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Adam Scott Neal
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born in: Atlanta, GA
lives in: New York City
Adam Scott Neal (b. 1981) is a composer, originally from Atlanta and now based in New York. He spent a year in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he worked at the Sonic Arts Research Centre (Queen's University Belfast) and earned his MA... [more]

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Tadej Kenig Banchory, Scotland, United Kingdom
11 Nov - 11 Nov
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Behind the 8-Ball: An Improvisation Game

Behind the 8-Ball: an improvisation game for any number of instruments (or actors, dancers, etc.) Special Equipment
1 Magic 8-Ball by Tyco Toys, Inc.
20 signs, labeled with an 8-Ball phrase (Color-coding may be helpful - I use blue for YES, red for NO, and black for MAYBE).
YES signs:
As I see it, yes. It is certain. It is decidedly so. Most likely. Outlook good. Signs point to yes. Without a doubt. Yes. Yes – definitely. You may rely on it. NO signs: Don't count on it. My reply is no. My sources say no. Outlook not so good. Very doubtful. MAYBE signs: Ask again later. Better not tell you now. Cannot predict now. Concentrate and ask again. Reply hazy, try again. Directions
The prompter will give a signal of their own devising to the performers to commence the piece. The performers will improvise while the prompter reads the Magic 8-Ball (approximately 15-30 seconds).
The prompter will hold a sign corresponding to the reading of the Magic 8-Ball. Depending on the sign, the performers will either continue improvising on their present material, or change:
-For a YES sign, the performers will continue just as they have been.
-For a NO sign, the performers will change their improvisations drastically.
-For a MAYBE sign, the performers will slightly alter their improvisations (in such ways as dynamic change, timbre change, or register change – melodic and rhythmic material should remain similar).
The performers will follow the instruction while the prompter makes another reading. When the prompter holds up the next sign, the performers will follow accordingly.
The piece ends when the prompter has held up 3 “YES” signs in a row. The prompter should hold up the sign, wait for an appropriate moment, and cut off the ensemble.
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In this series titled "Composer Dilemmas," I would like to relfect on issues in the process of composition. How deterministic will this piece be, performance-wise? Once 'finished,' does it remain so? How will the scale of the composition, or the forces for which it calls, affect the final experience? These issues, though less discussed in music courses, are much more fundamental than questions such as "should I write a tonal or atonal piece?"


Duration



Duration is a very important consideration in the time-based arts of music, dance, theater, and film. Although the pacing of a work can affect the perceived length, the pure duration still imbues the piece with some meaning. Wagner's operas would not have the same weight if they were reduced to one hour, and songs by the Sex Pistols would not have the same immediacy if they became 10-minute prog-rock epics. This aspect of music has always intrigued me - even when I was growing up I would always look at the back of the album to see the length of the song. I guess I wanted to know what I was in for - 0:53 of Wild Honey Pie or 8:22 of Revolution 9...


Composers of concert music have practicalities to consider, and these practicalities have evolved into somewhat standard durations for pieces. If commissioned to write an orchestral work, this is almost always an 8-10 minute concert opener. Festivals of contemporary music often state that they will not program works over 15 or 20 minutes. At the same time, shorter works (say 3-4 minutes) are often considered 'not substantial enough.' In acoustic music, this makes a little sense - why assemble a chamber orchestra for one 2-minute piece when you could make it worth the players' time by programming one or two longer pieces? So in many ways the standard length for concert works has become 10 minutes.


A generation (or two) ago, the standard was 20 minutes. Morton Feldman once wrote:


My whole generation was hung up on the 20 to 25 minute piece. It was our clock. We all got to know it, and how to handle it. As soon as you leave the 20-25 minute piece behind, in a one-movement work, different problems arise. Up to one hour you think about form, but after an hour and a half it's scale. Form is easy - just the division of things into parts. But scale is another matter. You have to have control of the piece - it requires a heightened kind of concentration. Before, my pieces were like objects; now, they're like evolving things. (LINK)


Feldman went on to write long pieces, sometimes lasting several hours. It is difficult for composers to mount performances of that length, but obviously it can happen on occasion. Sometimes Feldman's works, or Satie's Vexations, are performed almost for the sheer novelty of a multi-hour performance. They do require a different mindset for the audience, but it is surely helpful to know that the piece will be several hours, rather than walking into a concert with no clue whether these pieces will be about 5 minutes each, or 25 minutes each. Perhaps concert programs should start printing the approximate length of the works presented.

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Every now and then, I take a Myers-Briggs personality quiz. Although many people probably don't like the idea of being "typed," I find it liberating to know that there are other people who function the way I function. For those unfamiliar with the theory, the Myers-Briggs types are a group of 16 labels for personality, based on certain functional preferences. Derived from Carl Jung's book Psychological Types, the labels include the following dichotomies: Extroversion/Introversion, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, and Judging/Perceiving.


