Vagrant Contemplation

November 5th, 2011

This sample is taken from my album, Prelude. Click here for more information.

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Instrumentation: Unaccompanied Alto Saxophone

Duration: 5:00

Performance notes: This piece doesn’t have anything extraordinarily challenging and very much sticks to the saxophone’s traditional capabilities. Except for a few very soft notes in the lower range of the instrument, there is very little that an advanced high school level performer shouldn’t be able to do after a bit of practice. There are a few technical passages that can be considered difficult, but as a last resort the performer can easily change the tempo to make the piece easier to play. I would highly recommend this to students who are attempting to broaden their dynamic range and learning to play out of time.

Interpretation: The mind itself is one of my favorite topics of discussion in philosophy, theology, and science. Here I have attempted to capture the occurrence of a mind having a dark thought that is never resolved, but keeps feeding off of itself until the mind simply accepts its depressed state. In my thinking, this occurs when a person is distressed but refuses to let the source go. This work is what results when a person refuses to let God handle problems that are out of their control. Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Violin and Clarinet Duet – Proclamation

November 13th, 2010

I’ve learned to never force music into the box I originally intended it to be put into, but this violin and clarinet duet took that concept to a new level for me. My original plan was to write a sacred work for violin and saxophone for my friend and I to play during communion services. Typically, communion has two musical segments; one for each communion element. So, I wanted the work to be two movements with each being less than two minutes long. The first movement came together very naturally and very quickly, but then life happened and I never got around to writing the second movement. When I finally got a chance to work on it again, I realized that there was no good musical reason to add a second movement. I also realized that the only reason I was using the saxophone was because I sound my best on it. Clarinet blends with violin much more naturally (although I attribute this partly to traditional bias) and the very simple part I had written for it makes more sense with a simpler sound. I rewrote the piece for violin and clarinet thinking I would just have my wife play it instead (although I ended up recording it since we weren’t married yet and she was 650 miles away at the time). So I started with a two movement work for violin and saxophone to be used for communion and ended up with a one movement work for violin and clarinet to be used for who knows what.

Download score (pdf) – $2.99
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Download both (pdf/mp3) – $3.49
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The recording process was another matter. I had most of the Purpose project squared away with only this piece left to record. I got off my night shift at 6:00am on Sunday morning and set to work on laying down the clarinet track so that Eva could come and add her part that afternoon. I armed the four microphones I was using and combined several takes to form a satisfactory performance. Before I remembered that I hadn’t saved my progress, the power went out and I was forced to try again and ended up with a significantly better sound (and I still made it to church on time). That afternoon I got all the takes I needed from Eva and finally went to bed (I’d been up since Saturday afternoon). On Monday I woke up only to discover that all of the files for the violin’s tracks had been scattered beyond repair. I was only able to salvage the files from one microphone resulting in a very thin sound. But just for kicks, I tried muting 3 of the four clarinet recordings so that they would both sound thin and be able to blend. To my surprise I liked the result very much. It certainly wasn’t the pristine audio quality I wanted for the Purpose project, but there was an irresistible authenticity in the sound that spoke with an innocence and a sincerity that I could not have possibly come up with intentionally. Instead of redoing the recording, I decided to sit on the idea of using what I had. When I tried listening to the CD in its entirety to see whether or not the transitions worked, I finally decided that this authentic and unrefined sound perfectly captured the reason I made the CD.

From the very first note, everything about this CD is polished and seemingly flawless in the aspects of performance, composition and engineering. Except for a few minor details, I could not have made this project any better even if more resources had been available to me. The first six tracks work together to communicate to the listener that life has value, meaning, and purpose and it is a wonderful gift from God that is worth your time to seek and understand. But what does all this look like? Where does it lead? It leads us to the feet of Jesus with nothing to offer but our love and authentic awe and worship. How would I depict this musically? I pick up an instrument I can’t play well enough to impress anyone with and play Amazing Grace with a sister in Christ Jesus. No virtuosic technique. No polished well-mastered recording. Not even a terribly original composition. Just two people showing authentic and sincere adoration for their creator through sound. A simple “I love you” to the creator of the universe. The very essence of the purpose of life.

Determining Quality by the Level of Intention

May 5th, 2009

A person’s definition of good is largely based on past experience and knowledge. Therefore our minds tend to prefer art that is familiar to them. If the music is not familiar in any way, then it will not be perceived as music because our minds will not recognize it due to a lack of exposure to that category of sound. So our evaluation of music is determined by the amount of familiarity that we have with the sound. However, there is another device with which we should evaluate the art we perceive. This component is sadly not used by many people, but is the only universal gage that we have to decide what is worthwhile for us to take into our minds.

The amount of intention in art should be our primary method of evaluation. Without intention there is no art, but only the seemingly random pallet of sounds that was originally provided for the artist to create with. Music is a particularly intriguing form of art when taking the amount of intention into consideration, because it is impossible to intend every aspect of the sound that is being planned in the case of the composer, or created in the case of the performer. An element of chance is always going to be present and complete control over a performance is unfeasible. But despite this, in order for music to be of quality an acceptable level of intention must be attained.

