Album Reissues, Project Updates, and A Little About My Experience As a Composer
As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, during the last few months I’ve been working on remastering my older albums.
So far, the albums that have been remastered and reissued include the first ten volumes of Organ Improvisations, the first four volumes of Keyboard Improvisations, Volumes I – IV of Electronic Music, Aphrodite, and, the most recently, Rock Music.
One thing you’ll notice about these reissues is that some of the tracks have been switched between albums. My reason for this is, in part, to optimize the track order; creating a better, more cohesive album – an optimized listening experience. Another reason was to remove tracks that I did not believe represented my best work. When returning to these albums – listening to them again often for the first time since their original release – I was not as pleased with some of the works as I was originally. There were other tracks that I liked, but which were too attached to a particular emotionally transitional period of my life, and thus could not be appreciated properly on their own terms.
To illustrate some of the points here: in terms of optimizing the listening experience, I switched some of the tracks between the second and third volumes of Electronic Music. My primary reason for this was because, after reviewing Electronic Music (Volume II), it sounded a bit too consistently dark, and I wanted to provide some release from the tension. I therefore moved Pythagoras (excerpt) and Artemis from Volume III to Volume II. While neither work is upbeat, the mood is not as ominous as most of the other tracks on Volume II.
Another change I made was to remove almost all of the excerpted works; particularly those from projects which were either unfinished, or which evolved into something else prior to completion. The primary examples of this are the various “Percussion” pieces; pieces which were originally part of the planned-electronic music suite that, later in 2021, evolved into Mata Hari. While I intended the originally suite to be an electronic work – one employing synthesizers, and having a somewhat lighter character – Mata Hari is a serious concert work (and one of my compositions of which I’m most proud), scored for real, acoustic instruments.
I kept in tact the excerpts from Hall of Mirrors from Volume I, Pythagoras from Volume II, and the podcast excerpts from Volume IV. Regarding the latter, I kept these excerpts because they are cues; not excerpts from a larger work. Pythagoras and Hall of Mirrors are a bit different, for reasons I may describe at another time.
It was fascinating to revisit these early/earlier electronic music works. One thing that is immediately noticeable when listening to the Electronic Music albums in order is the gradual evolution of the character of the music. While the earliest Electronic Music albums are often incredibly dark, by the time of Volume IV, one notices that the dark character is tempered by a bit more eccentricity, humor, and, particularly, sensuality; three characteristics that are evident in most of the works composed since Electronic Music (volume IV).
Of the pieces on Volume IV, the track that perhaps best exemplifies this evolution of character is Eros; a work that celebrates romantic/erotic love.
Aside from removing the excerpted tracks, I’ve decided to leave Electronic Music (Volume IV) as it is.
Going back to the Rock Music album, again, while I was quite happy with the original version, I was not completely pleased with it. Whereas Aphrodite was an album with a theme (of sorts), Rock Music was a collection.
Being a collection, its constitution is naturally rather abstract, whereas Aphrodite was very much tied to a certain time in my life, and a certain “headspace.” However, that time has passed, and I’m in a completely different headspace now, as it were.
Again, while I was pleased overall with Aphrodite, many of the works featured on the album were no longer really representative of my work in its integrity. I therefore decided to withdraw Aphrodite and to move some of its tracks to Rock Music, in order to create a better version of that album. While both albums consist of rock/pop/jazz/R&B instrumentals, the mood and character of the two albums is quite different. As the title suggests, Rock Music has a bolder character, whereas Aphrodite is rather understated by comparison.
At one point, I considered moving Girls/Girls/Girls – the collection of five rock instrumentals from the Mata Hari album – onto the reissue of Rock Music. However, those pieces sounded completely foreign outside the Mata Hari album. While Mata Hari is a concert work, and Girls/Girls/Girls is rock music, the two works truly belong together. Listening to Mata Hari without the rock tracks, or listening to the rock tracks outside of their original placement on the Mata Hari album, was very unnerving. In other words, the rock tracks fit organically on the Mata Hari album. Their situation on that album is completely natural – it doesn’t sound like an album that merely collects two different works.
