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Complexity Vs. Simplicity
#3037450 10/19/20 03:40 PM
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In general.

For the last 16 years of my compositional life, I have composed tremendously difficult music. Music that demands months and months of preparation of the performers. Music that is intensely difficult to perform live.

I went through an experience. I have been long familiar with the work of the Second Viennese School. Ive performed some Schoenberg, and some Webern. But recently I was tasked with performing Berg's Seven Early Songs. While I love the work, and find it very beautiful and aesthetic, it's convolution led me to a discovery in my own work.

While not composing 'minimalist' works or 'Neo-minimalist' works, I have decided to spend the next chapter of my compositional life in writing easier music. Music which doesn't lose its depth or feeling, but in that same token is much more approachable to performers, much more compassionate to the demands we composers make on our performers.

My first 3 symphonies, and first 7 piano sonatas (as well as many cycles for solo piano) were intensely demanding on the performers. Now, thanks to Berg, I embark upon making music which is as spiritually rich and emotionally engaging, which less that half of the damn on performers. So... as a result, my 4th symphony and 8th piano sonata are very approachable, won't make you lose your mind learning, and will be much less stressful in performance. We have had hundreds of years of difficult music, some difficult just for the sake of being difficult. And in spite of the minimalist music (which I love), I believe in my own work... its time to move forward to a much simpler technical landscape.

Thoughts?

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Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3037530 10/19/20 07:18 PM
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Purely thoughts and a bit philosophical.

Quite some years ago, and while I was having major problems with an instrument I was learning, I took a walk in a park and came upon two people practising African drumming in front of a gazebo, and then more and more people came. One person said "We're about to have a lesson." and I said "I'm in a slump about the instrument I'm studying." I stayed to watch. The teacher seeing me asked "Who is that person?" and I was invited to sit in the gazebo, in the middle of these drum students. It was an amazing experience. To the point: There was a lesson on simplicity.

The students had had homework: to write a "solo". The solo went on top of a fixed rhythmic pattern, and each student took a turn performing his or her composed solo while the others drummed that pattern. When all had their turn, the teacher chose one of them as the best. "But sir! His was so simple, much less complicated than anyone else's!" The teacher stated that he had given the assignment for this reason - to teach a principle of simplicity. It was something like: simple is harder to write, and write well, than complicated.


I never forgot this.

Meanwhile I understand that simple music is harder to play well, because you can't hide behind a flurry of notes, and you can't impress merely on the fact of being complicated or fast.

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3037830 10/20/20 06:39 PM
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While I can't exactly condemn anyone for shooting for a minimalist vision or for trying to make something that is deliberately complex, I believe going for either is the wrong approach altogether to composing.

Simple can be good, and simple can be garbage, likewise with complex pieces. Writing a piece in 7/8 time for the sake of writing a piece in 7/8 time simply because it's rare is silly, because it's probably going to make your piece weaker due to constraints.

That said, writing something in 7/8 time to perhaps spur on some creativity isn't necessarily a bad idea.

Making music, I believe, is a spiritual exercise that should first and foremost be about emotional expression. That is why my YouTube channel is called "Systole." It should come from the heart, and convey who you are and what you're feeling. Trying to alter the substance of that into a deliberately simple or complex package is to ignore this most critical aspect of composing. That's writing with your brain, and while it might work out sometimes it's probably not going to usually end well.

Last edited by MilesAbbott; 10/20/20 06:42 PM.
Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3038239 10/22/20 08:54 AM
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What an interesting and thought provoking discussion! I have thoughts for each of the previous posters.

