solo works for piano and percussion respectively, in addition to the best passacaglia written the past three months.

One of the compositions by an freshman struck me as well, a piece for tape, string quartet, and percussion entitled Winners & Losers. It was divided into two movements, both named for the snippets of speech the tape part used. Both of these sounded as though they came from some sports-related motivational film, likely reaped from a public domain archive like AV Geeks. It was really an enjoyable work, but I noticed it for being exceptionally candid with its influences.

The first movement for tape and string quartet lended itself to unavoidable comparisons to Different Trains. The speech pattern, "The Changes In Your Life Will Be Dramatic and Permanent", remains largely intact with the quartet following it. The second movement subjected the tape part to much more brutality, and added three percussionists doubling the chopped-up speech. (Or was the tape doubling the percussion? Eh.) If that doesn't scream Jacob ter Veldhuis I don't know what does.

The concept of copying as a way of assimilating certainly isn't new, think of those Vivaldi concertos in Bach's hand, but is interesting in this case. The difference between undergraduate and graduate study as an instrumentalist in my mind is best explained as going from parroting your instructor to synthesizing various sources of instructions into your style. This seems like not as obvious path to take with composition. There seems to be much more of a emphasis on being an artiste rather than incubating and developing a craft, especially in an environment such as Lawrence where the lack of a graduate division gives freshmen less time until the spotlight is on them.

However, since the composer was a freshman and I am officially Olde by their standards I likely won't be able to talk to him and see if it was unconscious homage or conscious bravery.