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Indeterminacy

Indeterminacy is a compositional approach which leaves some or all elements of the performance of a piece of music up the the performer. Every performance of an indeterminate composition may be wildly different despite receiving the exact same instructions. A play, as a parallel, may also be produced wildly differently depending on how directors, designers, and actors interpret the text. This project hones in on how with all other things being equal, the same script, the same film clip, the same concept from a director, the creative process still ends with unmistakably different results as an artist develops their ideas.

Ezra's Projects

Cymbeline

This composition was a response to Cymbeline by William Shakespeare. It focuses on the moment in

the play where Posthumus has decided that he deserves to die, because he thinks he’s responsible for

the death of his love, Imogen. Then he sleeps and the ghosts of his family come and plead to the God

Jupiter to spare him. Then Jupiter himself descends from the heavens. I wanted to start this sequence

with the feeling of a hopeless lament. This was also a hard feeling to pinpoint. My first go at it I felt

some contempt for Posthumus and that bled through to my composition. Once I got in touch with the

emotion of the character and approached it again I was able to find an appropriate tone. Then I use the

strings to connect to the next section which is my otherworldly ghost section. Then finally we are

pushed even farther out of our mortal world when the drums beat and Jupiter descends. While working

on this piece I was inspired by the similar scene that occurs in Angels in America.

Eurydice

This composition was a response to Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl. In it I go through several scenes that take

place at different points in the show. The first scene I focus on is Eurydice and Orpheus being happy

together in the waves at the beginning of the play. I found that it was challenging for me to write happy

music. It took me few tries and before I came up with something appropriately upbeat. Then the beach

sounds turn to thunder and we enter into the second scene I wanted to highlight. This is Orpheus after

Eurydice has been taken to the underworld. He plays mournfully. Then he beings to pluck furiously at

his instrument in an effort to find the note that will transport him in between worlds. Then he finds it

and the scene shifts to the underworld. The underworld is devoid of the kind of music we have on earth

but I wanted to explore how stones would sing. I did this by sampling the sounds of a rock plunking

into water. Then at the very end I have a tone which incorporates the stone music, Orpheus's right note,

and some new sounds. This is supposed to represent Eurydice learning from her environment and

finding her voice.

Dance Excerpt #1

This composition was in response to a clip from a longer dance piece. In the piece a dancer moves

around in a dark world filled with moving and flickering lights. Then there are two moments where the

world flashes to a white room where the dancer is still. My first task was to make sense of this world

for myself. I decided that I wanted the dark world to represent a rich interior life and the white room

was what it felt like to tamp all of that down for other people. When I started working on this the first

thing I did was put the buzzing of a florescent light in the white room. I feel that florescent lights are

often synonymous with discomfort. I wanted the music for the rest of the piece to have and earthy feel

to it. I felt that the dancer was the most themself in this world and so I wanted the music to have a

grounded element to it but still fit with the dancers fluid movements.

Aerik's Projects

Cymbeline

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s more ambiguous plays, not at home as a comedy,

tragedy, or romance, but somewhere in between the three. This score follows a specific scene

from the play in which the family of our protagonist, Posthumus Leonatus, appears in his cell as

ghosts while he awaits his trial and likely execution. The ghosts languish in the cell lamenting

the circumstances of Posthumus’ imprisonment, invoking the name of Jupiter in order to save

the last living Leonatus from an undeserved fate. Jupiter finally descends from the heavens full

of fury as the ghosts deride his worth, and though he initially admonishes the ghosts, assures

them that Posthumus will receive justice at the resolution of the trial.

My approach to this piece is not a literal one, and I wouldn’t expect a cast to act out the

scene with this music as underscoring. Instead I imagined this as more of a stylized take on the

scene, something akin to a dance or movement piece. The initial droning gives a sense of the

supernatural essence of the scene, leading into the ghosts appearing on stage, encircling

Posthumus one by one as each new instrument is added to indicate their presence.

Once the initial movement piece of the ghosts’ arrival is concluded the music shifts to a

more lyrical style in an imitation of speech; I initially considered shorter but more frequent

melodic fragments to capture the back and forth of the ghosts, but ultimately considered this too

chaotic. Each ghost gets a chance to ‘speak’ before the family comes together in unison to

beseech Jupiter; in this moment of harmony all pretenses of the supernatural die away as the

phantoms are forced to reconcile with their powerlessness in spite of their supernatural

essence.

Jupiter’s arrival is distinctly intended to be ominous, and is described as a descent from

the thunder and lightning filled heavens while perched on the back of a massive eagle. Since his

arrival is spurred on by the blasphemy of the ghosts it seemed that his appearance should be

foreboding, so I decided to use a repetitive rhythmic pattern with orchestral percussion over a

bed of rumbling thunder. As a god, Jupiter ‘speaks’ in whole chords rather than in melodic lines

like the ghosts did, with each phrase matched by a bolt of lightning. The menacing presence is

something of a front however, and while I reinforced the sense of dread with the chord

progression the final chord reverses that sense to one of triumph as an echo of Jupiter’s

admonishment ending with words of reassurance.

