From Idea to Sheet Music: The Writing Process of GAU
Movement I: Conception
Sometimes when people find out that I write music, they get super impressed. “Wow, you must be a genius to write music, I could never do something like that!”
And they’re right, I am a genius, and I wouldn’t wish the gift of music composition on my worst enemy. Some composer’s have a romantic notion of creating bliss from sound, but to me, writing music is the biggest pain in the ass.
Why then, do I choose to write music? Why did I spend over ten years of my life studying it? The answer is simply…
I literally shit music out of my head. Yes that’s right, I literally shit music out of my head and I can’t turn the faucet off. Weather I’m walking to the grocery store, taking a shower, watching a movie, or trying to sleep, a melody will zap into my brain and within milliseconds: unfold, develop, and transform into music that doesn’t not shut the fuck up until I hum the melody into my iphone. If I’m not near a piano or I don’t have my phone on me, I will put the music on auto loop until I am somewhat confident that I can recall it later. Often times, a recorded melody will magically reappear in my head, even when I forgot I recorded it in the first place. It’s really weird.
Sometimes, when I listen to music, whatever it is, if I’m not instantly engaged, I will improvise the melody or motif in my head until I am satisfied that my internal version is a significant improvement over the offending noise. I know it sounds very narcissistic, but I cannot help it unless I make a super conscious effort to turn the Gustavo-button off.
Movement II: Development
After the melody or motif is transcribed into a scribble on manuscript paper, a love-hate relationship begins with the mother of my music child. ‘This is what separates the men from the boys’ as they say, which is sculpting this little sperm-let of an idea into a behemoth gladiator which can slay the doubters and woe women’s hearts. A series of questioning begins including: What instrument is this for? What is the concept behind this idea? What is the global structure of the music? How long is this piece going to be?
After I figure this shit out, then my music compositional training kicks in and then I go to work.
Step 1: Make coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. If on a time crunch, get a Red Bull, Rockstar, or any other energy drink that will hurt my liver when I pee.
Step 2: Make a visual or mental diagram of the piece.
Step 3. Take a break. Take a shit.
Step 4. Actually write music down. This process actually varies on the type of piece and the time deadline. Ideally, I like to sketch near a piano, and then put the music in the computer notation program. Also depending on the piece, I might sketch a skeleton and fill the details later or I might draft section by section. The music will unfortunately be on auto loop in my head until the final draft is produced.
Step 5. Show the drafts to other musicians for feedback. Critique on form and instrumental logistics are discussed to make sure the piece is on the right track.
Step 6. Revisions, editing and proof reading. Even though by this point I am really sick of looking at my music, I still have to make sure that everything looks right and is legible. This is ironically super-tedious and it might even take longer then drafting the actual piece.
Movement III: Performance
This is what they didn’t teach you in music school, but the most important lesson when studying music is dealing with other musicians. Yes, when trying to get your music performed for the first time or rehearsing new music, it is just as political as anything else.
It really depends on the musicians, but usually it ends up like I’m standing in front of an execution squad. A barrage of fully loaded questions about notation, expression, and entrances will be fired at once, and I will have to somehow tap into the Matrix and load my kung-fu, diplomacy, and helicopter piloting programs to somehow respond with a seemingly look of confidence. The trick is to not loose my temper and pretend like I know what I’m talking about. I really just make it up as I go along, but don’t tell anybody I said that.
The truth is that I really do know what I’m talking about, but I know that the first couple of performances are usually going to end up being train wrecks anyways. Of course, it makes sense that new music is probably going to have to be recorded and released by various musicians into mass consciousness before actually played “correctly”. And don’t get me started on how to play the piece correctly, because it really takes a musician’s memorization, appreciation, and rehearsal for a year to get the new piece played convincingly to an audience. Unfortunately, musicians might not have enough time to spend on a new piece because of real life constraints.
Movement IV: Conclusion
Every composer and instrumentalist will have they’re own ideas and ways of doing things, but it is the nature of unexpected performance that is one of the most scariest and interesting parts of writing music. Sometimes the performers do something that was not originally perceived when writing the piece, like a different tempo or interpretation. When I actually hear my music being played sometimes I cringe, get embarrassed or wish I did not write it in the first place. But, sometimes I get goose bumps and a nervous joy in my body. A feeling something like sexual bliss that rushes through me and gives me a sense of crying. It is when my little hatchling of musical shit becomes a swan and gets released. Fly, my little bird, fly and meet the world.