David Keirsey later grouped these labels into temperament groups, one of which are the Artisans. The artisans include the Composer (ISFP), the Crafter (ISTP), the Performer (ESFP) and the Promoter (ESTP). 


It would seem that artists would generally fall into these categories, but it is not always the case. According to online quizzes and sources (none of which should not be considered definitive), I generally come up as either an INFJ (Counselor) or an INTJ (Mastermind) - usually more to the INFJ side.



  • I – Introversion preferred to Extraversion: INFJs tend to be quiet and reserved. They generally prefer interacting with a few close friends rather than a wide circle of acquaintances, and they expend energy in social situations (whereas extraverts gain energy).

  • N – Intuition preferred to Sensing: INFJs tend to be more abstract than concrete. They focus on the big picture rather than the details, and on future possibilities rather than immediate realities.

  • F – Feeling preferred to Thinking: INFJs tend to value personal considerations above objective criteria. When making decisions, they often give more weight to social implications than to logic.

  • J – Judgment preferred to Perception: INFJs tend to plan their activities and make decisions early. They derive a sense of control through predictability.


Not only do these functions manifest in the way I deal with life (for better or for worse), they also appear in how I create. I definitely focus on the big picture (N), and carefully plan out the piece (J). Despite the abstract nature of how I work, I often make final decisions on personal, aesthetic ideas (F). The introversion seems fairly obvious in that I am a composer, deriving more joy from the private creation of music than the social enjoyment of music-making. However, the opposite modes occur at times (I actually do like making music with people, just enjoy composing by myself more), as I am sure they do for most people.


I would love to read your comments about your 'type' and how it affects the way you work as an artist. If you don't know your type, take a few of these quizzes to see:


Human Metrics


Personality Type


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Artists

Luciano Berio

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Classical Music
20th Century Music
Contemporary

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Recycling
Dilemma

In this series titled "Composer Dilemmas," I would like to relfect on issues in the process of composition. How deterministic will this piece be, performance-wise? Once 'finished,' does it remain so? How will the scale of the composition, or the forces for which it calls, affect the final experience? These issues, though less discussed in music courses, are much more fundamental than questions such as "should I write a tonal or atonal piece?"


Recycling old pieces


In my recent posts on Composer Dilemmas, I reflected on the ideas of revision, withdrawing works from one's catalog, and creating different versions of pieces. Closely related to the last is the idea of recycling old pieces. If simple to moderate revision is not enough, if the piece warrants placement in the circular file except for a few sections, perhaps recyling is a viable option.


In earlier centuries, composers often recycled their own works - movements from one suite would show up in another, an opera may feature an aria from another opera, etc. As composers had their pieces performed in different places, they would learn what parts 'worked,' and adapt them to the tastes of new audiences.


Over time, the Western classical music field has become very much a 'tradition,' where works are inviotable, set in stone. But it is very possible that many composers would not mind if someone chose to play the opening and finale of a string quartet with the slow movement and minuet-trio from two other string quartets, so long as they worked together (were in the same or related keys, for example). Of course many would object, rightfully so if similar material (thematic or emotional) were explored within a piece.


Why not mix and match? Why not reexamine ideas from a previous work?


As mentioned in my previous post, there is a great overview of Roger Reynolds's Transfigured Wind series on the Library of Congress site. Reynolds composed a piece for solo flute in 1965 named Ambages, and this solo provides much of the source material for the Transfigured Wind series, which consists of several related versions - flute solo with or without orchestra, tape, and chamber orchestra.


Similarly, Luciano Berio composed a series of solo pieces called the Sequenzas. He used several of these as starting points for his Chemins series - works for soloist and ensemble. Listen to these videos below. The first is a viola solo (Sequenza VI), the second is a work for viola and ensemble (Chemins II), and the third is for viola and orchestra (Chemins III). There is also a Chemins IIb for orchestra only, but I can't find a recording of it.


Berio and Reynolds are interesting for comparison, since recordings exist of the work from which the following works are derived. Of course, there are many more examples, known and unknown, of works by composers which are based in part on previous works. I often find myself thinking of new ways in which I can recycle my previous, discarded works. Possibly years from now I will be recycling the works that I am currently writing.


Since the romantic era, there has been an assumption that artists should be original, and that each artwork should also be original (moreso in music - visual arts seem to encourage the exploration of a theme through a series of works). Besides being an impossibility, this is not a practical approach. Most composers today are lucky to receive more than one performance of a work, so what is to stop them from reworking the same material at a later date? Due to the worship of the "masters," composers expect to leave a legacy (some even apply Opus numbers to their own works!). Audience will be largely unaware of any recycling (deliberate or subconscious), and this would only be apparent on a retrospective concert, late in one's career when one has hopefully composed several substantial, and different, works.


So if you like that one flute passage, but the rest of the piece is terrible, no sense wasting it. That small stroke of genius may be the impetus for your first great piece.


