How I made the thrush pieces—letter to Maayan

by danielgoode

From: Daniel Goode
Date: October 27, 2011 1:15:37 PM EDT
To: Maayan Tsadka
Subject: Re: hi from santa cruz+bird question

Glad to try to answer you. The Mockingbird track never got more than being a kind of loving improvisation on what seemed like “equivalent” sounds on the clarinet (I’m finessing this, avoiding an important comparison), again reproducing impressionistically the species form. I did have a wonderful apercu that it was very like the early-middle Stravinsky form (Rite, Symphonies of wind instruments, other pieces around that time): tableau-like repetitive sounds with sudden cut to the next one, weighted towards one or some of the tableaux.

The weighting issue was also a big determinate of my thinking with the Wood/Hermit thrush songs, once I found out from transcription and analysis what was going on. So it was more the ‘bird-form’ than the nature of the song itself that got me thinking about composition. In presenting the transcription, I was more faithful to the bird-form than the bird song, in which I had to alter register, approximate “microtones” from tempered, and decide in many cases to avoid a lot of the noise elements in the songs.

At beginning I simply had a beautiful clarinet solo, which I performed in many concerts, before I decided to transcribe more from my tapes. One of them was an actual “duet” between two wood thrushes. So I had an idea, suggested by nature: they performed their “solos” each in their own time, not “co-ordinated.” Also there were several individuals singing in a given environment. My decision to make a piece out of an environment of eight different thrushes would be an idealized one, not one you would would ever find in the woods. Individual scores performed in their own timed count was the solution to counterpoint and harmony. Both just happened, and I liked the result.

In New York I was using fabulous musicians, many of whom were distinguished improvisors. I wanted to expand the sound palette—especially the harmonic richness, by saturating the texture with overlaps. So I invented a guided score of processes that started with changing the duration ratios in the song, like expanding the length of the longer notes, shorter, speeds, registers, etc. This is all music stuff, not “nature.” This is where it rested until I made a really major shift in the perspective of the whole piece. I decided to find a way in which the environment’s “music” could combine with the local folk music (which I was then playing on clarinet in Cape Breton, Canada). They had outdoor fiddle festivals in rural sections where not far were some woods with thrushes and other birds. That was the image. I ended with this tri-part form: thrush songs enter additively; improvised processes on the songs; a “cacophony” when the folk musicians (I sometimes had a whole band, sometimes one or two folk musicians) enter with their own repertory right on top of the bird song improvisation. Then in a gracious gesture to my guest folk musicians, the bird song players fade out, the folk musicians band takes off through the rest of their suite, and has “the last word.”

In Tuba Thrush, I took the melody of one individual and orchestrated it to bring out what seemed to me like a harmonic progression. The title comes from finding a deer snort (remember at half-speed—on my field recording), and finding a sound on the tuba that the player uses first in his/her seat and then traveling out of hall, kind like the path of the startled deer away from the microphone. And I followed the actual sequence of phrases from my transcription. That was in the Flexible Orchestra, 2009, and is on the F.O. website. 11 flutes, viola, tuba, harpsichord.

I’m now looking at a commission (American system—no money) from a trio in Japan: flute, violin, piano. I thinking of taking a recording I call “the ornate thrush” and re-thinking composition with bird song, so the story is not ended.

By the way, I now have a blog. Maybe I can put this interchange up there? I was probably good that you asked me. I haven’t really put it down anywhere before.

Hi, to Larry!

All the best!

On Oct 24, 2011, at 11:41 PM, Maayan Tsadka wrote:

Hi Daniel,
I hope everything is going well with you.
Santa Cruz is beautiful as always, and since Larry arrived it is even more interesting.
it’s really great to have him here.

I saw that you have a flexible orchestra concert coming soon. good luck! what an interesting instrumentation.
Is this the same group you had last year? i wish i was there to come and listen. who are the composers?
I would love to write a piece for the orchestra, i guess it is too late for this one, but would love to take part in the future.

and for the birds question–
don’t know if you remember, back in the summer when i saw you i started working on that piece about birds (hummingbirds, rapid wing movement),
which ended up not having much to do with the bird due to the deadline, but i was facing this issue which i’d love to hear how you dealt with.
when you were working on your thrushes pieces ( and maybe also the mockingbird), how did you transformed it into a piece rather then just being a transcription of the bird calls?
did you use the inner structure of the calls in order to determine the overall form of the piece in anyway?
i hope i’m being clear here with this question… would love to hear from you if you have time.
take care,