One of the sometimes-frustrating parts of being a random foreign composer in another country may turn out to be one of the best reasons I am here.
In the last four months, I haven't been able to actually make working with many people materialize. It's not like I haven't met anybody. I've met three symphony players, three composers, the program director of the symphony, a drummer, a pop violinist, several fine artists, and a lot of community choir singers. I'm impressed with that! But making plans with any of those people and actually making a recording has been much more difficult than I anticipated. Optimistically, my 2011 plan is to not worry 'bout that crap anymore, and just see what happens naturally.
Much to my surprise, I seem to manage to be making some interesting things on my own, and with the people I do know who step forward to help. I started in September making some simple piano works, and then used recorded sounds around the country to make some sound-collages. Before I knew it, I had some interesting new pieces with spoken texts in different languages, whale noises, pianos, organs, and nature sounds! (If you can see the music clip below, click the link to my blog or website, where you should be able to hear them there.)
I think the only other electronically-manipulated works I'd ever done were two exercises in college. Being in Iceland gives me a change to experiment with sounds in my own way, and to take time to explore what I think might be interesting about them. I didn't expect to have such little contact with sheet music when writing these works! But the process still involves a lot of decision-making about combining sounds, timing, dynamics, form, textures- so many of the decisions I normally make in chamber music. Here's a sample of a sound-collage I like to call a Quick Tour of Iceland. Sounds from around the country in four minutes or less.
One project I am loving more and more is an ongoing collaboration with Pittsburgh writer Mark Mangini. He sends me texts that are inspired by music that I write, and I send him back music based on his latest texts. It's correspondence-based, but so far doesn't use the old-fashioned Postal Service/Pósturinn. This is a clip of a current work.
I've written a couple choral pieces, and they are in Icelandic! This also gives me a chance to try and set texts in another language, which I think I've only done once in high school (that was a long time ago). There are a lot of differences to think about! Syllable-setting, stress of certain words, which word to accentuate, &c. I'm hoping something gets sung here, but I could probably take them back to the States and do something with them as well. 'Cept I'd probably have to create an Iceland-pronunciation guide to accompany the sheet music.
I also wrote a piece for Irish artist Rhona Byrne, for a project called 'Friday Morning Balcony'. My piece will be released in a limited-edition audio-book/box in which different artists' sound pieces can be played from different sides of the box.
Not so bad for having one sort-of-broken laptop, one portable microphone, and basic ProTools. The quality of the sound in all the works might be varied, but such is the nature of working for five minutes in a graveyard here, ten minutes in a church there, maybe even a minute in a cave over yonder. I'm hoping that some mixing and mastering genius will be able to take care of smoothing out the various room sounds.
I'm about at the halfway point now, and though things are very different musically than what I thought they'd be, I'm looking forward to continuing!
I'm planning on releasing an album of the works with Mark Mangini in late summer, possibly including other Iceland works as well- do look ahead for that!