Kyle Grimm’s music spans the gamut of media and instrumentation.  A double bassist and dance collaborator, he also has experience working with ensembles and other performers.  This is evident in his work “Pitchforks and Crow’s Feet”.

The score can be found here: Pitchforks and Crow’s Feet for Flute, Cello, and Bass.

This work relies heavily on performer perception of time, ensemble cooperation, and a sense and soundness of gesture.  Kyle clearly knows what each instrument is capable of, but more importantly understands how they work together in the context of his piece.

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 8.36.49 AMFor example, this passage has multiple layers simultaneously and independently.  Over the course of 27 seconds, the flute moves from quicker rhythms to alarming fluttertonguing, accelerating until a final cutoff.  This gesture aligns with the cello and bass’s feathered beams, allowing the ensemble to look at each other (due to the feather’s indeterminate rhythms) and align their cutoff precisely.

Yet, the cello comes from a repeated figure ad lib., leading to tremolo offset from the flute.  This confuses and clouds the texture, but that is the point.  It is achieved with great effect by clear notation, and the way in which the instrumental lines converge.

Similarly, the double bass moves from indeterminacy to a strict cutoff.  This is not just idiomatic for each instrument; this is also idiomatic for an ensemble.

My favorite part of this piece, in terms of ensemble work, is this passage.

Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 8.43.34 AM

Here the instruments are aligning in unison, but split into gestures offset by one eighth note.  Not only is this really hard to understand when hearing it as a listener, as a performer this is very tricky due to the lack of barlines.   However, Kyle uses clear notation, even-spaced notes, and a clarity of “line” or “melody” that allows the ensemble to full congeal and stay together (or not together, but only by one eighth note).

As an aside, this is surely a pain in the butt to put in Finale or Sibelius.  This has such a fluency and fluidity in notation that I can only believe that it was composed on paper, by hand, before digitized.  Take note of this!  Pen and paper is key to one’s compositional development.  (End soapbox rant.)

So, what can we as composers learn from this?

  1. Indeterminacy can be manipulated well with idiomatic writing, clear notation, and easily comprehended gestures (even if they are complex gestures).  Distinct start and arrival points, as well as intermediary markers, can help with ensemble playing
  2. Complex ensemble work is possible, given clarity of notation (again), a simplicity of line/melody, mirrored or exactly duplicated gestures among instruments/voices, and clear start and stop points
  3. Think about how an ensemble will operate, interact with each other, and understand your piece.  You can write soaring melodies, infectious rhythms, crunchy clusters, open spaces, etc., but if you do not take into account the coordination and communication involved in an ensemble, you will not have a successful performance
  4. Become a performer.  One of the primary ways to write better music is to get on your instrument or voice, and practice.  Practice technique, artistry, and get together with other musicians for an expansion of perspective and growth of your ensemble skills.  Kyle’s experience as a performer is apparent in this piece

I hope you enjoy these analyses; feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Happy composing!