July 08, 2006

Funny Place Names: Seattle

I was just in the Seattle area for a chamber music festival. The (musical) highlight of the trip was getting a top-notch reading of a string quartet I wrote in June. It's entitled Drapery Studies and comes in two movements (one slow, one fast). The "conceit" for the set was, as the title indicates, borrowed from the visual arts. For those who don't wander into art museums all that much, drapery studies are practice works used to hone fabric rendering skills. They are primarily technical exercises, but I was drawn to something else about the setup: a surface that covers an unseen skeleton. The contours of the cloth suggest what is underneath it, but they don't give a perfectly clear picture. The surface can bunch up in places or cast confusing light. It's all you have to judge what goes on underneath, but it is an independent entity which can easily work against your efforts.

I'm happy to say that the work was well-received by the audience at the reading (at least by the people who decided to talk to me afterwards ;) ). Even though I gave them the same "abstract" explanation of the music that I put in here, they seemed to be responding mainly to the sensual aspects of the music, which is definitely my preference. I'm supposed to get a recording back in the not-too-distant future. Assuming it turned out alright, I'll try to get it up in a public place.

Some other assorted highlights from the trip:
  • A sympathetic Satie biography by someone named Rollo (what would Charles Ives think?).
  • On the flight out, I sat next to a short, neat, Southern pilot from the airline. After I told him where I was from, he informed me that Boston was the "rudest" city he'd ever been to.
  • Indeed, whenever I get out of the Northeast, I'm surprised and confused at how goshdarn polite everyone is.
  • Seattle is built on a hill, which is really fun to walk around when you're carrying two heavy bags, one of them on wheels. Also, is it me or does every city on the west coast have a mountain as part of its skyline?
  • Hippie girl at the bus stop reading up on The Secret Teachings of Plants.
  • Port Townsend, WA (where the festival was) is full of a lot of reclaimed buildings. The downtown is all converted from Victorian houses. One place was up on the second floor of a building around a winding hallway. One pizza place was in two small rooms on two different floors (take out downstairs, sit down upstairs). If you're ordering in, food comes up by way of dumb waiter.
  • The local state park was formerly a fort. Most of its buildings were "temporary" structures put up at the end of WWII. They all come from similar Colonial-ish designs, so the complex felt a little like a housing development. Old bunkers set into the hills on the coastline are slowly getting overtaken by the foliage.
  • Middle-aged woman who hugged me after I closed my open mike set at a local bar with "Help Me" (don't worry, I didn't try to sing it).
  • The Experience Music Project, which is a church where they worship rock music. They even have relics. However, instead of a piece of the true cross, they proudly display a piece of a guitar that Hendrix smashed. Really shows how personality and style are a major part of the music.
  • There I also got to see my first Trimpin piece. Imagine a tornado of guitars blowing through the main atrium of a building. Some of the guitars are played by MIDI-controlled robots. Put on headphones and hear a medley of songs in different styles. The visual component was great (you can see all the guitars getting played), but I was a bit underwhelmed by the musical experience. I think it would've been more impressive if you didn't have to put on headphones to hear it, so there was a direct connection between the visual and the aural.
  • Taking the red-eye back, which disturbed both my sleep cycle and my sense of time! (wait a minute...)
With all that said, I'm through my "R&D" period of writing just piano music. Right now I'm getting into a piece for string orchestra to give me a large ensemble piece for grad school apps. How I look forward to those...

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