ORNG Ink: Creative Musicianship (IV)

Added on by Douglas Farrand.


The past three weeks of class have been strange but enjoyable.

On labor day, we held a class on FORM which consisted of three parts.

In the first segment, Doug led the students through a listening activity in which they listened to a variety of short pieces of music and had to describe the form or construction/organization of each one. In this exercise they learned how any part of the musical material can be organized to create form - whether it be the harmony (as one student pointed out as we listened to Bach) or duration combined with timbre (as another student noted when we listened to a saxophone piece by Bhob Rainey) or something as simple as dynamic shape (for instance, the piece goes from soft to loud to soft). 

In the second segment Jessie let the students know that - even though all of these elements contribute to form - the day’s lesson was going to focus above all else on how form happens in time (the primary medium of music) and space (literal as well as imagined). To this end, we had set up around the Gallery little “musical mobiles” (see above). First everyone simply observed how it was different to look at this arrangement then to look at a painting on a wall. The students noticed that with a painting you can take everything in at once and there is mostly one perspective, whereas walking through the mobiles (as in music) you take in bits and pieces rather than the whole, you see only individual or a small group of movements at a time even though you know these are part of something larger, and the objects and your perspective are constantly changing. 

We then moved to improvisations using this set-up, thinking about timing of motion from one station to another, one object to another, the relationships between things - much as a composer might do with sounds, groups of sounds, and sound relationships in their head when planning the form of a piece. The result of the final duet improvisation can be listened to below.

In the final segment, the students were shown how, after working with form in real time in this way, the computer can be a useful tool to go back and “see” the form through waveform images and “edit” it through programs like garage band and Reaper.

The students left this class with their first and last homework assignment - to decide what they’d like to do for their final projects.

Last week, we had our first STUDIO CLASS on the final projects. We first warmed up our ears with two minutes of quiet listening and then warmed up our voices with a simple exercise of pitch convergence on breath-length tones.


The students then shared their ideas for the project. Everyone wanted to compose a piece for an instrument they played or for the group to play, and there was a lot of talk about wanting to go deeper with what they learned in the classes on harmony. We ultimately decided to work on putting together a set of materials - thinking about rhythm, harmony, and form - that we could then improvise on as individuals and/ or a group. 

n the picture above, you can see some of the results of this first material-making session. It was decided that there would be two main types of material - chords with a slow harmonic rhythm and interlocking patterns of intervals, especially thirds. The overarching plan was that during the interlocking pattern sections at the start and end there would be solos as well as some kind of “head” material as in a jazz form. In the center of the piece there would be the chords, and the last section of the piece would be a retrograde of sorts of the first section. 

This week we started in small groups working simultaneously on instrumental technique and developing the ideas that we had come up with in the last studio. After practicing some different variations on the plan, the large group came together, shared what they had made and organized it into a little piece. Next week we will be sharing this piece with the public at the final showcase - Monday June 15th - after the class, from 6 to 6:30pm at the Ironworks Gallery (406 Tompkins Street Orange, NJ).