C.105 - "A Day in the Life of a mode (Friday)"

Composed: 18th to 23rd November 2016

     This is the 4th movement I worked on for the suite, “A Day in the Life of a Mode” (see “C.89”, “C.90”, and “C.94”). It was written during my 3rd year at the University of Surrey for the 'Composition 3A' module. This snippet from the commentary describes it best (written between 23rd to 29th December 2016):

1) ‘Friday – Succumbing to Clubbing’

Context and Influences

     This piece is the continuation of a suite I started writing in 2015 for the Composition 2A module which had a requirement for us to engage with musical modes in some shape or form. I decided on attaching the seven common modes to the seven days of the week, alongside an activity and/or theme that I associated with each day. This was to be the basis for ‘A Day in the Life of a Mode’, a seven-movement suite for two pianos. I wrote ‘Monday’ and ‘Sunday’ for Composition 2A, ‘Thursday’ for Composition 2B, and now ‘Friday’ for Composition 3A. The tentative plan for the suite can be seen in figure 1 ([see separate document ‘Figures’]).

Figure 1: The tentative outline of ‘A Day in the Life of a Mode’

     The choice of activity/theme for ‘Friday’ was an obvious one; it’s the last working day and opens up the opportunity to drink and party to your heart’s content, and clubbing is a big signifier of that. The choice of mode – ‘Dorian’ – was made due to its characteristic raised sixth degree, which alludes heavily to a tonic-subdominant progression that is rather common in popular music – the music often found in clubs.

 

    One influence highlighting this tonic-subdominant progression was the opening Dorian progression of Michael Andrews and Gary Jules cover of ‘Mad World’. Thomas Adès’ third movement of ‘Asyla’ also prompted me to tackle drug themes. This then brought the previous movements I had written back to my attention, and I used them as a large influence on this movement, including a return to the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ as I used for ‘Thursday’. A further influence was the stereotypical sound of club music; heavy, loud, rhythmically-driven, all of which I took into consideration.

 

Analysis

     The movement follows a flexible structure of five sections:

  • Approaching the Club

  • Inside the Club

  • Drinking

  • Drugs

  • Aftermath

     As much as I figured it would be interesting to see the musical results of composing while drunk or taking LSD, I did not seek those out for first-hand influence. Instead, I listed those five sections and haphazardly wrote whatever came to mind. As I typically use motifs for these compositions, the first ideas became recurring motifs (fig.2), to make the movements more individually unified and, of course, easier to write.

Figure 2: The main motifs of ‘Friday’

    ‘Motif 1’, named the ‘Club’ motif, is the harmonic crux of the entire movement, emphasising the raised sixth-degree of Dorian. ‘Motif 2’ is more narratively focused and is inspired by serialism, using all of the white notes once except for the tonic, with which the motif is bookended. It represents a ‘Character’ as he approaches the club and follows the five sections I listed above, which I shall discuss now:

 

    The movement begins with an initiating metric dissonance, sounding as though the ‘Character’ is going off the path, surrendering his better judgement and ultimately ‘Succumbing to Clubbing’. As he approaches the club, the music crescendos, thickens, and speeds up until the ‘Character’ finds himself inside (bb.23). Here, a hyperbolic statement of the ‘Club’ motif sounds, emulating a drum kit with lower notes on the beat, and higher notes on the offbeat. The movement continues rather spontaneously with a fleeting hint of polymeter (fig.3) and rhythmic diminution of the ‘Character’ motif (fig.4) until he decides to start drinking (bb.52).

Figure 3: Fleeting Polymeter

Figure 4: Rhythmic Diminution

     Waiting for his drink, he ponders over the decision, but the pleasures of the club begin to entice him, triggering the tonal conflict between D♮-Dorian (sober) and E♭-Dorian (drunk) (fig.5). His drinks arrive and he devours them with rapid scales (fig.6) making him drunk and opening his eyes to all the club has to offer. With the key now in E♭, the ‘Character’ stumbles about in a dizzying polymeter of 4/4, 6/4, 5/8, and two nonaligned 6/8’s (fig.7) – a ‘displacement dissonance’ (Krebs, 1999:33).

Figure 5: Conflict of D♮ and E♭ Dorian

Figure 6: Drinking

Figure 7: Dizzying Polymeter

     He becomes more stable at bb.88, drifting down to D♭-Dorian but not yet returning to his sober state of D♮-Dorian. He attempts to fight back into his sober state with a jarring appearance of bi-tonality (fig.8), but his descent into drunkenness continues with an ever-spiralling sequence into obscure keys with triple flats which the performers should improvise in an impromptu manner (fig.9). The ‘Character’ manages to return to D♮-Dorian, though not because he is sober, but because another sober person has offered him LSD. In his drunk state, the ‘Character’ willingly consumes, and the club begins to whirl around him as the drugs take effect (fig.10).

