The two pieces I chose to work with as my material in the pieces for [rout] have a quite clear relationship between mood and movement. But other than just play them, I was to start with at a bit of a loss to know what to do.
So first, I decided to try and identify those qualities in each piece that expressed these things: the static contentedness in the Mahler and the edgy restlessness of the Joni Mitchell.
I found soon enough that there were in Der Abschied certain sections that interested me more: particularly the end ones so I decided to focus on those. The things I found that expressed this stillness most clearly were a kind of rocking motion, alternating between two notes, and a subtle heterophonic doubling or tripling of lines, particularly involving the vocal line, and the harmonic blurring this results in. And in the very last part of the Mahler, the harmony lands on the added sixth chord that gives it the strange floating sense of restfulness.
In Hejira, as I mentioned, the restlessness is technically pretty lowkey, and its subtlety easily disrupted. I found a peculiar version by Chaka Khan which ups the tempo and reinforces the beat to make a disco version, and in the process, contrary to what you might expect, destroys the restlessness and movement I find in the original. Here it is:
I worked quite a bit on the Mahler score by taking those qualities and exaggerating them: pushing the static quality and underplaying the dynamism, but felt I wasn’t really getting anywhere. Once I had transcribed Hejira – quite a task in its own right! – I tried to do a similar thing, but again, struggled to find a worthwhile route to a larger piece. I had at that point thought of doing two pieces, one based on each song, but then it occurred to me to perhaps use them both in the same work.
The first thing I needed to establish then, was that it was worth it at all, so I superimposed them, just to see what it would be like. These two pieces are incredibly familiar to me: I’ve been listening to them regularly for about 30 years, so it was difficult for me to hear them as one thing rather than just the two together. So, like a visual artist looking at their work in a mirror to get a different view, I reversed the two songs before I stuck them together. The result actually made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and made me think I was on the right track. Here it is: you have to try and ignore the backwardness of it.
How I actually started to put them together I’ll tell you next time.