Sunday, December 16, 2012

Expandable Form in Music

How much can the organization of the sound change before a piece of music becomes a different piece of music?

Copyright law tells us that we cannot copyright a chord progression. This means that if two people play the same chord progression, they aren’t necessarily playing the same piece of music.

On the other end of this, you can copyright a riff or melody line. So, if you change that riff or melody by lengthening all the notes, is it the same piece of music? I’m sure many will say “yes”.

Let’s take it a step further. What if you were to not only lengthen the time it takes to play the melody or riff  by slowing the tempo, but then you shortened the length of each note and inserted another riff or melody (in the same timbre and range as the original) in all of the empty space. Is this still the same piece of music? I’m sure there would be a very differing answer to this depending on the example used (and the determination of the person trying to defend their intellectual property in the court of law...).

In the first post on this blog I shared two pieces of music. The first was a studio recording of several electric guitar riffs looping out of sync with each other in order to create phase between the timing of the riffs (like the timing phase between car blinkers in a line at a stop light). In the second example, I performed live and looped those same riffs, and then improvised and explored different sounds and sections inspired by the original idea.

In the time since that improvisation, I have come up with a list of sounds, riffs, and formal sections that work really well with the original looping riffs. Making the score for the piece more of an open "to do list".

What I mean by "open" is that since the timing of the loops is not exact (due to the phase effect mentioned above), the entrance and length of each new section starts to matter less as well. Given all of the musical ideas I want to have happen in this piece, the length can get as short as 7 minutes.

Here is a live recording at Studio Z (As performed by Bryan Schumann 11/20/12):

Here is where things get really interesting. Since any of the entrances of any of the riffs or sections can happen at different times, each formal section can also be extended in length since it is really up to the performer to decide when to proceed to the next section. For example, the solo section could go on for a very long time or could be just a few quick lines if desired.

Using the "to do list" method outlined above, I have made a studio recording of Sunday with its form expanded out to just under 11 minutes long.

Pro Tools Session - Sunday - (12-15-12)

So, going back to my original question.  Is the 7 minute-long piece of music the same piece of music as the 11 minute-long piece of music? 

I intend to explore the idea of expandable form in greater detail, and come back with more examples, more questions (I promise), and maybe even a few answers.

Until then, cheers,