Fragmentary Study

A Composer's Travel Journal (9)

- Fragmentary Study -

For a number of years now, I've been writing music in which the materials are not developed and where there is no traditional point of culmination or climax. I'm more interested in continuous, subtle changes in the sound and in a new kind of continuity. Earlier this year I wrote a piece incorporating these ideas for Korean traditional orchestra and kayageum solo with the title "Fragmentary Study". In "Fragmentary Study" (2002), the solo kayageum player is, at times, more of an individual, a sort of musical narrator and, at other times, a part of the orchestra. The piece will be performed for the first time next week in Seoul, and it will be the last concert that includes my music that I'll attend during this stay in Korea. My initial ideas for "Fragmentary Study" stemmed from Federico Fellini's film version of Petronius' book "The Satyricon", from the 1st century AD. Only isolated fragments of the original text have survived, and Fellini presents these as a continuity that is revealed, only at the film's end, to consist of parts of the whole. As "Fragmentary Study" was commissioned by the Seoul Traditional Orchestra, I used material taken from 3 seemingly unrelated traditional Korean sources: Munmyojeryeak (court music), and Heungtaryung and Yookjabaeki (both music of the southern region of Korea). Fragments of these three dissimilar traditional pieces appear in my piece in a way that is similar to the occurrence of events in everyday life. Life is made up of a series of days that seem to be largely routine that include, however, unexpected and disconnected events. I think of how this contrasts with the western way of writing a piece of music, where the developmental relationship of the parts to the whole is logically constructed to form the piece.

Last November, I made a short trip out of Seoul with a group of old friends from college days. When we talked about things we'd done together years ago, I was amused at the way each of us remembered the same event in our own unique way. We remembered different things happening! If we see an ancient painting which has faded with time, we can only guess what it might have been like when it had just been painted. We may even have to imagine certain parts that are no longer there, that are lost. In the act of looking at the painting, we supply the continuity.

Two days ago, in Seoul, "Fragmentary Study" was rehearsed. Although the orchestra is large, the piece is played without a conductor. At the rehearsal, the musicians were uncomfortable about the freedom (and responsibility) they'd been given. They're used to having a conductor make all the decisions for them. (It's also common for the orchestra's conductor to feel uncomfortable in such a situation.) So I tried to encourage these musicians to find a way, among themselves, to co-ordinate their playing.

In Korea, the traditional orchestra is amplified for it's concerts. Each instrument has it's own amplification and an audio engineer makes the decisions about each individual's level without consulting the musicians themselves. What a backwards way to produce the "perfectly balanced" sound!

More than 2/3rd of my stay in Cholla province has passed. I've been experiencing Taru (the most complicated and varied form of ornamentation in pansori singing), trying to learn to sing directly from those who know it best, rather than by simply listening to recordings. Although I could be considered an "expert" in my own field (composition), being a beginner in another "field" will prevent me from repeating myself where Iím an expert.

I think of what Shunryu Suzuki said in his book "Beginner's Mind": "In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert's mind, there are few."

Return to the Writings page index