In polyphonic music chance is particularly frustrating for a composer because no matter how much intention is used to craft the work, the end result depends upon the performance. It is also frustrating for the performer because the result depends on the tools at his disposal (this includes his skill and intellect). So it is the composer’s duty to make sure that his compositions are well within the realm of possibility and that the potential intention is maximized. It is the performer’s duty to make the plan for the work be brought fourth into reality and then also to polish the details of the sound that cannot be fully planned by the composer (timbre, specific placement of sonic events, etc). Therefore the quality of this music is dependent upon the combined amount of intention from both the composer and the performer.

In the case of electronic music, the performer is for all practical purposes eliminated and replaced by a computer. Since computers are not capable of intention outside of what they were programed to do, every aspect of planning the performance is left up to the composer. So not only does the composer have to make decisions on aesthetic, what pitches happen when, orchestration, volume, etc., but he must also determine the specifics that are usually up to the performer. This is a potential explanation for why so much electronic music is not well done. It takes a highly trained musician to draw the plans for a performance, program synthesizers that create a highly intentional timbre, and place every event with purpose. Massive amounts of thought from primarily one person is needed to bring electronic music to an acceptable level of intention. Creators of electronic music must also take into account that the performance is to be produced with a speaker system, and the sound must be planned well enough to be intentional while being played by a speaker system that is not designed to have much potential.

Recorded music lies somewhere in between a live performance and electronic music. While it was performed in real time by a performer, it has been transcribed for a computer or an analog device to be read and reproduced. What results is an electronic representation of what actually existed. The amount of intention in the recording does not only reflect the amount of intention from the performer and the composer, but also the sound engineer, the quality of the recording equipment, and the quality of the sound system reproducing the performance. Because of all of the people involved in making this music, I find that this method may have the most potential.

Recording introduces a whole new element to sound organization because it is now possible to choose which sounds are used and then replace sounds that have unacceptable levels of intention. This is why recording is completely different from performing: The performer now has the ability to show the audience what is theoretically possible rather than simply showing a random example of what he or she is capable of. Some performers believe that altering a recording is dishonest, but this stance completely defeats the purpose of recording. Our goal is to make a sound with as much intention as possible, and this cannot be done in real time. If a recording is to be made, the result should be as good as possible; to not alter a recording is to withhold from your audience the best sound available. If more intention is possible, it should be applied.

Bear with me as we ponder the exception to our rule intention creating quality. Unintentional events can be artistic, but the amount of randomness must be intentional. For example, a high quality synthesizer will give the programmer the option of randomness. As a programmer, I find this feature to give the timbre an organic nature causing it to be far more pleasing to most ears. Random as that part of the sound may be, it is still intentional. But a degree of randomness adds beauty to a sound, which gives us the ability of say that a sound does not have to be fully intentional to be perfect. On the contrary, a fully intentional sound is bland and unchallenging because it is so predictable. A degree of unpredictability is part of what makes music so beautiful.

We must take these ideas into account as we choose the music we pay for and listen to. If most of the sound we are recognizing as art needs little to no preparation to create, then we have to ask ourselves why it interests us. I think we will find that we listen to some music simply because is does not ask us to interact with it due to the fact that so little is generally being done. Simple music has its place, but to listen to it constantly weakens your mind. Listen to music with massive amounts of intention in the sound. Don’t settle for any less simply because that is what you enjoy listening to. Challenge yourself to understand greater art. When your mind grows weary then listen to simple music, but don’t linger for long.


April 16th, 2009

Click here for more information about the saxophone concerto, Transition.

Duration: 49:34

Prelude is the project I have constructed to begin promoting myself as a composer. A previous version was sent to graduate schools as part of my portfolio, but has since been improved in significant ways. The main improvement (besides the sound quality being better over all) is that I have recorded the saxophone part for Transition, capturing the emotion and passion of the piece much more effectively than a synthesizer ever could. However, I should be sure to mention that the recording is very much a studio production, in that there is no possible way that I could perform the concerto in real life to that level of expertise. I have no shame in admitting this since I am not a performer and don’t plan to be.

This project includes what I consider to be my strongest compositions upon graduating from Cornerstone University. It is entitled Prelude since all of the work is not the work of a professional, but a student attempting to become a professional. It is the work that I did to prepare for the future projects that I intend to complete as my career unfolds. This of course not to downplay the quality of the production or to lower your expectations, but to make it clear that this represents where I am coming from and not necessarily where I am going.

Track listing:

1.Tear of Ambiguity———-piano-synthetic realization—6:34

2.The Dark Process———-full orchestra-synthetic realization—17:48

3.Vagrant Contemplation—alto saxophone-performed by Caleb Hugo—4:40

4.Transition——————alto saxophone and wind band-performed by Caleb Hugo and synthesizers—20:23

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