January 28, 2010

What Is A Melody Like?

Since this Fall, I've had a twice-a-day, one-hour commute on a train. So naturally, the question emerged: how can I direct this time to writing music? My usual comfort zone centers around using the keyboard to find interesting harmonies with minimal notation. Thus, my train-time centers around using my inner ear to find interesting melodies with standard notation.

It's been very good training for having a better sense of line. By line, I mean horizontal continuity. The Prologue from Into the Woods has a tremendous sense of line, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. What path does, say, an 8-bar melody take from beginning to end? How big a harmonic space does it move through? Does it move swiftly or without assurance? Does it suggest its destination? Does it actually go there? Is it light or heavy? Does it seek variety or repetition? Does it even care? These are the sorts of choices that make a melody what it is (whether they're made by the composer or the melody is another question).

The homogeneous appearance of notes on a page can distract from these distinctions. It helps to find a way to embrace their actual heterogeneity, to get intimate with your materials. Synesthetic language admittedly doesn't translate well between people (hence the lack of examples here), but it's proven a good tool for this job. This much I can say without any confusion: there are profound possibilities in melody.

December 30, 2009

Pillow Talk, Redux?

Surely you've seen Pillow Talk? Doris Day is Doris Day, Rock Hudson is a songwriter who woos women with a heavily recycled song*. Okay, maybe you haven't. It's a romantic-comedy: they meet, fall in love, etc. The movie is of its time, but so is how they meet. Ma Bell can't lay down phone lines fast enough to meet demand, so the two had to share, thus providing some forced interactions when they want to use the phone at the same time. The romance doesn't proceed in a straight line from there, but it's the start.

The exercise is: give this movie the You've Got Mail treatment. How could it be modernized? What's an in-demand consumer product that could serve as a foil for Romance? Extra credit for updating the careers of the leads (interior decorator, Broadway composer).


* NB: "You're my inspiration, [girl of the moment] / A perfect combination, [girl of the moment]" is neither a good lyric or good English.

November 29, 2009

Tiny Crimes

From Mike Nichols (in bold) interviewing Elaine May:
We’re behaving like hypnotized people, but we’re somnambulant. I hope we can wake each other up. But please, one at a time. There’s so many things, "Your call is important to us"—how do you know who’s calling? It’s the goddamn generalities that make for those tapes on phones and annoying e-mails from a group. The individual—there’s not enough money in the individual. And we have to—person to person—fight for it a little bit.

Let me ask you something. To simply actually stop. I’m just taking this "Your call is important to us" thing as an example because, having visited a large corporation, some executive is getting a $100 million a year and saving money not giving some woman a job for $30,000 a year. And he says we don’t want to take the shareholders’ money. And you say, well, you pay it, deduct it. But there’s no way to enforce that. We all know that that’s true, we all know that that’s bad, and we all know that there’s something about the tiny things in life happening to you that devalues you, that lessens you, that makes you numb. You have to become more and more numb not to get offended. And pretty soon you get pretty sick. And it seems to me—because I’m really a much more negative person than you are, you’re the lightness, I’m the dark—


But it seems to me, at some point what you really want to say is I won’t deal with a company that doesn’t have a real operator. For one day, I’ll make them lose that much money. For one day, I won’t go to a bookstore where the guy says, "Huh, I don’t know." For one day I won’t say, it’s so hard. I won’t run home to a rerun of Cheers, I can’t bother with it. For one day, you’ll take the trouble to make trouble for someone else, because it’s the only thing that keeps you from getting sick, from sort of retreating. I think that’s what dumbing-down kind of is. It’s too much trouble. And there is such a thing as too much trouble.

It’s hard to find the line because if you’re a snob like me, and somebody says, "What is this in regards to?" I’ll say it’s in regards to Broadway. If you want to know what this is in regard to, tell your boss I want to borrow a lot of money. Where do you start, where do you stop, when are you just a pain in the ass?

That’s a very good way to start. You’ve got to start tiny, as Giuliani said, "Don’t go after the big guys, get the pushers off the street." I know he did a lot of bad things, but I remember when you couldn’t walk around New York after 5 o’clock, and now you can. So with all of that, you really do start with tiny crimes. I think they’re like crimes, they’re like little insults that you get all the time.

November 16, 2009

Working Music

I'm accustomed to tapping my desk in various ways while the computer's busy thinking, but thanks to Dan Wolf, my efforts suddenly seem rather slight.

(see original post for a few more)