So "dreamcatcher" went off without a hitch! Rebecca Villarreal performed it flawlessly, and attached is a video of the premiere performance! I'm even in discussion to have it published with an actual company (I'll need to weigh the option against my current weapon of choice: self-publishing, but that's another blog post... either way copies will be available to purchase soon!) and put on a performer's recomendation list. Which, I owe all thanks and credit to Villarreal for comissioning me when I have ZERO background in percussion (save my time studying with my first composition teacher, Pro-Mark artist Jeff Ausdemore), putting up with my last minute edits/delays/procrastination, filling her concert with notable people, and then performing the ever-living HELL out of it.
Thank you. <3
A bit about the piece while I have time to think out loud, and before I have to release an official "about" section in front of the music... Dreamcatcher is about dichotomy. In the diversion of good and bad dreams, awake and asleep, etc. (stock, I know) but also in music.
The first section is very organic, and slow. I sampled Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" for the synth part ("sampled" here is read: stole entirely... I mean c'mon, it's in public domain), however the piano music is slowed down 800%. That means the first identifiable "section" of music, a total of maybe 20 bars or so, takes 3 minutes to perform. The piano part takes on a choral, ethereal quality, and this slowed-down effect was heavily influenced by the sound design from the film "Inception." Being that the commissioner (Villarreal) is a fairly adept pianist and enjoys the keyboard, while I simply have a crush on Beethoven, sampling this piece was very sentimental for me... Over this opener is a mass of extended technqiues for percussion, played without measure numbers or any hard metric direction. These "cells" of ideas simply float over the piano arrpeggio at the performer's discretion. I openly encourage in this section, that the performer improvise and adapt these ideas as they feel necessary. Thus, the first half is comprised of organic sounds, extended technqiues, and free-form structure.
Now the B section... Damn. The B section comes as the contrast. We trade extended techniques for very tradition drumming. We trade temporal freedom for strict ryhtmic divisions (the performer must wear headphones with a click track to perform this). And we trade in the ambient acoustic chorale of Beethoven for extreme digital manipulation that is for lack of a better word, scary. Wild tribal drumming in 5/8 - 7/8, straight-eight patterns indiciative of "Marimba Spiritual", fluxuating tom patterns indicative of "Rebounds". As an emerging film composer, I got to dive deep into my bag of tricks (or really , folder in Desktop> Music> Samples> Samplesstolenfrominternet> SamplesstolenfromFamousNewMusicPieces) to create scary dream textures. We hear distorted screams, groans, vocal fry, chopped and screwed synths [holla atcha DJs], samples from Ligeti Requiem, Penderecki's "Threnody", and various film scores that will remain nameless so I don't get my ass sued... But by all means, Hollywood, if you can find from What and Where I sampled Who, I will personally arrest myself and sell my soul to your lawers.
----SIDENOTE: SKIP IF YOU HAVE SOMEWHERE IMPORTANT TO BE---
I'm going to talk about two controversial things.
My excessive sampling is due in part to my love of film music and in part to my inexperience with the genesis of new synths. It motivated me to put the accomapying track available for free on my website for anyone interested in playing "dreamcatchers" to download themselves. This, as opposed to selling the CD accompaniment will create ease of access, and save me legally from trying to sell seconds (and these are few, few precious seconds) of others work...
2) Native American Infuence
Another cool element is the sampling of Native American chant, which (not to be offensive) always scared me as a kid. I'm not afraid to admit this, because in doing research for the piece I discovered the specific KIND of chant that freaked me out a lot (growing up as a kid who traversed the small towns / back woods of West Texas, East Louisiana, and South Oklahoma, I heard randomized and appropriated "redskin songs" a LOT) was not the monotonous chant of healing or story-telling. The specific sounds that made me uneasy were the war chants like those of the Cree tribe. In the electronic track, samples of Cree war song blend seamlessly from vocal groan, to cree war chant, to Ligeti's Requiem. It flows because all of those rely heavily on vocal extremities that are so far removed from natural speaking voice, they become inherently unnerving.
There's a lot of talk right now (which rightfully it should be) about the concept of cultural appropriation. You could argue that me, as a Caucasian 20-something with only a "1/16th Native American" ancestry behind me has NO right to write a piece using a Cree war chant, or even based on a Lokata legend.
I'm not going to debate whether this is wrong or right.
But for the record- my defense is this...
The idea comissioned of me, was to write a piece about a dreamcatcher. Dreamcatchers come from a tradition from the Ojibwe people, sometimes associated with the Lakota tribe, but became stereotypically associated with all Native Americans after the tradition and legend spread with the Pan-Indian Movement. Some natives view the commercialization and generalization of these trinkets as offensive and harmful to the history of Native Americans. This is not an opinion, nor is it up for debate. And so this is why, perhaps rightfully, perhaps counterintuitively (read as "wrongly") I decided to go with the typically known concept that most people are familiar with: dreamcatchers trap nightmares so that good dreams reach whoever (whomever? whatever it's 2:45am) sleeps beneath them. Where YOU draw the line with concepts of cultural appropriation, the ethics of exoticism and orientalism in art, etc... is up to you.
I think it lies with intent and execution. The dreamcatcher, as it exists in my life experience, was a fun story and treasured part of my upbringing. The Cree war chant, though irrelevent to a Lakota or Ojibwe tradition, scared me as a kid, and still does to this day, because it was a WAR CHANT. It was designed to strike the fear of death into enemies hearing it in the distance- to get adrenaline racing in Cree warriors facing mortality. I utilize these things, capture them and hang them up as art, out of respect and admiration for two rich culture. And most importantly (even as a white, middle-class, straight, fiscal conservative social liberal, able-bodied male) to show you these things through my eyes, because it's the only way I know how to communicate.
The least I can do is reiterate these points when someone listens to or performs this piece, and encourage those listeners and performers to educate themselves about these things too.
Long story short? There's a HUGE difference between using pentatonic scales in "Turandot", and then in the damn Siamese cat song in Lady In The Tramp.
----Look at that! I guess you didn't have anywhere important to be... you bum!---
Now this is all a lot of talk, and you may be thinking, "wow, you sure sold the hell out of this 6 minutes of weak licks and poor drum ideas." But I assure you, sometimes this information is valuable while preparing the music- and I'm always a proponet of communication between composers and performers. We (unlike painters or writers or craftsmen)... (but very alike directors, porn stars, and craftsmen who make a lot of money) depend heavily on others to see our creation to the finish. They are our voice. And while I'm not saying being a performer-centric or audience-centric composer is the CORRECT way to build a career, nor the ONLY way... It's my way. So if you want to play "dreamcatcher", give me a call. Shoot me a text. Email me. Facebook me. I'd love to answer questions, be asked questions I can't answer, discuss what you like or dislike, accomodate changes for your specific performance, or send you pictures of my face if you fall madly in love with me Phantom of the Opera stlye.
Without more snob-ish self-loving ranting, I present to you, the talented Rebecca Villarreal performing my piece "Dreamcatcher" for percussion and electronics.
... and I'll decide if the D is capitalized at some point.