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1994_0617-01 : Music From 3 Hats (in F)




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(1988) Composer : Eric Scott

This, my first work of process music, was a piece in which a set of chance operations determined the structure of the musical phrase, including the arrangement of the instruments to be used. The decisions made ultimately governed the tempo of the final piece.

The only fixed criteria were that the piece be arranged for six electronic voices (I have always been drawn to the trance-like qualities of Terry Riley’s “In C” and Steve Reich’s “Six Pianos”) and that the total duration of the piece be 23 minutes. (Though seemingly arbitrary, 23 minutes has proven historically to be a practical length for the classical movement– and vinyl records typically hold no more than this per side.) The last criterion was that the ending tempo was to be one-half of its starting tempo, such that the piece decelerates to slow pulse during the closing refrain. The music ultimately decays as the phase-shifting of the musical relationships within the piece come full-circle, and the final measure joins up with the first.

The work was drawn into three distinct sections, the ending with a refrain of the first movement, separated by subtle shifts in arrangement as the musicians trade instrument “patches” (the voices produced by an electronic keyboard) and where that which begins primarily as a piano ensemble, evolves into a mallet ensemble during the second movement, and a string ensemble during the third; each musical voice undergoes three transitions before returning to its first, principal voice.

To produce this piece, numbers were drawn from 3 separate hats… Three hats were laid out on the floor. The first hat contained numbers from 1 to 12, representing a pre-arranged orchestral map of MIDI voices:

1 = Vibraphone
2 = Piano
3 = Pizzicato Violin
4 = Pizzicato Viola
5 = Pizzicato Cello
6 = Bells
7 = Marimba
8 = Legato Violin
9 = Legato Viola
10 = Percussion
11 = Legato Cello
12 = Staccato Violin

For each of the six voices, three cards were chosen– the first one representing the starting block, and onward through the two transitions. For the first voice, the numbers 2-7-3 were drawn, indicating that it was to begin on Piano, before moving to Marimba, then Pizzicato Violin, before returning to Piano for the finale. The six musicians each drew 3 cards.

The general groupings were:

I Piano and Percussion
II Mallets and Percussion)
III Pizzicato Strings with Mallets
(IV) (Piano and Percussion)

The second hat contained cards with the 12 note names from the chromatic scale (C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, etc.). The first card drawn, F, determined the key of the piece, while the following 3 cards (C, E, A) determined the chord structure (built upon Fmaj 7, whose notes are F, A, C, E).

The third hat held cards numbered from 1-12; these were drawn out two at a time, the greater of the two representing the total number of sixteenth-note pulses in a musical phrase, and the lesser of the two determining the grouping of musical pulses to tacit pulses. Each of the
six musicians drew 2 cards; in this manner, the assembly of six musical phrases begins in-synch, before slipping out of phase almost instantaneously, and never recurring again for another 495 measures, until at the very end of the piece, all voices play in unison for the second (and very last) time.

At this point, the cycle completes; the music returns to its point of departure.

* The term Process Music dates back (principally) to the work of a select group of composers/compositions from the 1960’s and 1970’s, in which a specific technology is employed in creating a musical piece, and is as much responsible for the end product, as the human performer of the music. Prior examples of this compositional style include Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain” and Drumming; Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room”; Brian Eno’s “Three Variations on Pachelbel’s Canon” and “Discreet Music”; and Terry Riley’s “In C”, among many others.