Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A Chance From California to Create a Soundworld

I recently had the opportunity to go to California with Sound Alliance, the BYU-I jazz band. Some things I learned if I ever go on a tour again: 1. I will take Qait with me. 2. I will never play on a keyboard, no matter how nice 3. Go back to Southern California!

While in San Diego we had our best event of the tour, a massive singles dance which was the best attended I've ever seen an LDS dance outside of BYU-I. While there I stayed two nights with some nice single guys. One of them, Eric Bowman, is a computer programmer. He invited me to create the music and sounds for a computer game he and a friend are making for a competition this fall. I would have been hesitant to commit but when he told me the concept, I was sold.

He wants the music/sounds of the game to create a fluid/organic/interactive part of the gaming experience. This allows me to create a composition that will be infinitely full of variety, depending on how each game play progresses. We are still working out details, but the idea is to have a bunch of different pieces of a musical puzzle that can fit together in almost any way. There are obvious classical precedents (Terry Riley's "In C" comes to mind) but I am excited to create this sort of texture as part of a soundworld.

I first heard the word 'soundworld' used talking about the music of Alfred Schnittke. His eclectic music really is unlike any I've ever heard, his late music especially is some of my favorite. As far as I understand the word, and the way it has entered my vocabulary, the idea of a 'soundworld' is describing the overall effect that the music has, in and of itself and in relation to other pieces. Each piece carries with it certain connotations, implications, allusions, and I'll even use a dirty word: moods. While the idea of moods goes way back in music history, the concept of a soundworld as including all of the musical and extra-musical impact of the music is, I believe, a concept almost entirely new for the twentieth century. Think about it. If you heard a piece of music from the 1800s or earlier, it evokes feelings of that century. Sure it may be 'major' or 'minor' or a symphony or a concerto or a chamber work or a choral number. The masterpieces of those eras still remain 'timeless' in their appeal, but their soundworld dates them to a specific time and often place. Starting with the dynamic composers of the early twentieth century, composers began to search for their own unique sound. The music of Stravinsky, Debussy, Hindemith, and the like is recognizable and distinguishable not so much because it inhabits the soundworld of a time period, but because it belongs uniquely to the soundworld of each of those composers.

The trend since the last half of the twentieth century has often been to create a unique soundworld with every single piece. I'll bet (let me know) that if you thought about it, you could name a song or piece of music that for you creates a 'soundworld' with a unique combination of feelings, associations, or moods. A movie can have a soundworld. If you think of the soundworld of Star Wars, you will get a not only snippets of music, but also of blasters and androids and spaceships and heavy breathing. A piece of music can have a soundworld. Think of your favorite album by a popular artist. No matter how much the artist intended there to be variety, odds are there is a sense of cohesion to the songs, even if it is only provided by the voice. More likely, the songs will all create a similar sort of impression or 'soundworld' and if asked to describe elements of that 'soundworld', you could. So, who can use the word 'soundworld' in a sentence?