Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Perfect Existential Angst

Like many of us, I studied Macbeth in high school, along with a handful of other Shakespeare plays, but, also like many of us, I didn't really grasp it at the time.  In fact, it wasn't until the last year or so, when I've been on sort of a Bard binge, that I've come to feel I can really appreciate the play.  I think one has to accumulate a certain number of years to understand the fears underlying the self-destructive ambition that drive Macbeth and his wife.  In particular, the existentialism of his soliloquy in Act V, scene 5, upon learning of Lady Macbeth's suicide, demands of the reader/audience at least some awareness of one's own mortality. 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

The more I saw productions of the play this past spring and summer, the more I was moved by the perfection with which Shakespeare conveys the inherent meaninglessness of life, the irony of existence.  Here is a man (Macbeth) who, as nearly all of us do, sought meaning outside himself, and is forced to face the empty-handedness of his grasping attempts.  (Fortunately, most of us do not come to this eventuality with the cruelty and finality that Macbeth does.) 

I do not find this speech dispiriting; rather, to me it describes the blank canvas of our lives, the surface upon which we may express whatever we wish.  Life does not come with meaning; if we want it, we must make it ourselves.  As, again and again, I listened to great (and not-so-great) actors say these words, as I read them to myself, I began to hear music with it.  Eventually, it became this: 

As you can tell, this is a very different piece from what I've been doing, but it was a lot of fun and a new kind of challenge to compose.  I was inspired by the words in ways I have not experienced before.  I don't think of myself as a songwriter and have gotten further away from music with words in it as I've gotten older; nonetheless, this really grabbed me.  

It was written as a duet for tenor and viola.  Unfortunately, as I confirmed in the attempt to record the piece, I am neither the tenor nor the violist that the music requires; hence the electronic version.  This performance was constructed in Logic 9 using, for the voice, the native EVOC-20 digital vocoder over a sawtooth wave from the native ES2 digital synth, and Native Instruments' Kontact Player plug-in with the Garritan Personal Orchestra's solo viola sample.  Despite the piece's conceptualization as acoustic, I endeavored not to shy from the electronic sound; I believe it works reasonably well, if nonetheless different in character from my original intent.  In composing it, I started with the vocal line and struggled for several weeks with how it should be accompanied.  After futzing with a lot of different ideas, I began to hear a simple accompanying line, which I worked out in its entirety before deciding -- realizing, really -- that it should be played on a viola.

As it was my original intention that it be performed acoustically, I would be thrilled if someone who has the chops I lack is interested in playing it.  I have the score and would happily share it with anyone who wished to take it on; I would only ask for a recording of the performance, either audio or video.  Just contact me via the comments.