Alicia Enstrom’s Frenzied Whispers


These two books have been tremendously helpful to me recently in thinking about how to approach orchestrating Alicia Enstrom’s composition for solo violin with electronics, “Frenzied Whispers.” In considering ways to have a chamber orchestra interact with loop pedals and the generated repeated patterns, Bachelard’s chapter on miniatures has provided plenty of food for thought, like his musings about how “as soon as the imagination is interested by an image, this increases its value,” and this quotation from a Botany dictionary, of all things: “Reader, study the periwinkle in detail, and you will see how detail increases an object’s stature.”
Ben Ratliff’s thoughts about recordings where “the air around the music becomes an almost tangible quantity” have helped me think about how pizzicato notes from a string section and harp harmonics and the decay around a note produced by soft yarn mallets striking a marimba can compliment the space created by the reverb in samples triggered by a solo violin. And this: “Feeling the rhythm is not too far from playing the rhythm, and one’s response to a repeated tone is to replicate the tone for yourself, hold it in your head, think along with it or sing along with it, and experience the musician darting above it and below it, putting it against other notes and chords.”

I think we’ve come up with something pretty cool that should be fun to witness. We’re performing it with a great group of musicians this Saturday at 3:00 at West End United Methodist, under the auspices of the Nashville Concerto Orchestra. I hope to see you there!

Douglas Tappin’s I DREAM

Thrilled to make it up to Charlotte last weekend to see a performance of I Dream. It’s been great working on this the last couple months with composer Douglas Tappin and orchestrator Carl Marsh, getting the music ready for these Opera Carolina and Toledo Opera performances.

Trying Nothing

Every time I work on a new orchestration, I think of a story Carl Marsh told me of a conversation he had with another arranger—Ronn Huff, if my memory serves me correctly. One of them was having trouble with a spot in the orchestration they were writing, and lamented that they had tried everything they could think of but nothing worked. The other asked, well, have you tried that? So they did, and it was perfect. “Nothing” was exactly what the song needed from the orchestration in those bars.

I was reminded of this advice last night, sitting in the theatre as the credits rolled for Darren Aronofsky’s stunning, description-defying new film, “mother!” when I noticed that the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson was credited as “music and sound consultant.” There are few things that turn me off to a movie more than a score that is working at cross purposes with the storytelling, and I kept being glad, watching “mother!,” for the pitfalls being avoided where a bad score would have ruined a scene. It turns out, I discovered after I got home and started reading about the film, that Jóhannsson actually wrote a 90-minute score but during the editing process arrived at a consensus with Aronofsky that the music—all of the music!—was taking something away from the storytelling. So he turned to creating a minimalistic score (playing a pane of glass with mallets, recording the key clicks of a sax player, etc.) and then his work was mixed in with sound designer Craig Henighan’s contributions. The result is a score that perfectly suites the film. Kudos to Aronofsky and Jóhannsson for having the kind of working relationship that allowed those discussions to happen (seemingly without conflict), and for digging until they discovered what exactly the film needed.