Gimme Some Modes

The five-part piano cycle Gimme Some Modes was composed from 2005 to 2009. Each piece uses a different seven-note, non-diatonic mode as a basis to explore ambiguous, scalar tonal schemes. The texture evolves by way of interleaved patterns of pitch rows, arpeggios, progressions of parallel chord shapes, note-on-note canons/chorales, and high and low pedals. The result is a set of meditations on harmony; a catalog of harmonic colour combinations presented in a largely ambient environment. These are not virtuosic or dense scores; still, they require concentration and attention to weighting.

“Lost Years” is in memoriam to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It uses the double harmonic mode (A double harmonic minor or E double harmonic major). This pitch set allows for several modulations within the mode, suggesting multiple tonics.

The other parts of Gimme Some Modes will be posted throughout April, with updates to this entry.

Update April 3:

“The Two Jameses” is in memoriam to my teacher, composer James Tenney, and soul legend James Brown, who were born a little over a year apart and passed away within a few months of each other. There is perhaps an echo of Tenney’s Chorale/s here, and some distant rhythmic disturbance courtesy of Brown. The mode is C diminished with F-sharp missing.

The title of the cycle references the song “Gimme Some More,” written by Brown and recorded (and likely co-written) by The J.B.’s in 1971.

Update April 10:

“Dream of a Blue Elf” refers to a particularly vivid dream I had in which my older daughter, then an infant, appeared in a mythical guise. It is in the F Lydian dominant mode, and is the longest and most process-driven piece in the cycle. In the first half, the number of chords in an arpeggiated chord cycle increases with each reiteration, as more voices are added and metres are lengthened. Like “Aubade” which follows it, “Dream” opens with a diatonic subset of its mode.

Photo: “Scratched Elf” by Remi, age 6

Update April 17:

“Aubade” straddles a line between kitsch romance and abstract sonority. The mode is B-flat harmonic major. The six notes heard in three octaves at the halfway point spell out the slow moving bassline of the piece – G-flat, E-flat, D, C, F, B-flat – a signal of some kind, perhaps from a surreal bell tower at dawn.

Photo: Glen Cedar Bridge, Toronto, sunrise April 2009

Update April 24:

“Love and the Troubles” begins with a close variation on the previous mode, the variation also being the same as “Lost Years” transposed by a tritone, i.e. B-flat double harmonic major/E-flat double harmonic minor. After the seven-note row from the opening of that first piece returns here in an extended chordal canon, a second mode is introduced; again a slight variation on the one preceding it. This final mode is B augmented with an added flat seventh degree.

The result is a new set of harmonies and an active, harmonically vivid conclusion – a modulating sequence of punctuated scales which descends from the simple scales in “Years.” The music in this passage transitions through several keys, highlighting the ambiguity of the mode. The row appearing just before the very loud chord at the three-quarter point of the piece spells out the chord, the mode, and the slow moving bassline of the ending: C-flat, D, E-flat, G, B-flat, A, F-sharp.

The score is dated 09 09 09.

Gimme Some Modes - List of Modes

Other influences on Modes include composers Ann Southam, Linda C. Smith, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Mulatu Astatke, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Morton Feldman, Alexander Scriabin and Erik Satie.

Recorded 2013-2014, Roland digital piano direct to file

Music and composer’s notes copyright Bruce A. Russell 2014


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