Building Blocks is one of those pieces that, although destined as part of a suite of works, could easily work as a stand alone unit. When I couldn’t stop hearing the beginnings of Building Blocks in my head, I knew I had to get working on it.
In previous posts I have written about my experiments with structuring works in different ways. It is a common fact that many pieces feature way too much material, and strict structuring is the main vehicle I’ve been using to try and prevent me from doing so.
The structural concept of Building Blocks is the same as its name: To construct a piece slowly, using each ‘block’, or ‘idea’ first on its own, then slowly combining them to create the finished product. Each idea has a definite place with regard to the climactic point at the end of the piece – be it foreground, background or middle – but they each get presented separately as the piece progresses. The exception to this is the blue ‘origins’ that run throughout the beginning and the end of the piece. These are a pulsating series of notes that build up from a single note, growing in intervals of a tone (my current interval of choice – note, the pulsating doesn’t come across well on the excerpts!).
The structure is summarised in the coloured score to the right, which is an overview of the entire piece. The coloured blocks each represent an ‘idea’, or a translation of that idea (be it retrograde, inverted, transposed etc). At the beginning the ideas are presented separately, combining at the climax of the piece and becoming more separate as it concludes.
One element of my compositional practice I’ve discussed over the past week has been short scoring. While I normally short score orchestral works, I only part short scored this one –for example, noting down where ideas would combine, and short scoring the climactic section (a couple of minutes in the middle). This was because of the slow build up and resulting thin texture initially; as I had pretty definite ideas of the instrumentation it made no sense to spend time short scoring them.
In terms of order of writing, the piece was written in a bizarre order. The initial idea that sparked the piece (the yellow sections) was played around with, and some accompanying ideas developed, some of which stuck (the green, for example). The building blocks were mainly derived out of material that linked with the initial idea and that would be potentially exploited in the climactic section, thus ensuring everything would combine properly at the end. After that, it was a question of how the ideas could be shuffled and combined to ensure they were presented in a manner that was effective, dramatic, musical and engaging.
Below are a few excerpts. The first is from the first section, beginning in the blue, with blobs of yellow and heading into green. The second is from somewhere in the middle, and the third is part of the climactic section towards the end. I have posted excerpts rather than the whole piece because, for one, the playback doesn’t do it justice; secondly, the extended techniques don’t translate well, and thirdly, in a previous blog I said I’d only post excerpts of computer renderings!
Overall, this was a good technique for building up a piece and ensuring I exploited the material on offer. However, I by no means explored all the possibilities, and it could easily be exploited further – perhaps a challenge for a future piece.