Archive for the ‘Guided Improvisation’ Category

Fantasy in D

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

A fantasy is a musical composition with a free form and often an improvisatory style. Early in the 16th-century fantasias consisted of short sections based on one or more musical motives. “Fantasy in D” makes use of improvisation by the orchestra. Performers receive collections of notes or instructions and are told to improvise using them for certain period of time.

Fantasy in D

Pages from the score

Not all sections are improvised; some sections are a mix of fully notated and improvisation.  There are a couple of repeating motives, but the most prominent would be the repeated 3 notes which are heard at the climax. There are 2 top level sections, the climax of the piece is the start of the second section. The second section is the inverse of the first (b+a instead of a+b).

Score Draft Notes

Score Draft laying out the Golden Ratio

Then each of these top two sections are broken down until there are 64 total sections.  The sections break into various levels (2-4-8-16-32), then depending on the level they trigger different events, texture or chord changes, instruments used, etc. How long each section last is based on the “Golden ratio“, φ (phi) or 1.6180339887498948482… The”Golden ratio” appears in some patterns in nature, including the spiral arrangement of leaves and other plant parts. The tonal center of the piece is in D, though it is more modal then in the key of D. It travels though D, A, B, G, A, B, G, D, sometimes using major modes but mostly minor, so it is really in D…(ish).

SFCCO performs Fantasy in D


The over all feeling of the piece might be a bit somber or melancholy. Various life events, the passing of my father and my mother’s struggle with pancreatic cancer, during the writing of the work affected the mood of the piece. On May 21st, 2016, the SFCCO premièred this composition.

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Friday, May 23rd, 2014

SFCCO performs Triangles

Triangles is a composition inline with my composition Pollock which the SFCCO premiered 12 years ago. The present work uses guided improvisation and colorist techniques to create it’s sound.  The title of the work comes from the Triangular number sequence that inspired the form of the composition. There are three large sections lasting 4 minutes each. These large section have a fundamental pitch center of  ii-v-I, my jazz roots. These large sections are made up of three sections A (modal runs), B (intervalic movements) and C (chordal sustains). Each of these sections (A,B,C) are also made up of three sections each one lasting a value in the triangular number sequence (ex: 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45). One could also look at Triangles a quasi rondo form: A, B, C, B1, C1, A1, C2, A2, B2 (Rondo Form: A, B, A, C, A, B1, A). While three is the magic number for this composition, the numerics are just the glue for the work. With sound-washes of runs, thick Ruggle-esque chords, and intertwining spontaneous melodies — Triangles aims to paint pictures in the mind.


Open Ended (redux)

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Open Ended

Do to unforeseen circumstances the composition I planed on having performed on the November 7th 2009 SFCCO concert had to be canceled. So I decided to pull out one of my guide improvisation compositions, Open Ended. I conducted/composed this performance as well as played tenor saxophone. It is a very versatile work that is composed live before your eyes and ears. Based on Rova‘s Radar techniques, Open Ended is less of a composition and more of a color or tool palette. It is an ever-growing collection of rules and games for the performers that are triggered by hand signals by the conductor/composer. The conductor/composer then composes the piece live using these hand signals to guide the performers. This work has no set instrumentation and can be played by any number of performers. It also has no set length; the piece could last 5 minutes or 24 hours. Open Ended has been performed several times, including a performance four years ago by the SFCCO, but every time it is a world première and unique performance that can never be repeated.


String Theory

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

        String Theory, was premièred February 28th, 2009 by the SFCCO. String Theory is a guided improvisation composition that uses a graphical score which is inspired by the theoretical physics theory of the same name. String Theory is the revolutionary and shocking branch of theoretical physics that combines quantum mechanics and general relativity into a quantum theory of gravity. According to string theory, absolutely everything in the universe—all of the particles that make up matter and forces—is comprised of tiny vibrating fundamental strings. The Strings of string theory are one-dimensional oscillating lines, but they are no longer considered fundamental to the theory, which can be formulated in terms of points or surfaces too. In this composition, I have used graphical notation representing strings, points and surfaces to guide the orchestra in improvisation. Since String Theory may prove Einstein’s unified field theory at the very end of the composition the orchestra unites. If String Theory proves to be true it creates an elegant universe composed entirely of the music of strings.
         One of the exciting things about using guide improvisation as a compositional technic is the fact that music is different during each performance but over all recognizable as the same composition. To help demonstrate this I have a recording of the dress rehearsal of String Theory for a comparison to the concert performance.


