11-06-09: Chromatic Catastrophe & Dude

11-06-09: Chromatic Catastrophe & Dude

The title is a play on Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, a sublime piece that you should go listen to right now rather than listening to this nonsense… Although, now that I’ve listened to this again, it does kind of have it’s charms, even if it starts rather tentatively.

In fact, many of these start tentatively, and for a very good reason: I don’t know where the hell they’re going, or even if I’m going to complete them, when I start. That feeling of insecurity, I’ve come to accept, is an unavoidable part of the struggle to create compelling and lasting improvisations. The only way you can know exactly where you are going with a piece of music is to have written it already—and then of course it wouldn’t be an improvisation.

But that insecurity can also be the basis for the unique creative power of free improvisation: it practically forces you into making quick and sometimes difficult decisions that have the effect of leading you down paths you would normally not venture if you had time to consider the decision, as would be the case with composition.

Once you push through the initial feeling of insecurity, assuming you are still in the game,  a kind of momentum takes over and it becomes a real piece of music instead of mere wishful thinking. But then, once it becomes a real piece of music another problem rears it’s ugly head: what if you screw up a really nice piece of real music? Well, the fact is, you often do screw it up—this is improvising after all—but those mistakes, if you are patient, force you into making even more creative decisions. And so the process continues…Insecurity can be a powerful artistic tool.

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By the way, I’m not all that fond of the chromatic scale—I don’t like the cramped feeling it produces in my hands (it feels somewhat like typing on a small laptop…on an airplane), and find music that relies on it excessively  to suffer from a kind symmetrical dullness, or, as in the case of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee,  a rather hackneyed  representation of nature in all of it’s glorious redundancy.  (It, along with the diminished 7th chord—yet another example of symmetrical artifice—is also useful for portraying thunderstorms: see 4th movement of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony.)

On the other hand, I do have a weakness for deeply unsettling chromatic harmony of almost any kind—classical, jazz, pop. You name it, I love it. It always gets the longing romantic in me. As long as nobody is singing, I even love the rich chromaticism of Wagner’s operas (love the overtures—everything else about the man and his music give me a headache.) But this particular piece relies more on the chromatic scale than chromatic harmony, which makes me wonder—what was I thinking? Perhaps it’s the masochist in me, but I’m occasionally inclined to experiment with things I don’t like, just to see if I really don’t like them—maybe I just had a bad experience with the chromatic scale as a kid and I need to get over it by embracing it anew.

 

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