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  • Writer's pictureisaacrsmith

"Passing Emotions" and "Wasteful Devastation"

For my latest two projects, I've attempted to step out of my comfort zone much more than I ever have. I feel this is important to do as a composer. As with anything, if I always feel comfortable while I'm composing, I won't improve.

My first major piece this semester was a work for solo flute entitled "Passing Emotions: A Study in Mindfulness." A few teachers recently drew my attention to the use of extended techniques and the exploration of different timbres, specifically in regards to the flute. For this piece, I tried to emulate some of the techniques I heard from great pieces for flute over the last one hundred years. Sounds such as key clicks, inhaling and exhaling through the flute, and singing and playing simultaneously made their way into this piece. It was meant to explore my experience with meditation, and the way that various negative emotions such as anger or anxiety seem to control my life in the moment, but eventually pass over, leaving me with a sense of calm and ease. This was an incredibly educational project, learning the limitations and tendencies of the flute, trying to fill up space with just a single line instrument, and attempting to use silence effectively. I worked with Shiqun Ou, a graduate student at UNI studying flute performance, and I was pleased by the work he did to prepare and record the piece (I encourage you to check it out under my "Compositions" tab).

Next up came what is probably the most difficult piece I have written, a composition for string quartet called "Wasteful Devastation." I'm always bad at coming up with titles, but choosing a name for this one was particularly difficult, as I wanted it to reflect my strong feelings for the issue that is the inspiration for the piece. I have become horrified by the incredible amount of plastic that humans throw into the ground each day. It stays there for millions of years, and much of it ends up in the bellies of fish or other sea creatures. I feel that this is an issue that requires more attention on our part, and attempted to make my strong feelings on this matter come across in my composing of this piece. It was my first go at writing using a twelve-tone technique, which I did for a few minutes of the work to show the "devastation" of the planet. I also used polyrhythms of fives and sevens to represent the number of oceans and continents, respectively. The next step for this one is finding a group to record it for me, as it is not an easy work by any stretch, and Iowa isn't exactly hopping with string players. Stay tuned for updates!

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