Sun & Moon

Saturday, March 8th, 2008
Score of the Sun movement

Score of the Sun movement

        March 8th 2008 the SFCCO performed one of my circle music compositions; Sun & Moon ( Low / High). The Sun & Moon have been center of mythology since the dawn of time. They represent the balance of man and woman, light and dark, the cycle of life. This musical representation of Sun & Moon consists of two sections, Sun starts from left and moves to the right then moon start from the right and move to the left. These sections are in a form known as circle music. Essentially, circle music uses phrases that can be played at any time and in any order. I first learn about circle music form from Dr. Cindy McTee who wrote a circle music piece for my bassoon teacher.


Open Ended

Friday, December 2nd, 2005

I had one of my guide improvisation compositions performed by the SFCCOOpen Ended is a very versatile work that is composed before your eyes. This work has no set instrumentation and can be played by any number of performers. It also has no set length; the piece could last 5 minutes or 24 hours. Based on Rova‘s Radar techniques, Open Ended is less of a composition and more of a color or tool palette. It is an ever-growing collection of rules and games for the performers that are triggered by hand signals by the conductor/composer. The conductor/composer then composes the piece live using these hand signals to guide the performers. Open Ended has been performed several times but every time it is a world première and unique performance that can never be repeated.


Concerto for Musician

Sunday, May 9th, 2004

         I finished writing a new guided improvisation orchestra piece called Concerto for Musician. Concerto for Musician, what does that mean? Unlike traditional concerto, which are usually for a particular instrument, Concerto for Musician is for a multi-instrumentalist. The first movement is for a soprano instrument, then second movement is for an alto instrument and the last movement is for a bass instrument. At the world premiere the “musician” was me, the composer. I played the first movement on flute, then second movement on alto saxophone and the third moment on bassoon.

        Each movement has a feeling or sound, which is reflected in the movement’s title. The first movement is entitled: Cosmological. This movement has a vast sound with flares of energy and twinkling. The first movement tapers in to the second movement, which is entitled: Mechanical. This movement has a fast pulse and sounds like many mechanisms working at once. Aqualogical is the title of the third movement, which has an organic and liquid sound. One can hear the depths and breadth of the ocean in this movement.
        Concerto for Musician uses an unusual compositional technique: guided improvisation. As apposed to free improvisation where everyone does what ever they hear or see fit during the music, guided improvisation uses some rules to limited the sounds and directions so the composer can get the sound and feeling he is after. Standard Jazz music could be considered guide improvisation, but the “rules” in Concerto for Musician are different then the rules of Jazz music. Some of the techniques used in this work are based on Larry Ochs’ “Radar” techniques. The soloist follows some rules as well, but is basically aloud to do want he/she wants. The soloist is encourage to use extend techniques like multi-phonics (playing more then one note at a time) and sounds on the instruments that are appropriate to the movement. The SFCCO premiered this piece (Program Notes) on May 9th, this performance would not be possible if it was not for the Subito grant I was awarded from the American Composers Forum.



Friday, October 4th, 2002

       I currently stopped working on an opera because my style is changing. Improvisation has become important to my classical work as it is to my jazz work. I’ll beginning to blur my jazz and classical music. I have a new CD out called “Statements” that is the beginnings of the merger. I have also been performing with other classical improv music in the S.F. bay area, and studying with Larry Ochs to learn ways of developing my ideas. I was writing an orchestra piece for the SFCCO called “Channels” which is to be a concerto for chamber orchestra in a collage style. I’m was writing four movements each one in a different style and featuring a different section of the orchestra, then I’m planning to cut it up and mix them together. This piece became very large and complicated so I put it on hold but completed another one instead for the SFCCO. This work is called Pollock after Jackson Pollock the painter. It uses improvisation to create a sound style that match Pollock’s painting style. It is supposed to sound like him painting in that unique style of his. Pollock (Program Notes) was premiered on Oct. 4, 2002.