Figure 8: Jarring Bitonality

Figure 9: Performer Improvisation

Figure 10: Whirling

     He returns to E♭-Dorian (bb.105) and sees the club in an entirely new light with repetition of the material from bb.23, but twisted and, in some places, inverted (fig.11). Here, the combination of drunkenness and LSD creates an unstable segment: bi-tonality returns with the conflict of D♮ and E♭-Dorian once more, later teasing with the E♭ modulating down to D♭, and a metric modulation ensues (fig.12), signalling the start of the LSD trip with a waltz (bb.120) – a stylistic reference to ‘Tuesday’. As LSD has been known to induce flashbacks (Halpern and Pope, 2003:109), the ‘Character’ begins to hallucinate by discarding the rules of the suite and using material from the past movements, with modes other than Dorian (fig.13).

Figure 11a: Original material

Figure 11b: Inverted variation of original material

Figure 12: Metric Modulation

Figure 13: Foreign Modes

     Thus a blurring of the modes ensues, starting with material from Locrian (‘Monday’, fig.14) and Lydian (‘Tuesday’, fig.15).

Figure 14: Locrian (‘Monday’) Material

Figure 15: Lydian ('Tuesday') Material

     All seems to be going well until Aeolian (‘Wednesday’) appears, bringing with it a horrific storm with string scraping and three Aeolian modes at once (fig.16). Thus begins the bad LSD trip, as motifs from ‘Monday’, ‘Thursday’ (Phrygian) and ‘Friday’ begin to merge into a terrifying nightmare of tri-modality and polymeter (fig.17).

Figure 16: Aeolian (‘Wednesday’) Material

Figure 17: Blurring of material from 'Monday', 'Thursday' and 'Friday'

Locrian ('Monday')

Phrygian ('Thursday')

Dorian ('Friday')

All Blurring Together

     The Morse rhythms (a simple method of cryptography transferring the rhythms of Morse code into musical rhythms) I used in ‘Thursday’ return, screaming out extra-musical funeralistic phrases that hopefully elicits emotion to those that translate it (fig.18). This bad trip concludes with an abrupt silence and a final string scrape, signalling the end of the bad trip. In the aftermath of such horror, a momentary vision of hope appears with the foreshadowing of material from ‘Sunday’ (Ionian) (fig.19). But this material becomes tainted with the Dorian mode (fig.20), and the movement ends with variations on the opening rhythmic material that had been hitherto neglected (fig.21), concluding in the submediant of C-Dorian – F major.

Figure 18: Morse Rhythms and French Cryptography

French Cryptographic System

Morse Rhythms System

Figure 19: Ionian ('Sunday') Material

Figure 20: 'Sunday' Material Translated into C♮-Dorian

Figure 21: Neglected Rhythmic Material

Original Material

Reflection

     As soon as I completed this movement, I realized it should have been the last movement I wrote for the entire suite; not only have I spoiled the ideas I had floating around for the unwritten movements, but it forced me to conjure up said material. Thus the material I presented here in reference to ‘Tuesday’ and ‘Wednesday’ is questionably tentative.

     There was a further issue, one which was also present for ‘Thursday’, in that I didn’t do the math; in ‘Friday’, some of the polymeters don’t add up smoothly, and I had to awkwardly add in extra time signatures here and there to solve it.

 

Recording

     The recording was created using the EastWest sample libraries and Cubase. The mallet strikes and scrapes are my own recordings (not using the Steinway grand, you’ll be happy to know).

     I had to adjust the structure of this commentary slightly to insert the figures in appropriate places (they were previously in a separate document, as the word count was getting too high!).

     Akin to “C.94 - Thursday”, we had to give a presentation on our portfolio, this time given on 8th December 2016 (regrettably, on a Thursday), in which I succinctly summarized the entirety of this work in 10 minutes with 2 sides of A4, appearing thus (created 5th December 2016):

     For a while, this was one of my favourite compositions I had yet written; on the day I began writing it (18th November 2016), I wrote in my diary, "Spent 8 hours on starting 'Friday'; wrote roughly 2 minutes. It was a blast! Haven't had this much fun composing in a while!". And this over-excitement quickly made me overshoot my target, as I wrote on completing the work (23rd November 2016), "It is finished! Wrote just under 2 minutes - totalling ... 7 minutes!? I only intended 5!"

 

      I continually enjoy the quirky rhythmic dissonance, the meta-modal references, and the number of Easter eggs I have scattered within (and won’t spoil here!). Another unique aspect is its conclusion in F major as opposed to the tonic mode of D Dorian, as per all the other movements. This is incredibly significant due to its modal relation to the 2nd movement – “Tuesday” – which is not yet written, but would be scored in F Lydian.

    I enjoyed this work so much after writing it that its score still stands as the image I use at the top of my website, showing a snippet from roughly b.38 and b.49.

     For this portfolio (which also included “C.103”), I ultimately received a mark of 70%.

Reminiscence written on 31st July 2019

Last updated: 19th September 2019

© 2020 Jonathan Shaw