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In this series titled "Composer Dilemmas," I would like to relfect on issues in the process of composition. How deterministic will this piece be, performance-wise? Once 'finished,' does it remain so? How will the scale of the composition, or the forces for which it calls, affect the final experience? These issues, though less discussed in music courses, are much more fundamental than questions such as "should I write a tonal or atonal piece?"

Different Contexts, Different Versions?

In my previous posts about Composer Dilemmas, I thought about the idea of revision, and whether old works benefit from revision or from being pulled from one's catalog. This time I would like to explore the idea of creating different versions of a work to suit different contexts. In particular, I would like to look at "versions" that can almost be considered separate works.

This may be an idiosyncratic interest, as I stole the idea from my teacher, Robert Scott Thompson.

On a few occasions, Robert has made different versions of his works. For example, the work Siren exists in three forms: a 'concert' version, an 'installation' version, and an 'ambient' version. The first is the shortest, at about 24 minutes. The second is of an indeterminate length, because it is created for several CD players to play tracks on shuffle, indefinitely. The third version, about an hour in length,  is a realization of the indeterminate version. Thus, there is one version to be played in a concert setting, another in a gallery setting, and a third for listening at home.

They are all based on the same material (computer manipulations of a singer), but they are very different in terms of structure, pace, etc. Could they be considered the same work (in the way that two performances of a composition are considered the same work)? Or are they different works entirely?

  Siren (Electroacoustic Music) on

  Siren (Ambient) on

Similarly, Robert has made some of his works for soloist and electroacoustic music available in performer-electronics and electronics-only versions. Listen to The Widening Gyre below and you will hear that the piece is effective in both versions. For practical reasons, it is wise for a composer to consider having two options; an electronics-only version is often easier to program.

  The Widening Gyre (with F. Gerard Errante, clarinet) on

  The Widening Gyre (without clarinet) on


Robert's teacher, Roger Reynolds, has a fascinating and detailed account of his Tranfigured Wind series, which features four works: Transfigured Wind I for solo flute; Transfigured Wind II for solo flute, orchestra, and computer sound; Transfigured Wind III for solo flute, chamber orchestra, and computer sound; and Transfigured Wind IV for solo flute and computer sound. I would like to look at this work a bit more in a later entry, on self-transcription and recycling.

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