Music Performance 361, Fall 2005: Introduction to Composition
Assignment 2: due Monday, October 3, 2005

Compositional challenge: write a short work for piano solo (approximately one page in length) which explores "free-floating" or ametric/aperiodic rhythms. While your composition should avoid an impression of consistent pulse, you may choose your own affect: perhaps rapid, dense, and spiky, or slow, tranquil, and meditative. You may also choose whether to use conventional rhythmic notation or use a proportional notation (as in Music of Changes, Kontakte, or the other examples we've looked at in class).

Strategies for creating these kinds of "floating" rhythms include: using an extremely slow tempo; changing the meter with each new measure; using ties and rests to avoid locating attacks on the beat (especially on the downbeat); using accent, pitch contour, and other musical parameters to break up the impression of regular rhythmic groupings; and using proportional (spatial) notation which emphasizes rhythmic irregularity and aperiodicity. Together, Feldman's The Viola In My Life and Stockhausen's Kontakte illustrate all of these approaches (and more).

As with every etude you compose this semester, it may be helpful to limit the number of elements in the piece, in order to concentrate attention on the rhythmic aspects, and to create a satisfying and balanced piece within a short timespan. How you define that limited vocabulary is up to you - you might choose a small repertoire of pitches, a handful of musical gestures or melodic ideas, a certain kind of accompaniment or textural pattern, etc. etc. ....

Some basic information about the piano:

- the piano's range extends from A0 to C8 (where middle C is defined as C4, and is surrounded by B3 and C#4)
consider using extremes of register - some of the instrument's most interesting sounds are out at the ends of the keyboard
- pianists can create a wide range of timbres:
through articulations (staccato, legato, accented, unaccented, etc.)
through dynamics (pppp, ffff, and everything in between)
through pedaling (damping notes or allowing them to resonate)
through voicings - the spacing and dynamic balance of chords and multiple lines
with trills and tremolo to "sustain" pitches or textures
- pianists can also create extremely thick chordal and polyphonic textures
the two hands and ten fingers can be used with a high degree of independence; think of Bach fugues or Ligeti's Automne á Varsovie
larger chords allow for a great deal of variety and interest in harmony and voicing
remember that the widest interval between pitches in one hand is between the thumb and index finger
an octave is a conservative stretch between thumb and little finger; ninths are usually also possible
the thumb can also often be used to play two adjacent keys (allowing for up to twelve-note chords)
large clusters of notes can be played with the palms or forearms
- there are also a wide variety of techniques involving playing inside the piano, for instance:
scraping, rubbing, plucking, and muting strings with a finger or fingernail
performing similar techniques with a guitar pick or soft mallet
adding "preparations" to the interior (and especially the strings) to change the acoustic properties of particular pitches

Try not to be limited by your own abilities at the keyboard - concert pianists are capable of phenomenal things! And as always, have fun with this - be as imaginative, free, and outrageous as you can....