Category Archives: Dissertation

Dissertation Update and Some Thoughts on Composition

I was deleting some spam off of my site today and realized that I haven’t posted in a long time, so I thought I’d give an update.

I am currently trying to finish my dissertation at LSU in case anyone reading this didn’t know. I have to have a completed draft to my committee by October 1 – which is in exactly two weeks. The dissertation must be a 20-minute composition and a sizable document. I have also chosen to add electronics, which means I had to create software for the performers. The document and software are mostly finished. I have roughly six minutes of music left. That includes a short movement (4 minutes) and then some room to elaborate what I have barfed out in the last month.

The work has to be for large orchestra. If you have never written for orchestra, it presents a unique set of challenges from both a compositional and performative standpoint. That is mostly what the written document of my dissertation is about.

I write mostly solo and chamber music, so one of the hardest things for me has been to tone down some of the string parts (I resisted the urge to write “dumb down”). Imagine taking 30 random people and have them all step forward while simultaneously touching their nose in exactly the same way. You also can’t use words – only dots and lines on paper to show them how to do it – and they only have 15 minutes to look at your diagram before it happens. It is easy for one person to do it because he can’t really be wrong, but 30 becomes a real challenge.

When writing music, constraints are both creatively irritating and refreshing. They are irritating because you are limited in what you want to do, but refreshing because pulling off what you want while adhering to the constraints is very satisfying. It’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle looking at only the back. Solving a jigsaw puzzle is already refreshing, but adding a constraint like I just mentioned adds a challenge that might be difficult – but never impossible – to overcome. For a great example of an extreme musical constraint, check out the Musica Ricercata by György Ligeti. Ligeti constrains himself to only a single pitch class – the note A. It’s a short piece, but very musically refreshing.

Anyway, I just finished the opening theme for my final movement. It is going to be a Rondo (a theme plays back several times throughout the movement). I’m excited to write it, but I want it to be a fast tempo, so that means more notes. diss3_themeI better get back to writing. Thanks for the break. Hope you all enjoy the post. I’ll try to write more I promise!

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Filed under Dissertation, Music, Music Composition, Uncategorized

The Power of Media

This is something that I have been wanting to write about for nearly a month, but with the start of a new semester, I have had trouble finding the time to do so. I took today off work, so…

Part of my dissertation is a look into different names used for electronic music that is performed on stage, whether it is live, real-time, interactive, or all three. For the most part, these words are buzz words, often used with no regard to their actual meaning, but to convey something that is new and exciting in the electronic world.

As a by-product of looking at these words, I found it necessary to discuss the concept of media, specifically with regards to the medium that the artist is presenting his or her work. A work is fixed media if it is relayed on a permanent storage medium and cannot be changed, such as a recording or photograph. Many older 21st-century texts talk about new media, which refers to most digital storage and transfer. This word has fallen out of favor because most new media are now over 10 years old.

One thing that I did not specifically talk about in the dissertation was mass media. Mass media are resources that reach out to wide ranges of people, such as television and radio. What I want to talk about in this blog post is the way that corporations and governments still use mass media to control their users. This is nothing new, but it is very relevant in today’s world.  These power brokers are losing that control due to the newer mass media such as the internet and social networking, but are having trouble relinquishing their hold. A prime, albeit innocent, example was on display during Shark Week this past summer. For those of you who may not know, I LOVE Shark Week, although as it becomes less scientific and more ratings fodder, I have begun to care less and less.

If any of you watched Shark Week or followed it this past year, you probably heard about the opening night show Megalodon, a ridiculous mockumentary about a group of scientists who stumble upon an actual megalodon in the ocean. The episode used pseudo-science and actors to paint a picture of believability that is insulting. The episode was nearly universally panned, and social media sites exploded with negative criticism. Here is a great article on the anger caused by Megalodon. In fact, google “discovery channel megalodon social media” and you will find a slew of critical articles about the show. I would have much rather seen a scientific documentary about the repercussions of a live megalodon in the ocean, but Discovery Channel went the ratings route.

What bothered me most is not the show itself, although I did find it deplorable, but the censorship deployed by the Discovery Channel.  During the broadcast, the Discovery Channel displayed a series of Twitter posts alongside the episode, all of which were overwhelmingly positive. There were absolutely no critical tweets that were aired during the episode. If you had the show on mute and were only following the Twitter comments displayed, you’d have thought the public loved it. And that is my criticism.

How can we ever trust the Discovery Channel again? Not only did they insult our intelligence with a ridiculous fake show, but they failed to present an accurate and unbiased commentary from social media, which, in my opinion is the entire point of having a twitter feed. I can’t respect them as a company or a presenter of scientific fact. In fact, I now have a hard time watching the Discovery Channel.

Businesses and governments still haven’t realized that we are all members of a social medium far more powerful than the filtered window of television. We can see all viewpoints and gain a much more profound view of something than what the corporation itself can present to us. I need only to mention Arab Spring to show you the power of social media and the anger toward those who censor the medium.

P.S. On a final note, I suppose I should point out that we are being heavily spied upon by those governments and corporations on the Internet, and we are not via television, so I suppose that with a trade for unlimited knowledge we are also losing our freedoms, but that is a whole different blog post.

P.P.S. Why don’t they ever show actual seals being breached by sharks anymore? It’s always the foam replicas.

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Lines in the Sand

The history of composition is riddled with battles. It is what breathed life into music. If Monteverdi hadn’t written new music, conservatives wouldn’t have had anything to bash. For every Brahms, there is a Wagner. For every Mozart, a Salieri.

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Filed under Dissertation, Music