Brian Riordan is a composer well-versed in an eclectic mix of styles, contexts, and media. His piece “The Moon Is Drifting Away from the Earth, Don’t Think About It” unifies his many influences. In particular, the work fuses electronic and acoustic sound worlds and contexts in a unique way. The overall effect is of the shifting of the acoustic world to the electronic.
Please download his score here.
The score is quite consistent in its use of dissonance, extended techniques, and use of very specific rhythms. However, the overall impression one gets is of a piece that could be just as equally valid as electronic music as acoustic music.
For example, right at the beginning, pitch is eschewed for gesture, envelope, density, and intensity:
Does one really expect the rhythms to be played with extreme precision? Most likely not. Is the rhythm more the focus, or is the timbre? I would argue that the timbre is. Is this really idiomatic for the strings? It certainly is, but I would argue that with similar amounts of work in a DAW, the same or similar effects could be created. This music lives in both the acoustic and electronic realms.
The section at bar 28 presents another challenge to the acoustic realm.
The pointillistic interjections of the flute and clarinet could be created by pops in tape, the scratchy turning of a record player, the grains of granular synthesis, the artifacts of a noise gate, etc. (do you see where I am going?) This music completely fuses acoustic and electronic music. To continue, the end of this system features harmonic shifts that read well to me, because I love working in Logic and those lines look very similar to automation I have drawn in. I actually just finished a film scoring assignment that uses a flanger on the stereo output, automated in a similar fashion. I wonder where the acoustic ends, and the electronic begins, in concept, timbre, and compositional technique.
The most strikingly electronic passage occurs at the passage beginning with bar 49.
Here there are drones, with increasing and decreasing timral harshness and detuning and re-tuning. This could very well be a visual representation of a drone-oriented fixed audio media piece, with noise gates, filters, equalization, pitch shifting, and phasing effects, to name a few, automated (or in the case of a non-fixed piece, live processed).
This work is clearly from the mind of someone who has a keen ear for electronic and acoustic music, a veritable eclecticist.
So, what is there to learn from this piece?
This piece gives us composers perspective. There is not “music I do” or “music you do”, “music for acoustic instruments” or “music involving electronics”, “sound art” or “music”. We are composers: arrangers of sounds who collect and analyze, and ultimately organize and dictate, the sounds we aim to hear. Just as the Baroque-era instruments transformed into modern instruments, the study of timbre, expression, and physical sound production are still omnipresent in today’s musical world. My film scoring teacher has a wide variety of instruments and objects for creating sound, even though his medium often calls for “campy” (aka. corny, in a sense) music. He has admitted to bowing the spokes of a bicycle to ensure he is producing work of the best quality he can.
We need more instances of people bridging the gaps between our different genres, sound worlds, and sound creations. The walls of genres are too defined, and we need to realize that all musicians are unified in the creation of art, and that as such we depend on each other. Even music you find distasteful has a place in the world of music, a place that may not seem as valid to you, but a place that exists and must be addressed and understood in its context.
Let’s be open about our music, fusing all that we know to create the sonorities and forms that have yet to be invented.