MinscAndBoo: At one time in my life I was also seduced by complexity. However, I was hindered by one important aspect, I didn't have prodigious technique on any instrument (well any instrument respected by classical professors, I played electric guitar and was just learning piano). I learned various twentieth century compositional techniques and practiced writing with them, but the music sucked. After college I realized nobody outside academia gave a rats ass about ugly modern music. Sadly, I had developed something of an ear for it, so I started trying to find the fine line between accessible emotional expression and intellectual challenge. I'm more comfortable now straddling that fence, partly because the twentyfirst century has seen the rest of the classical composition community come to accept that the audience is important and some composers have achieved success with audiences, particularly in the choral realm with composers such as Jake Runestad, Eric Whitacre and Morton Lauridsen. Frankly, I'd like to hear some of your music, are any recordings available online. You didn't even identify yourself, how do you expect to build an audience?

keystring: I loved your story. I remember being in a recording studio (as guitarist) and being tasked with improvising a simple solo, not because it was what I wanted, but because the producer wanted something simple for the record. So that's what I did. Basically, I was told nobody cares about your guitar playing, this song is about the singer. Okay, I gave them what they wanted. The cliche is that BB King could express more in just a few notes than the vast majority of guitarists playing many.

MilesAbbott: You've hit on an important point, with the wrong viewpoint. I once wrote a piece in 7/8 as an experiment in writing in 7/8. I still practice that piece because it's a good one. I agree that emotional expression is important, but there are other forms of expression. I've critiqued pieces posted here many times over the years and when I offer constructive criticism it's usually that the musical ideas are weak. One reason for weak musical ideas is that the composer didn't have a strong viewpoint or why! For me the most difficult aspect of composing is why bother, or what do I have to say? Composing is difficult, it's akin to sucking a golf ball through a hose and getting started is the most difficult part. It's only when I have a strong idea to express that I can overcome the tyranny of the blank page. A strong idea constrains choices and each decision along the way further constrains choices until writing the end of a piece is almost writing the inevitable because the choices are very much constrained at that point. Think of it this way, it's like the challenge of ordering a meal at the Cheesecake Factory. They are renown for lengthy menus with a plethora of choices. Life would be much simpler if they'd simply say, "Do you want a burger or fish?"

If you're here you probably write music. I'd love to hear your music. You can hear mine at the links in my sig.


Steve Chandler
composer/amateur pianist

stevechandler-music.com
http://www.soundcloud.com/pantonality
http://www.youtube.com/pantonality
Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
Steve Chandler #3038336 10/22/20 02:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
MilesAbbott: You've hit on an important point, with the wrong viewpoint. I once wrote a piece in 7/8 as an experiment in writing in 7/8. I still practice that piece because it's a good one. I agree that emotional expression is important, but there are other forms of expression. I've critiqued pieces posted here many times over the years and when I offer constructive criticism it's usually that the musical ideas are weak. One reason for weak musical ideas is that the composer didn't have a strong viewpoint or why! For me the most difficult aspect of composing is why bother, or what do I have to say? Composing is difficult, it's akin to sucking a golf ball through a hose and getting started is the most difficult part. It's only when I have a strong idea to express that I can overcome the tyranny of the blank page. A strong idea constrains choices and each decision along the way further constrains choices until writing the end of a piece is almost writing the inevitable because the choices are very much constrained at that point. Think of it this way, it's like the challenge of ordering a meal at the Cheesecake Factory. They are renown for lengthy menus with a plethora of choices. Life would be much simpler if they'd simply say, "Do you want a burger or fish?"

Steve, I think you perhaps missed the part in my original post where I mentioned that writing in 7/8 time (as just one example) in order to spur on some creativity is perfectly okay.

Personally, I don't generally strive to write one way or the other. It seems that whatever I write tends to reflect some emotion I'm feeling or idea I'm contemplating, and if it's complex then so be it, likewise if it's simple.

The essence of what I'm saying is that you shouldn't be writing complex things to impress other people with complexity, as some do (and I will say that I've been guilty of this myself, but it's something I try not to do). I'm not saying that some people can't write great things striving for complexity. Some probably do. I certainly wonder how many timeless pieces of music, though, come about that way.

As an example, I seem to recall hearing how proud Beethoven was concerning how difficult his "Hammerklavier" was (and I think we can reasonably conclude from that pride that he made it intentionally complex), but to me it was quite forgettable and ultimately unimpressive for that very reason. It may be incredibly difficult, but it's far inferior (ofc IMO but perhaps even objectively) to say, the 3rd movement of his Moonlight Sonata. Far more people are familiar with the latter, while the former is relegated to relative obscurity.

