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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


Process Compositional


by Jacques Bailhé



I send the score off to the publisher. Looks really beautiful. Fancy engraving looking stuff on the cover page and everything -- just like Beethoven. The publisher e-mails back a few weeks later saying that there are remarkable things in the piece and something about my great knowledge, but then explains that the piece is unpublishable in current form because of something to do with my "compositional process."

Eee Gad! Methinks amid splashing waves of embarrassment. What in blinking tarnation is a "compositional process?" I never heard of a "compositional process." Maybe I better get one of these things. I check my equipment catalogues, but not one of them sells anything like a "compositional process." Processors they got, but no process. So I think, "Aha! Maybe itís like a Zen thing. A thing you canít get, but you can have." I wonder if maybe Iíve already got one. Maybe itís just not plugged in. When I write, I sit at the keyboard and hit the keys. If it sounds good, I write it down. Then I go back to make it better -- brilliant even -- and inevitably make a horrid, inscrutable mess. Canít remember why I ever thought these plinks and diddles and screeching would ever make a piece of music. Itís late at night, yet again, so I keep tinkering. Kids are asleep, wife gave up on me long ago, so they donít mind. I scribble and hum to myself, and try to remember important clues to the mystery of music I stored away while reading Rameau, Piston, Berlioz, and other wizards. I guess I donít read accurately cause when I do what I remember they said it sounds absolutely awful. "Place the sixth tone over the ninth and balance two horns in F with obligations of contrabass." Something like that, but it never works, and they never tell me how to get this fizz sound Iím after. Eventually, the piece begins to sound something like music again.

Some pieces actually do survive my improvements and turn into what sounds like music to me. Others, well, they get lost on my hard disk under some file name as inscrutable as the score. But the ones that survive I listen to. I even play them for my friends who sometimes say things like, "uhhh, that partís kinda boring." And sometimes I agree and fiddle around for a while more until it seems more interesting. But I never lay out a grand scheme of key relationships and modes like I read about in my books. They either happen or they donít. Most of the time, I have no idea what key Iím in.

So do I or do I not have a compositional process? And if I do, whatís wrong with it? I look at Beethovenís notebooks and Bachís manuscripts and take comfort in all the scribbles. Looks like they sometimes had as much difficulty making something that sounded like music as I do. That gives me confidence, but I still have no idea what to make of compositional process, or processed composition, or whatever that publisher was trying to tell me.

Any help would be sincerely appreciated.