The final remaining album planned for reissue is Keyboard Improvisations (Volume V). This album opens with Old Love Letters; one of my keyboard improvisations of which I’m most proud.
WORKING OUTSIDE THE MAINSTREAM
Recent interactions (or, in some instances, lack of interactions) on social media led me to reflect on the way I approach being a composer.
My rock instrumentals and my Silent Era film scores – and, indeed, the way I approach my career entirely – these all are pretty much outside the concert music mainstream.
To what do I refer by “mainstream,” in this instance?
In the concert music mainstream, composers tend to work on commission, composing music to be played on acoustic instruments by various ensembles or soloists. They submit works for composition contests, apply for grants and residencies, etc.
While I occasionally receive commissions, and occasionally work on collaborative projects, I generally do things on my own. Many if not most of my recent works could only be realized on/”performed” by a computer.
One of the primary reasons – probably THE primary reason – composers in the mid-late twentieth century turned to electronic (or mechanical) music was to enable their complex scores to be realized perfectly. Either the music was too difficult to perform, or, in the case of the player piano studies of Conlon Nancarrow, the music were humanly impossible to perform.
This enabled composers to, as I once heard it described, “cut out the middle man” (i.e., the performer). While my electronic music works are quite complex, it is not out of some fear of an imperfect performance that I compose these works. Rather, it’s a matter both of practicality and aesthetic preference. I enjoy the sheer pleasure of the timbres of electronic music. I’ve always loved the sound of analog synthesizers. I enjoy listening to 1980s popular music in part because I enjoy hearing how various producers approached recording and mixing analog synthesizers.
In many ways, my approach to my work is not too dissimilar from the way rock musicians approach their work. My focus tends to be on composing and recording my works, and then releasing albums of those works. The scores I do publish tend to be scores that – I hope – might have a broader appeal, to performers, etc.
However, this broader audience would likely find much of my compositional oeuvre to be unappealing, since the music is quite challenging, and by no means easy listening. For instance, Black Carpet.
I compose and record the type of music I enjoy listening to. I do it for me, first, (except, that is, when I’m composing or recording it for someone else). Along with my atypical compositional/creative interests (recording improvisation albums, albums of rock instrumentals, scores for Silent Era films, etc.), this attitude in and of itself puts me outside the mainstream of composers. My Type A, “I’ll do it on my own,” take-it-or-leave-it kind of attitude, combined with the fact that I don’t play the games of musical politics – this has resulted in my work appealing to a much smaller audience (albeit, a superior audience with superb musical taste). However, in some ways it has also resulted in a rather isolated professional environment.
The plus side of my approach is that I can be pretty sure that those who show interest my work actually like it, and aren’t merely posturing.
This attitude and approach is not confined to my work as a composer. For instance, at this point in my career, I earn my living primarily from working as an organist. More than one eyebrow has been raised when – knowing that, despite my being a liturgical organist – I record a rock track like Bad Girlz, from the Heartbreakers album.
I love what I do, and have no intention of changing my approach.
UPCOMING PROJECTS/PROJECT UPDATES/OTHER
I’m working on two major projects at this time.
The first is completing the music for the sixth volume of my collected electronic music works: Three Analog Dances, Night Shift, & Other Works.
I recently published on YouTube a video for the album’s opening track: an upbeat pop-like piece entitled Fire.
Regarding the other major project – I can’t say much about it now, except to say that it’s a large-scale, electronic music project.
If you appreciate my music, I hope you will consider supporting it. There are various ways you can do this, including giving a donation via PayPal, purchasing one of my albums on Bandcamp, and/or following me Facebook or Twitter. Please be sure to subscribe to my newsletter in the box below, to stay up-to-date with my work.
Your interest in and support of my work are greatly appreciated.
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