Numbers, numbers.

It’s my 200th post. I’m celebrating by geeking out with an idea I’ve had for a piece of music.

Joker, Ace, Two, Three

I studied music for three years and in all that time I never found a piece of “chance” music I could sit back and enjoy easily. Move into the realms of Total Serialism and I’m left cold. Cold and mostly dead. Frankly the more randomised “classical” music tends to lead me into spiritual and emotional┬árigor mortis.

But that’s not the sum of all aleatoric music and if you’re only controlling certain parameters with chance elements, you’re pretty much free to do the rest as you like.

This leads me to my new composition, entitled simply “Aleatoric Wallpaper”.

I make a crust now and again playing background music to corporate events, wedding receptions, dinners, and so forth. My job is to be unobtrusive and pleasant on the ear. The only trouble is my wayward streak which sees Christmas carols, children’s TV themes, classic film scores and on one memorable occasion “The Stripper” woven into the musical landscape. Many is the time I’ve got bored and played an upbeat jazz arrangement of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in its relative mnor, watching as people recognise the changes and the shape of the piece but totally fail to work out the original underneath.

In short, I get bored really easily. I need something to add variety to playing improvised background music which will challenge me as a performer without shackling me to a framework I’ll come to hate.

So here’s the game composition: Take a deck of cards. There are 54 cards including the Jokers, which will be dealt into three piles in the course of the piece. Three are dealt to form the first combination, as the basis of the three piles. Thereafter cards are dealt at the rate of one per minute onto any pile.

If a card lands on the first pile, it defines the key. Ace is A, 2 is B flat, 3 is B all the way to the Queen which is A flat. Black suits are major, red suits are minor. Kings indicate you should modulate to the relative major or minor of the key you are in already.

If a card lands on the second pile, it defines stylistic conventions. Rhythms are straight for clubs, swing for diamonds, more latin for hearts and triplets for spades. Face cards give you an option on covers. Kings for songs released by Gentlemen, Queens for Ladies, Jacks for Boy Bands. Covering other people’s covers is totally allowed.

If a card lands on the third pile, it’s an indication of articulation dynamics and emotive flow. Red suits indicate passion, black cards indicate melancholy. Numbers give a scale of intensity (of texture, dynamic, however you want). Face cards give you indications of inner voice – male, female, child.

A joker on any pile is licence to get creative. Switch to throat singing, play in 5/4, change key to an easier one. The choice is yours. Enjoy.

With 54 cards, three dealt to begin and then one every minute, the piece should take 51 minutes til the last card is dealt, then a final minute of the last combination after which the musician(s) can fade out or stop or emigrate. Free choice really, but if they all do the same thing, it will help. There’s no rule to say the cards must be dealt in a particular order or whether the dealer can see the card before selecting a pile. This is supposed to be fun. Make up whatever rules you like. I just did.


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