Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Oil and Water Mix

Click here to listen to Oil and Water Mix right now and avoid all the tedious reading.

Earlier this year I heard a radio broadcast of Francis Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos, although the announcer called it Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand. The Poulenc had been a favorite of mine in college days. I hadn't listened to it in a very long time. I enjoyed hearing it again.

Soon afterwards, inspired by the Poulenc, I decided to compose some simple, melodic music filled with lots of tonics and dominants. I wrote one little passage, then another and another, not bothering much with any sense of structure. I called the piece "Not Dissonant and Not Complex". Catchy, huh?

When "Not Dissonant and Not Complex" reached about four minutes I was forced to confront the fact that it wasn't very interesting. I hatched a new plan: I would interpolate bits of a completely different sort of music - random sounding notes - into what I had already written.

Thus the idea of "oil and water" was born: two radically different musical styles, each in turn ignoring the other, then cavorting with the other, then battling for supremacy. One type of music is "oil", the other is "water". You can decide which is which.

The word "mix" gets a lot of use in music. Mostly it refers to the result of audio manipulation of some already recorded tracks. I'm using the word "mix" in more of an active, verbal sense. Think of the sentence "Listen to me make oil and water mix."

The entire piece, both oil and water, is carefully composed. Certain sections sound random because I tried hard to make them that way. I adjusted each pitch, rhythm and dynamic to produce maximum variety. No Cageian chance methods were employed while composing Oil and Water Mix. None were needed.

It has already been remarked several times by people who have heard Oil and Water Mix that it seems to wander aimlessly, pointlessly. I do understand this reaction. But in fact the piece is divided into sections and certain melodies are repeated several times.

If you think that following this "formal structure" might be helpful as you listen I have added an analysis of Oil and Water Mix. You can find this on the playback page. Just click here and then scroll down a bit.

It's hardly a rigorous analysis, completely unworthy of a doctoral student in musicology. I had different choices about how to name things - for example - Section Two might actually be just a coda to Section One and Section Three might merely be a slow prelude to Section Four. You might want to listen for the short silence at 5'22" between sections two and three.

Mixed Meters' Three Readers may remember long ago, when I started posting my own short pieces, I lumped them together into a category called Thirty Second Spots. Later I started writing longer pieces for which I invented a new category, Three Minute Climaxes. Eventually I needed a third name for even longer pieces. I called these Ten Minute Breaks. (Think of the word "break" in the sense of a "coffee break".) The actual lengths vary above and below the stated time limits; please don't let that bother you.

Oil and Water Mix, at eleven minutes and six seconds, qualifies as a Ten Minute Break.

I now have composed five Ten Minute Breaks: They are
  • Thinking With Other People's Words (click here to listen, click here to read the related post)
  • Eating the Desiccant (never posted online because I like it too much)
  • Poof You're A Pimp (click here to listen, click here to read the post)
  • Formal Introduction (this one has been "nearly" finished for almost a year)
  • Oil and Water Mix (click here to listen, you are already reading the related post.)

Of course it should go without saying that I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a doctoral student in musicology.

Oil and Water Tags: . . . . . . . . .

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