I’ve decided to compose a series of mono-thematic structures for the improv group. I first brought something in for the group to work on at our third jam on Jan. 5th. The first of the Vignette series is entitled “Consummate Processional” and is essentially a rhythmic canon with a loosening up of the rules. Imagine a traditional canon (and a simple example like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) and you’ll recall that as each player or singer enters – at a specific time – the music must proceed exactly as initiated by the first player, with the same melody and tempo.
In my piece, although there is a consistent tempo, the players enter successively at a moment of their choosing. Moreover, the players can add space between the segments of the melody, which consists of the composed rhythm with pitches each player chooses from a given set. The canon gets a break somewhere in the middle as players converge on a rhythmic vamp which repeats until all the players are playing the rhythm in unison. Essentially, it is as if the “processional” arrives at a particular place and remains in that place until the last player joins and then picks up again as the first player steps away, then the next and so on. A similar gathering of players happens near the end, before a grand gesture indicates that a penultimate section is to be played in rhythmic unison prior to playing the final chord.
The funky rhythmic line is composed by building upon a simple, repeated motive, and gradually lengthening and varying the phrases. In other words, each of these phrases begins with the same or similar rhythm and is combined with an extrapolation. There is some degree of rest written into the score between each of the segments. For now, we will experiment with players having the option to lengthen this space if they feel like it.
The piece is in four main sections, excluding the last held chord. The first and third are the rhythmic canons, and the second and fourth are the tutti sections. Each of these sections has a different, yet related set of five notes for the player to choose from.
The strategy of putting notes to rhythms is not a novel approach to improvising or indeterminacy, nor is the idea of playing segments (or “cells”). However, the possibilities of potential design within the scope of these techniques are endless. And, in the case of a piece whose focus is rhythm, if it is interesting rhythmically, the notes hardly even matter.