Of course, Moonlight Sonata's 3rd movement is no cakewalk, but compared to Hammerklavier I understand it's much easier. While it's impossible to say at this point in time, I'd bet my last penny that Beethoven wrote the Moonlight Sonata not caring much about its complexity, because he was expressing strong, genuine emotions through it. He wrote it fairly soon after he started to go deaf, and I'd be surprised if that didn't play a part in its creation. All speculative, of course, but you get my point I'm sure.

Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
If you're here you probably write music. I'd love to hear your music. You can hear mine at the links in my sig.

Not sure if you're addressing me specifically or everyone in this thread, but you can also find a link to my channel in my sig.

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3038426 10/22/20 07:21 PM
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Very interesting. I get the 7/8 idea, but I find it funny. Because in my writing all time signatures are assumed, and often change every bar. And its not a fruitless change, it changes because the piece demands it. For example, in my "Flower of Life for Solo Piano", the time signatures co-ordinate with Marko Rodin's Vortex Mathematics, and it is very organic and has to be that way

Even in my much more Humane Piano Sonata 8, the time signatures are constantly changing. Its more about compassion for performers. Why all the struggle? Why all the grief? Keep it simple, and achieve the same results with so much less suffering

I have chosen to write simpler music for a few reasons. One, Compassion for performers. We have hundreds of years of difficult music... what if we could achieve the same result with a simple and easy way. Also, Im a bit of a Taoist, so I believe in simplifying things. Sometimes the water roars in white rapids, as my last 16 years have. Its time for a placid period for the sanity of my performers! laugh

Last edited by MinscAndBoo; 10/22/20 07:22 PM.
Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MilesAbbott #3038724 10/23/20 05:32 PM
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Originally Posted by MilesAbbott
As an example, I seem to recall hearing how proud Beethoven was concerning how difficult his "Hammerklavier" was (and I think we can reasonably conclude from that pride that he made it intentionally complex), but to me it was quite forgettable and ultimately unimpressive for that very reason. It may be incredibly difficult, but it's far inferior (ofc IMO but perhaps even objectively) to say, the 3rd movement of his Moonlight Sonata. Far more people are familiar with the latter, while the former is relegated to relative obscurity.
Anyone familiar with the Hammerklavier knows the 3rd movement is the emotional one. As for the Fugue I find it thrilling, but that's me. I try to follow all the lines and find the task exhilarating. It's not an emotional piece, but rather an intellectual exercise. It's the Moonlight Sonata that bores me and the third is the only one I listen to.
Originally Posted by MinscAndBoo
Very interesting. I get the 7/8 idea, but I find it funny. Because in my writing all time signatures are assumed, and often change every bar. And its not a fruitless change, it changes because the piece demands it. For example, in my "Flower of Life for Solo Piano", the time signatures co-ordinate with Marko Rodin's Vortex Mathematics, and it is very organic and has to be that way

Even in my much more Humane Piano Sonata 8, the time signatures are constantly changing. Its more about compassion for performers. Why all the struggle? Why all the grief? Keep it simple, and achieve the same results with so much less suffering

I have chosen to write simpler music for a few reasons. One, Compassion for performers. We have hundreds of years of difficult music... what if we could achieve the same result with a simple and easy way. Also, Im a bit of a Taoist, so I believe in simplifying things. Sometimes the water roars in white rapids, as my last 16 years have. Its time for a placid period for the sanity of my performers!
Google helped me get an idea of what Vortex Math is. I've never gad success using music to express mathematical concepts. For me it doesn't generate interesting music. I also shift time signatures sometimes fairly often, but its at the service of the music.

However, when you reference your music but don't provide any avenue to actually hear it I find that rather fruitless. Why even bother? We have no idea what you're talking about. Let's hear your 4 symphonies (midi renderings are better than nothing) and 8 piano sonatas. I listened to some of Miles' music, it's pleasant and authentic. My music is readily available, check my signature. MinscAndBoo, we don't even know your name.


