Discrete Doable Task

Three posts in, and already I’ve got a running theme: compositional blocks. Bunita Marcus advised me some time ago to get around this by breaking compositions down into ‘discrete doable tasks.’ Which itself gave me a great idea for a piece that’s been knocking around on the meta-compositional back burner ever since.

I’ll share the meta-compositional framework later. Since my Achilles’ heel has been execution, I’d like to start by breaking it down and posting components until the whole thing is done. All I need to say is that the beauty of this piece’s framework is that it  requires that I produce a lot of micro-works.

What follows is documentation of a particular micro-work as I make it. I’ve got the blog scheduled to post in the future, so I’ve given myself a deadline.

Last week, my therapist suggested I try painting things to get at issues I can’t always find words for. I’m not sure how that’s going or that it’s relevant to the task at hand. But it nudged me to where I find myself ending up.

If you could see this picture, it would be a jar I made many years ago. It has bamboo on it that kind of sucks.I learned only a bit of painting when I was a kid. I really only know how to paint bamboo. I’m not sure I make the world’s greatest bamboo. In fact, my bamboo mostly sucks. Here’s some bamboo I painted on a pot I made in high school.

If you could see this tree, you would see that it suffers from not being bamboo and from bad paper.

Still, I thought I ought to give painting a shot. I pulled out my painting supplies that I mysteriously still have after several moves.*  Bugs had eaten one of my brushes and I had no paper. I tried using some art paper that my partner had lying around. It was for building up colour with pastels; it was really bad for ink. I tried painting a tree, which really suffered for not being bamboo. Also, it really suffered from bad paper. I need to improve my technique, and I notice that I really need to allow myself to have more negative space.**

Yesterday I went to the art supply store and bought some new paper and brushes. Armed with better supplies, I naturally think to myself: “Screw my therapist and trying to paint the ineffable. What I need to do is make music with my new toys.”

Clearly with this medium I’m going to end up with a graphic score or several. The format of this piece will not allow for substantive instructions for nonstandard notation, so I will work from the assumption that performers will interpret the score with time along the x dimension and frequency along the y dimension. This is a fairly standard interpretation of graphic notation in new music, but I should be ok with other outcomes.

I need to think of the sounds, but also of the line and the image. And since it seems to be a problem for me, I need to make myself leave negative space.

I find that new paper bleeds a lot more than the paper I was using yesterday. It is better paper, but I need to unlearn all the learning to use bad paper that I’ve done recently. After a few tries, I get an ok line. I think the resulting phrase is acceptable. It’s short and sweet. There are interpretive options. There’s nothing inherently novel about painting a graphic score or about the resulting phrase. What will ultimately matter is how it fits into the whole piece as I assemble more micro-compositions. I’ll just put it in the pile of micro-compositions and see if it makes the cut when I compare them side by side.

Some lines and dots.


* I really need to get better at sending things I don’t use to thrift stores. At least I’m doing a little better this move.

** Perhaps I shall go to my therapist and explain to her that I have a problem creating negative space. That should go over well.

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