Eurydice

Eurydice is frequently produced in academic theatre due to the amount of creativity it

demands from all areas of design. In this instance, I knew that there were going to be moments

which I wouldn’t be able to tackle with music alone, so this piece turned out to be a combination

of composition and sound design; an important note is that water is a recurring theme in this

play so beaches, streams, and rain are prevalent throughout. Eurydice follows the brief life and

abrupt death of the titular character and her adaptation to the Underworld while her husband

searches frantically for a way to reach her through the power of his music and his love. Unlike

Cymbeline where we tackled a specific scene, Eurydice is an exercise in the ability to capture

the arc of the entire play in a single piece of music. This resulted in creating several

‘movements’ which I think capture the most essential elements of the plot while taking some

liberties with the chronological order of events.

The first movement embodies the opening scene of our protagonists, described as, “...a

little too young and a little too in love”. Knowing the trajectory of the story is somewhat

bittersweet I tried to capture the affection between Orpheus and Eurydice without being too

saccharine, and tinged the whole thing with a little bit of longing; the two love each other, but in

some respects aren’t right for each other. The first few seconds establish a musical motif that

I’ve attempted to worm into the whole piece as a throughline, varied by either pitch or rhythm

later on.

The second movement flows directly from the introduction of our characters to the

moments before Eurydice’s untimely demise. In this sequence Eurydice is escaping from a man

who is secretly the Lord of the Underworld when she trips and falls to her death down a flight of

stairs. The music is somewhat cinematic in that I envisioned the death as a stylized thing

happening in slow motion, with the slow descent of the music matching the literal descent of

Eurydice’s body, freezing for just a moment to allow her to recall the musical motif that Orpheus

taught her.

The third movement depicts Eurydice’s arrival in the Underworld, a watery place filled

with strange metallic noises. Fortunately as luck would have it Eurydice’s father passed years

ago and he has somehow managed to retain his memory after death. The music features a

descending melodic line extrapolated from the musical theme I’ve used so far, and terminates in

a repetitive, plodding note meant to indicate Eurydice’s discomfort and confusion in this place.

The repetitive note slowly morphs into a more positive tone in an imitation of the calming

influence of Eurydice’s father as he meets her and begins to care for her as he did in life.

The fourth and fifths movements return to the World of the Living where Orpheus writes

letters and music for Eurydice. Orpheus is described as conducting an orchestra while writing

his letters, so I developed a call and response based on the musical theme which culminates in

a full orchestral fanfare. However, Orpheus finds he can only write “...the saddest music”

anymore, and resolves to find a way to reach Eurydice himself. This is where the fourth

movement melds directly into the fifth as Orpheus intentionally begins to lose control of his

music and discovers the power of his breath and how it will allow him to break down the barrier

to the Underworld; the environment transforms with Orpheus’ efforts as nature itself is bent

around him.

The sixth movement partially covers intervening events for Eurydice and her father as

Orpheus experiments with how to breach the Underworld. In it Eurydice finds an unexpected

peace in the afterlife, and is busy reclaiming her memories with her father as he helps her adapt

to her new world. The melody becomes more lighthearted and playful, and more rhythmically

varied throughout to represent Eurydice becoming more at ease with her place in the

Underworld until it is interrupted by Orpheus’ intrusion. I create an echo of the liminal space

from the second movement combined with the sounds of Orpheus’ experimentation as he

literally knocks on the gates to the Underworld and ultimately destroys them with the power of

his music.

The seventh and final movement is evocative of Orpheus and Eurydice after the couple

fail to escape the Underworld together; Eurydice would be allowed to leave the Underworld if

she followed Orpheus back to the World of the Living without him looking back at her, but

ultimately she calls his name, causing him to break the conditions of the deal. Their parting

words to each other make clear that while there is love between them, it is imperfect. Musically I

evoked this conversation in a back and forth between two pianos, one the living Orpheus, the

other the dead Eurydice. There is a tender wistfulness between the two of them as they part

which is reflected in the hesitation between each phrase until a melody from the first movement

is called back. The movement ends on an unresolved note; as the script goes, there is no clear

answer as to what happens next for the characters. Eurydice has chosen to forget her

memories, her father has chosen to forget his own memories, and Orpheus has decided to

permanently join the Underworld, but there is no true resolution.

Dance Excerpt #1

This piece is an excerpt from a work by choreographer Charlotte Griffin. The composition

was created without having heard the original score, and incorporates my responses to the

movements, editing, color, and perceived themes. To me this piece is about memory and

dementia, and how both distort perception of reality. A person with dementia may have gaps

and lapses in memory, and memories they do produce and retain may be closer or further from

the truth. They may be listless, confused, or even aggressive, but lapsing between these

conditions are moments of clarity and lucidity, a respite before the inevitable return to their

turbulent state of mind.

On a technical level every ‘scene’ features an instrument with some form of distortion,

which I associate with the distortion of memories. This distortion appears the same way it does

with an electric guitar, or by subtly mixing in a pitch shifted version of the leading melody, and

ghostly vocals ebb in and out of the scenes with the most visual concealment without quite

becoming intelligible. The repetitive bassline serves to keep a pulse in this otherwise free-time

piece, and serves as a throughline from scene to scene; some musical cues are taken based on

specific motions from the dancer, but the music otherwise follows its beat.