Steve Chandler
composer/amateur pianist

stevechandler-music.com
http://www.soundcloud.com/pantonality
http://www.youtube.com/pantonality
Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3038727 10/23/20 06:08 PM
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Last edited by dogperson; 10/23/20 06:09 PM.
Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
Steve Chandler #3038742 10/23/20 07:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
Anyone familiar with the Hammerklavier knows the 3rd movement is the emotional one. As for the Fugue I find it thrilling, but that's me. I try to follow all the lines and find the task exhilarating. It's not an emotional piece, but rather an intellectual exercise. It's the Moonlight Sonata that bores me and the third is the only one I listen to.

I just tried to listen to Hammerklavier again (a Lisitsa performance), because I'm not sure I ever tried listening to the whole thing.

There are some nice parts, but I found the 3rd movement to be basically a bore.

Not sure where the "fugue" is exactly in the 4th movement, but to me the entire movement sounded basically incoherent, a mess of meandering and often discordant ideas (and I don't like discordance much personally). It had its moments but I just think it pales in comparison to the 3rd movement of Moonlight (particularly Lisitsa's version...actually I don't think I've heard anyone play it even close to as good as she does).

You say it's an intellectual exercise...that's my point and likely why I don't like it. I can appreciate it as a decent piece of music and an achievement in technical brilliance, but I find it to be fairly grating and emotionally bland.

I will grant you that Moonlight is fairly boring outside the 3rd movement, but I find its boring parts more interesting than Hammerklavier's. Hammerklavier seems to be a very niche piece to me that pianists tend to adore and a smattering of other people will enjoy, but that's pretty much it. The 3rd movement of Moonlight is just stunning, to pianists and people in general alike. It just bleeds emotion, and that's why it's great.

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3038912 10/24/20 12:04 PM
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Miles, I get the impression you're not a structure guy. I also find the 3rd movement of the Hammerklavier boring. It's long and just keeps going in its melancholy. That's a reflection of the pace of life in the early 19th century. Horse drawn carriages could go maybe 30 miles an hour if they were really pushing it. The reason that's important is that life just moved slower, people communicated over distance by writing letters and mailing them and it might take weeks to get there. So a long slow movement was just an indication that one could feel melancholy for a long time, because everything took longer.

The 4th movement of the Hammerklavier starts with a transition from the 3rd movement. The theme subject starts with an accented upbeat note that jumps to the trill followed by spaghetti. I take it you haven't looked at the score to this movement. It's easier to see what's going on when you look at the score. LvB uses every development technique in the book, stretto, inversion, augmentation, false entry. I'll be the first to say that Beethoven was not the master of fugue like Bach, but this one is still pretty good. Still I think Liszt did a pretty good job with the fugue in his B minor Sonata.

I don't believe it's a situation of one or the other. In fact I believe complexity can enhance the emotional message. So let's consider a fugue by Bach and since Bach was primarily an organist he wrote his best for that instrument. The fugue in E flat BWV 552 is amazing expression of the trinity as Bach understood it. The first section is the father, the second the son and the third Holy spirit (and how appropriate to end with a triple time dance). In the following video the fugue starts at 9:25 (the prelude is worth listening to, this is mature Bach at his best), the 2nd section begins at 11:16, the 3rd section begins at 13:11. The main theme is present in each section, but each section also has it's own subsidiary theme making this a triple fugue (all three themes are used in the last section). Here's a video of a fine performance of the work with pedal work easily visible.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TpNo-ftD7M

So I've listened to some of Cosmic Vision Pleiades by Jim Townsend. I gather the music expresses the photographs, but I didn't really understand the relationship. Don't get me wrong I love space photos and the idea of writing music to express them is appealing. The music is interesting but ultimately didn't really engage me. I applaud the effort that you put into writing, learning and performing this music. There are moments of haunting beauty, but I think expressing the photos ultimately becomes static and the photo changed at at time in the composition that didn't make sense to me. I am curious what piece you alluded to in the beginning?


Steve Chandler
composer/amateur pianist

stevechandler-music.com
http://www.soundcloud.com/pantonality
http://www.youtube.com/pantonality
Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3038976 10/24/20 03:02 PM
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Thanks dogperson.

