An explanation of my recent composition, Local Colour.

I recently wrote and performed my musical composition Local Colour: for saxophone and computer. It is an adaptation/translation of derek beaulieu's novel Local Colour

This conceptual novel, Local Colour (see a discussion here) is derived from Paul Auster's novel Ghosts. beaulieu's erased the text of the original novel, leaving only the nouns of colour. He replaced each noun (maintaining its size and position on the page) by a rectangular block of colour. The resulting novel comprises 72 pages of coloured piano-roll-like pages.

In order to derived a score, I superimposed a grid on top of each page. (I only scored the first half of the novel, so far.) The vertical position of each rectangle represents time: 14 beats per page. Pitch is represented by left to right. The semitones in the octave are labelled from 0-12. The above image is of a single page with the grid superimposed.

Timbre is represented by colour. For example, blue is the saxophone, black, the electric bass.

In writing the piece, I wanted to keep close to the represention of the novel, while at the same time, giving some musical direction as it progresses. In many instances, the original represents the temporal point of each note and its length. However, some instruments include processing such as echo and reverb. Further, rhythm variety was created by interpreting rectangles that overlap the grid by multiple pitches (sixteenth notes or simultaneities.) Likewise, when there exists two rectangles in the same temporal position.

Finally, in order to create some shape as the piece progresses -- balancing conceptual purity with musical development-- the score increasingly assigns the various pitches to greater and great pitch intervals. So, instead of a semitone between C and C#, adjacent pitches might be interpreted as a low C and a C# in the next octave (i.e. a minor ninth.)

I've created (and posted online on YouTube) a recording of the piece using a synthesized saxophone. I recently performed Local Colour with live tenor saxophone at the "Bird is the Word" performance in St CAtharines on March 11, 2011.

I wrote a poetic introduction / explanation before the performance. Here it is:

This then, an introduction, a translation: the first 33 pages of derek beaulieu’s Local Colour as he ghost writes Paul Auster writing Ghosts after.

There is no colour. There are no notes. There is no story. Here then only local ghosts of colour, notes, story.

Blue watches Black. Mr. Blue watches Mr. Black. White asked him to. Someone is watching someone else in the auditory cortex.

Pitch is from left to right. Rhythm is vertical. The saxophone is Blue and is watching Black. The page is the glass of an open window.

A ghost.  Think global, colour local.

Once there was Ghosts. It is a mute spirit, a colour-pocked spectre. An absent palimpsest. One erasure erasing another’s erasure.

Silence cannot be erased except through time.

The illegible is a song with words, reading a dance, a gumshoe tango.

There is no there there. There is what is not here.

Here then, Local Colour.


Dave Haskins said…
I heard you perform, and read your "poem" and explanation.
An attempt to control the structure seems a good thing, though the random recurrence of words that generate the colour patches is certainly to be a strength of the musical realization as well. I would like to hear more about the conflict (?) between structural shaping and loyalty to the text. Otherwise, once you've devised your set of rules, aren't you merely transcribing (translating to an auditory mode if you like) derek's text, which itself follows its own rules to its pre-determined end?
gary barwin said…
Thanks for your interest, Dave.

There was a conflict in one sense. It's a question of how to understand the source text. Is it a notation, description, or a chart notating the beginning of processes? Whichever it is, it isn't a score. So, within the conceptual constraint, my reading could evolve. So, increasingly I interpreted the places where the marks overlap the grid (thus evolving the incorporated rhythms), charted a movement toward larger intervals (still maintaining the constrained pitch numbers). But, there is a tension between representing the visual text and incorporating some of the developmental, directional form of music.

It depends on how I want to shape the experience audiitorially and conceptually for the listener. I'm trying to play both sides, creating a hybrid between pure conceptual concerns and a more traditional development form.
Jared Wells said…
Wow. This sounds fantastic! Are you going to make a recording of this performance availabe sometime?
gary barwin said…
Thanks, Jared.

I will record and post the entire piece when it is done. I'll make a studio recording!
Stephen Cain said…
This is awesome--great job Gary!