Saturday, April 30, 2011

Process of Writing 6: Organization

Rambling notes on the process, again:

Tonight I've begun a process of compilation. It's time. I am copying the lyrics, both sketches and more finished sets, from the pocket notebook(s) that I always carry with me, to write things down in no matter where or when they come to me, into a larger spiral-bound notebook. Time to make a book of all the lyrics. Get everything pertinent to the same song onto the same page, where it can all be taken in at a glance. Easier to work with, easier to shape into something coherent when you can see it all at once.

(From reading the large retrospective biography book on Susan Seddon Boulet, one of the great shamanic and fantasy artists of recent years, and personally very influential to me, I was also inspired tonight to make a couple of pencil sketches for later colored-pencil drawings. The theme in my mind is Thunderbird, the bird filled with sky and lightning.)

Gathering the materials from two or three notebooks and sketchbooks into one makes it easier to see the overall project, and count up what I've already got so far. I already have partial or complete lyrics for about a half-dozen songs, with a full 14 or so conceptualized, with sketches even if that's all there is. Some of the pieces come into better focus just by gathering everything together. Others I am revising as I copy them, changing a word here or there, to make a better lyric, a better poem, a more singable phrase. Slight revisions with each fresh copy.

Remember, song lyrics don't follow the same guidelines as "pure" poetry; less is more, usually, and keeping it simple usually makes for a better lyric. The music is the matrix, the web, what ties it all together, and makes it soar. Lyrics are meant to synergize with the music, not be great poetry on their own. (If they are, it's usually a rare occasion.) One thing I do strongly feel about lyrics, though, is that content dictates—just as in poetry.

I'm not really counting minutes of music yet; that won't' become clear till later, anyway. There's no penalty for writing more than the commission is expected to be (30 minutes of new music), and they'll probably do it all in our premiere concert, even though only 30 minutes of music will be performed at GALA in Denver in 2012. A larger piece is no bad thing, for other performances, and other concerts, and if other groups also want to perform the piece later.

I've realized I want to write a song about bullying, about being bullied, and about standing up to it and fighting back. I'm not sure such a song is completely relevant to the overall project, but I'm going to include it, since I feel the need to. We'll see if it gets used, or becomes a stand-alone piece. It wouldn't hurt to have a stand-alone piece, regardless.

I spent some in Adobe Illustrator making score papers for the commission today. Generating staff in various combinations: chorus and piano; chorus and piano and soloist; etc. I will no doubt come up with other iterations later on, such as duo plus chorus and piano; solo or duo and piano with no chorus. Whatever combinations the larger work needs.

These score papers are generated so that I can start doing final pencil scores. Finishing the music in pencil. There will be time later on to engrave the score in music software like Finale. I'm having difficulty purchasing a copy of Finale for my own use, for this commission project. And even if I could have bought it by now, I know there would be a learning curve for me to master the software. So there's no point in waiting to get the software, in order to start writing. I'm going to do final score pencil masters as I go, and assume that either I'll get the Finale software later, or find some other way to engrave the score when it's all done.

It's always fun to play in Illustrator. It's some of my favorite software. It's what I usually design logos in, for both vector-art and type-based logos. You have a degree of fine control in Illustrator available almost nowhere else. (Except of course in comparable vector-based software.) Drawing music notation score paper in Illustrator is relatively easy. I remember back in music, we had to do such technical rendering by hand, using the same tools architectural draughtsman used.

It was good to learn how to do it that way, though, as the concepts are permanently engraved in my mind, and thus doing it in a software environment is even easier. That's been true for my entire graphic design career, really: learning it the old handmade way has made the software always easier to use, because you know the origins, the roots, the beginnings of design. I'm of the last generation to have learned all these tools and techniques by hand, before computer software became the dominant means and method of doing the same tasks. I love my software, it makes it easy and clean and often simpler to execute a design idea. But having the hand-made foundations has made everything conceptually richer, in my opinion.

I took the finished score papers over to the copy shop and xeroxed off several sheets apiece. Now, I can begin actually notating finished pieces. That's what I plan to devote most of my creative attention to, this coming week. Get as much down as I can, as soon as I can, so that when I have my operation at the end of June, I'll be ahead of schedule—and I have every reason to believe that the operation is going my brain out and make me unable to work for at least a couple of weeks, maybe longer. So I'm pushing myself extra-hard right now, beforehand, in anticipation of needing a few weeks of brain-dead downtime. (Who knows? Maybe it won't be a problem. But let's not assume that it won't be, and get caught short. As the Boy Scout said to the other Boy Scout, "Be prepared!")

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Strange, I imagined you would used Sibelius or some other kind of music notating software.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Well, for software for music composing and engraving, Sibelius and Finale are pretty much all there is anymore. Any other competitors have sort of disappeared, or are too obscure.

I was a trained professional music copyist out of college. I even did some parts for Broadway shows. So making my own score paper is nothing new, really, and not at all difficult.

Eventually I have to get the finished piece into Finale, as I said. BUt I'm not going to wait.

11:17 AM  

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