Space Case, Part I

One of the main reasons I started working on Staggered was because I wanted some insight into my own musical tendencies. My knowledge of music theory was (and remains, relatively) limited. I just played shit that I thought sounded cool and never really thought about exactly why I felt that way about it.

Part of the fun of actually working on streams as opposed to working on the Aleator itself or the site is that I get to analyze my stylistic decisions as a songwriter, specifically as they relate to chord coloring and harmony. If we imagine melody and harmony occurring on the x and y axes, respectively, contemporary pop music is horizontally focused. Meaning - the most important thing is the melodic hook...that's where the money gets made. There is a ton of sound being crammed down our throats as listeners - whether it be words, weird ass noises, effects or just pure saturation. Harmony requires a certain amount of aural space to really have an impact and as a result it seems that harmonic concerns aren't really at the forefront right now. That makes the topic very interesting to me.

I want to open up my process a little for you guys and provide some visibility into how these streams come into being. First off, everything starts with acoustic guitar. That may seem counter intuitive, but its the truth. So, let's have a listen to a quick sketch of a piece I'm working on called Space Case. As a song, it's not overly complicated:

So a quick rundown of what's going on here in terms of progressions. I am in C major, but I work key agnostic so I'm providing roman numeral analysis. For part "A", each chord is held for a measure. I alternate between Cmaj9sus2 (I) and Am7 (vi) three times and then for the final cadence move to Em7 (iii) <--> Dm7 (ii). Then, for part "B", I modulate to the relative minor (A minor in this case) and hang out on the newly established tonic. This time I'm cramming two chords into each measure, but its a similar pattern. I alternate between Am7(b13) (i) and Am7 (i) for the first three measures, then in the final measure go from Em7 (v) to F (VI).

Right away you'll notice a lot of 7th chords, and some are even extended. I've always known that I tended to use a lot of 7ths and 9ths, but my use of suspended and extended chords was news to me. This was all pretty problematic for with Facets, as the Aleator could only play basic triads at that point. As a result, it lacks a certain amount of nuance; I'm hoping that the work I did on the Aleator in the fall and winter makes Static Void a lot richer and that some of the subtleties that come through on the acoustic can find their way through everyone's speakers.

Anyway, when transposed into XML for the Aleator to consume (with another tiny part added), we get:

SpaceCase_XML_2.JPG

With this, the first step is complete; the harmonic framework for this particular passage is represented in XML with no reference to key. Next time I'll talk a little about some of the challenges that have arisen as a result of the additional intervals, altered 5ths, etcetera. Space Case is the first Staggered piece to incorporate any of that so we'll see how it goes. In the meantime I'll keep tweeting sketches.