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May 20, 2013


That sounds thrilling and I'd love to hear a recording, even an informal one.

I'll see what I can do. There are two pieces of this type on our recent CD, Banquet Celeste, #1 and #16. #1 was written as an inaugural piece for our handbells, which were a gift from a donor. I might be able to post a clip from one of these pieces, but it would be fun to include a page from the score, too. In the meantime, you can hear the choir singing the Gloria from a mass by contemporary Canadian composer John Burge if you click on the CD image here: http://www.phoeniciapublishing.com/banquet-ceacuteleste.html (The booklet was designed by me, with pictures by J. -- it takes a minute to load in the Preview.)

oh, goodness gracious! aleatoric music in a mainstream church! i may die from the exquisite joy of the idea.

Beth: A very busy, informative post. I must say that I have never heard of Aleatoric music. I imagine it can be tremendous fun, but does it never get into an absolute mess?

Well, Flask,come on up sometime! The music is always good, and often interesting too...

Tom: do you read music? I'm going to ask Patrick for a score and post an .mp3 here, and I think you'll be able to see better how it works. The conductor plays a major role in controlling how long the aleatoric sections last, and how one section flows into another; also, musical phrases in certain parts may proceed in a normal way, and their ending or beginning determines what happens next in the other parts. Without that, one would have to use some sort of timer, or count the repetitions. For instance, at the beginning of the piece I described here, the men are singing the normal Gregorian "Veni Creator Spiritus" chant in fairly straight meter, while the women, in four parts, are creating a "sound cloud" by randomly and quietly singing the words "Veni Creator spiritus" on single notes making up a B-flat major chord. After the men sing the fist phrase of the chant, the first sopranos and first altos change to different (bu specified) notes while the other two parts remain on the original notes (in effect, a chord change); the men sing the next phrase; at the end another chord change, etc. This happens three times, until the chant ends. The F and C bells ring randomly throughout this section. Then a different bell chord interrupts the cloud, and the piece continues, this time with the women chanting the melody...etc. So there is structure, it's just not written out in the normal, linear way, and there is room for individual improvisation, chance, and randomness that makes each performance somewhat different. Success depends on the improvisers paying attention to what they're doing and to the conductor, and listening carefully to the overall mixture of sound. I hope this makes some sense!

I too would love to hear a recording. I don't imagine it's similar to improvisation in jazz because there's no way of knowing (at least not to my non-expert ears) in jazz what is impro and what is actually in the score. Do the improvised (ie aleatoric) parts in your sound very different from the written score? I love the image of 'sound clouds'!
Do you know Monteverdi's Vespers of the Virgin? There's a marvellous performance when voices are coming from different parts of the site (I think it was in Venice) nd it really does create a sound cloud.

Beth: If you are talking about standard orchestral scores, including four part harmony scores, then yes, I do read music.

OK, Natalie, I will oblige. Yes, the aleatoric sections sound "different" than written-out, linear music which moves at a set tempo, but it's hard to explain. I'll try to show you in a subsequent post.

Tom: OK, great -- I'll get a score on Thursday at rehearsal and post some pages of it. Did you play an instrument? Do you still?

Beth: I did play violin at school, but not well. I played euphonium in a Salvation Army junior band, better but not as well as I would have liked. No I gave up playing when I left school. Anyway, two of my four adult children play far better than I ever could. Composition was always much more fun.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.