Steve, I was indirectly quoting the first movement of Messiaen's Petites Esquisses d'Oiseaux

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3038977 10/24/20 03:08 PM
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Steve,

This is The Flower of Life, Book 1 for solo piano

The time signatures are only included when they correspond to the Mathematics, and each time signature change is as intuitive and natural as the math itself.

This work might help to explain my thinking. Its complex through and through, and very difficult and demanding to learn.

While I am talking about general simplicity, perhaps I am speaking more about technical difficulty. Once again, its all about compassion toward the performer, and also about achieving the same depth of expression with half or less than half the means.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GV3DJF3MkSM&t=1057s

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3038982 10/24/20 03:21 PM
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And if youre interested in one of my Symphonies, here's a mockup of the 3rd. As im sure you know, these midi mockups barely do any piece justice.

Thanks!

https://jimtownsend.bandcamp.com/track/symphony-no-3-little-symphony

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3039452 10/26/20 08:35 AM
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Hi Jim,

You've got obvious talent as a composer. I don't know what you used to mock up your symphony, but you're right that it barely does the piece justice. There's a forum called VI-control that's populated mostly by media composers (film, TV, games, etc.) the realism I hear in the mockups there is astounding. They sound like real orchestras. It's from there that I decided to buy the Cinematic Studio series sample libraries for my own mockups. The strings and brass are out now and can be heard in my symphony (3 movements). I used woodwinds from a variety of libraries but a lot was Hollywood Orchestra Woodwinds (the oboe is awful). The real trick to doing mockups is to use continuous controllers to emulate the dynamics of a real player. The three movements of my symphony are on my soundcloud page at soundcloud.com/pantonality.


Steve Chandler
composer/amateur pianist

stevechandler-music.com
http://www.soundcloud.com/pantonality
http://www.youtube.com/pantonality
Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3039500 10/26/20 11:40 AM
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Thanks a bunch for the kind word and the good recommendation Steve!

Look forward to hearing your symphony

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3039632 10/26/20 05:39 PM
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Thanks for Sharing Steve.

I got a chance to listen to your entire symphony, and really enjoyed it! My favorite by far was the third movement.

I love the use of trumpet, your American sound, and the titling you did.

Also really enjoyed you Fugue in E Minor. You should do a set of 24 wink.

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3040720 10/29/20 02:26 PM
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Originally Posted by MinscAndBoo
Also really enjoyed you Fugue in E Minor. You should do a set of 24 wink.
Oh no you don't! Writing in all 24 major and minor keys is not how I'd want to spend my time. Composing is too much work and 24 preludes and fugues is too small a payoff. BUT, I'm glad you enjoyed my music. Yeah, I know as composers we're not supposed to choose favorites but I like the 3rd movement the most too!


Steve Chandler
composer/amateur pianist

stevechandler-music.com
http://www.soundcloud.com/pantonality
http://www.youtube.com/pantonality
Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3043354 11/06/20 06:50 PM
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The best music appears simple to the layman and complicated to the professional.

Re: Complexity Vs. Simplicity
MinscAndBoo #3043617 11/07/20 04:10 PM
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What is really "complexity"? Much modern music has only a complex surface, but it's not real, just an illusion. For example, https://youtu.be/9ump1HH17pM
They call it "new complexity". Of course, the score looks very complicated, but studying this kind of music deeper you can discover few stereotypes that build the base structure of the whole composition. Once you have understood these stereotypes you can easily write a piece like this without any difficulty. The true complexity here is only for the player. The composer uses simply acquired patterns of sound effects that everybody can learn spending an afternoon with a flute player. The score's graphic gives the impression of a complex composition, but it's only an illusion for the eyes. Writing this music does not require any creative effort once you have learnt how to associate an effect to a symbol. The advantage here is that you don't need a real musical thought, which is the real and main difficulty for a composer. A difficulty, that many have learnt how to avoid using this brilliant trick. This kind of music is actually easier than it can seem at first sight.
Pardon for my English. It's my fifth language after Italian, German, French and Spanish.
I hope it's anyway enough clear what I meant to say. Obviously, IMHO.

Last edited by Luxson; 11/07/20 04:10 PM.

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