Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dreaming about Music

I had the strangest dream last night. I dreamt that I was in graduate school, doing a doctorate in performance. As part of the requirements I had to premiere three new pieces of music specially written for the occasion by faculty composers. In the dream I go to the office to pick up the pieces and they are very strange indeed. All hand-written scores that seem to be all instructions with very little actual notation. They are like palimpsests, with layers of little notes and references stuck here and there. Kind of like instructions for realizing an idea, which would be left up to the performer. There are footnotes and references that seem to direct me to books and other reference materials left in a special archive at the library. So I have to do research. There seem to be all sorts of obscure literary references that I have to turn into a performable musical score. I recall muttering to someone that creating and then learning these pieces will take a couple of months. They looked at me with surprise and said, "don't you mean a couple of years?"

I'm not sure where this dream came from: it seems to refer obliquely to the Hilary Hahn encore project, but also to the realization of Charles Ives' sketches for his "Universe" Symphony that I posted about here. It might also be colored by a piece I am writing at the moment for choir and tympani that will use a palimpsest of texts from Yeats "Second Coming" and news broadcasts from 9/11.

Dreaming is an odd sort of phenomenon, isn't it? I can't think of the ideal piece of music for this post, but here is something vaguely related: Agustín Barrios' "Sueño en la floresta" ("Dream in the forest") played by John Williams:

What a terrific guitarist he is!

UPDATE: A commentator reminds me of Brian Ferneyhough's music which seems appropriate and that causes me to recall what would be the perfect addendum to this post, his piece for flute, "Cassandra's Dream Song":


Nathan Shirley said...

That's just like something three eggheaded composition professors might write! Placing all the burden on the performer.

Bryan Townsend said...

If I were to psychoanalyze myself, something I have a policy against, I might say that this dream is a kind of reflection on the fact that, while my real vocation is to be a composer, for most of my life I thought I was a performer. So in the dream, the performer is forced to do the work the composers should have done.

Don't those imaginary pieces remind you of something by Stockhausen, though? Stimmung, maybe?

Bridge said...

They remind me most of a piece that is perhaps the exact opposite of what you described though still rather close. It's a piece for flute by Ferneyhough, which I think is actually a joke but it is without a doubt the most grossly overcluttered and overspecific score I have seen.

Here's the piece:

High(er) quality score:

This no joke must take several months or years to get down. I'm not even sure if the performer is actually playing much of the music correctly because it's nearly impossible to read. I don't at all blame him for errors though.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Bridge! That's the piece I should have chosen. Even better might be "Cassandra's Dream Song" by the same composer and also just as "overcomposed".