 

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In this series titled "Composer Dilemmas," I would like to relfect on issues in the process of composition. How deterministic will this piece be, performance-wise? Once 'finished,' does it remain so? How will the scale of the composition, or the forces for which it calls, affect the final experience? These issues, though less discussed in music courses, are much more fundamental than questions such as "should I write a tonal or atonal piece?"


Different Contexts, Different Versions?


In my previous posts about Composer Dilemmas, I thought about the idea of revision, and whether old works benefit from revision or from being pulled from one's catalog. This time I would like to explore the idea of creating different versions of a work to suit different contexts. In particular, I would like to look at "versions" that can almost be considered separate works.


This may be an idiosyncratic interest, as I stole the idea from my teacher, Robert Scott Thompson.


On a few occasions, Robert has made different versions of his works. For example, the work Siren exists in three forms: a 'concert' version, an 'installation' version, and an 'ambient' version. The first is the shortest, at about 24 minutes. The second is of an indeterminate length, because it is created for several CD players to play tracks on shuffle, indefinitely. The third version, about an hour in length,  is a realization of the indeterminate version. Thus, there is one version to be played in a concert setting, another in a gallery setting, and a third for listening at home.


They are all based on the same material (computer manipulations of a singer), but they are very different in terms of structure, pace, etc. Could they be considered the same work (in the way that two performances of a composition are considered the same work)? Or are they different works entirely?


  Siren (Electroacoustic Music) on Last.fm


  Siren (Ambient) on Last.fm


Similarly, Robert has made some of his works for soloist and electroacoustic music available in performer-electronics and electronics-only versions. Listen to The Widening Gyre below and you will hear that the piece is effective in both versions. For practical reasons, it is wise for a composer to consider having two options; an electronics-only version is often easier to program.


  The Widening Gyre (with F. Gerard Errante, clarinet) on Last.fm


  The Widening Gyre (without clarinet) on Last.fm


 


Robert's teacher, Roger Reynolds, has a fascinating and detailed account of his Tranfigured Wind series, which features four works: Transfigured Wind I for solo flute; Transfigured Wind II for solo flute, orchestra, and computer sound; Transfigured Wind III for solo flute, chamber orchestra, and computer sound; and Transfigured Wind IV for solo flute and computer sound. I would like to look at this work a bit more in a later entry, on self-transcription and recycling.

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In this series titled "Composer Dilemmas," I would like to relfect on issues in the process of composition. How deterministic will this piece be, performance-wise? Once 'finished,' does it remain so? How will the scale of the composition, or the forces for which it calls, affect the final experience? These issues, though less discussed in music courses, are much more fundamental than questions such as "should I write a tonal or atonal piece?"


Withdrawing Works


In my last post, I mused on the act of revision. This idea also calls to mind the notion of withdrawing works from one's oeuvre. As any artist grows, they will recognize mistakes or better means to accomplish their creative goals. Previous pieces may not live up to their current standards. Does one revise or withdraw?


When I look back at my own catalog, I see potential in many of my pieces, so my personal preference is to revise. However, some pieces may be so naive and juvenile that it may be better to simply remove them from the catalog, pretending they never happened.


Commercially, pretending subpar pieces were never written would help me seem like a stronger composer. At the same time, it is fun to look back at pieces I wrote several years ago, to see how far I have come. I have withdrawn a few pieces, but I keep most 'around' (i.e. listed on my website) - there are elements of each that I like, and I want them to be available if someone likes and wishes to perform them. However, more than simply having them performed, I would want to work with the performers to, yes, revise and improve the pieces.


Withdrawing is a decision made by the artist, but sometimes a withdrawn piece can continue with a life on its own. Jennifer Higdon discusses here her own experience, as well as that of her teacher George Crumb, with the act of withdrawing pieces. An old flute choir piece which 'horrifies' her now is often xeroxed and has been recorded several times. Crumb had to buy back the rights of some early pieces from his publisher to take them off the market.


I wrote an electroacoustic piece based on the poem In Flanders Fields. It was the second electracoustic piece I ever wrote, but many of my friends and colleagues enjoyed it quite a lot. Somehow it came up that I was withdrawing the piece (I don't remember how - I suppose because someone asked me to submit it to a concert/contest). No one could understand! But I knew that I could do better - the piece is a very straightforward reading and text painting of the poem. Maybe I'll return to it someday, but probably not.


A potential problem, though, is that I placed it on a student composer CD. Copies exist, and it is possible (though unlikely in the extreme) that someday, someone will dust off one of those CDs and present the work in public. Perhaps someone will rip the CD to iTunes and it will become a highly-traded underground mp3. Right now it exists largely in the memory of those who heard it in about 4 or 5 concerts, but the fact that there are copies out there beyond my control means that the piece still has a potential life.


In today's digital age, where copies are the same quality as the original, can a piece truly be 'withdrawn?' If records exist about the piece (such as concert reviews), does that mean that the piece still exists in some way? Will a composer's reputation be hurt by the memory of a terrible piece, even if the composer admits that the piece is terrible?

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