I released Trinity on December 22, 2023 to streaming platforms. It is my first instrumental composition to be so released (by me). It is 12:03 long and is exclusively electronic. This blog post is for anyone interested to know more about what I intended by it, and how it was constructed. Both of these things are unnecessary to know for listening, I think, but are worth confirming to anyone interested enough to go deeper.
I consider Trinity a departure from my usually busy music. It is stretched out and ambient. It’s composition in Spring, 2023 began as a pursuit of my interest in the late madrigals of Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613), which are renowned for their highly chromatic (using the full chromatic scale, rather than the 7-note diatonic scale) and tonally radical nature. Whether or not Gesulado’s madrigals are doggedly triadic (built only upon 1-3-5 triads), my response to his music in Trinity is. This is a pathway of exploration I have been wanting to follow, and also became the primary reason for the title, Trinity.
My second interest, which determined the time course of my exploration, is in spiral chord progressions. Spirals are chord progressions which, like an Escher print, (or, on a grander scale, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake) sound like they are moving forward but ultimately end up where they began, creating a closed loop of whatever length the creator decides. I have employed long loops in my music before, the most austere being “Rounds” from my percussion sextet Air – Rounds – Parade, which makes audible the final ten minutes of a 183-day rhythmic loop in 22 voices. I also played with a spiral chord progression in my big band piece, “Saturnalia,” on my EP, Jade. The fact that both of those two uses (other than sounding completely different from one another) do not deal with an entire loop, but only short edges of the circle, imply the variety with which a composer can deal with underlying time processes.
The final (technical) intention of Trinity was as an electronic music orchestration study – in the way that Ravel’s Bolero is a symphonic orchestration study. Though the architecture of the notes is austere and inexorable, the orchestration was my vehicle for instinctive decisions, flights of fancy, and local dramas. Just as Ravel was limited (though one would hardly guess it!) by the resources of the standard symphony orchestra, my resources were limited to the presets and effects available in Apple’s Logic Pro (again, hardly a limit!). Indeed, I employ “fake” sounds imitating acoustic instruments, such as strings, woodwinds, brass, but those are intended as foundational while the more elaborate, experimental presets and effects are pushed to the fore. In the beginning, fake strings carry the bulk of the chords before branching out to more alien ensembles. This faux traditionalism is perhaps backed up by Eno’s Music for Airports, which employs era-appropriate patches which imitate voices, for one.
On the architecture, Trinity uses 85 triads in succession. They are broken into 7 sets of 12 plus the final chord. Of course, they are not all in root position (the 1 in the bass), for that would be less enjoyable to listen to. The voice leading overall belongs in the domain of intuitive composition. The roots of the chords are assembled in a 12-tone row (all 12 pitches stated before one may recur), and having this row audible in the bass for twelve minutes was unthinkable. The use of a 12-tone row would imply that stringing together a spiral chord progression would be a very simple matter to achieve, and that is true. However, I chose not to merely transpose the row seven times and be done with it. I felt I needed a shift at the halfway mark and not merely, e.g., a palindrome (which I did in my RIO-flavored track, “Metempsychosis (Palindrome)” from the prog album Plastic Island Pentecost). Instead I retained the root row while reversing the quality of the triads. What was once major becomes minor, and minor becomes major. This is inspired by what Harry Partch called the Otonal and the Utonal harmonic series. (For every interval that goes upward, there is its opposite which goes downward. Positive and negative numbers, in brief.) Though, it should be said that the mere changing of a triad from major to minor is a simple metaphor for Otonality/Utonalilty, not the actual thing.
What does it all mean to me? I like that the chord changes imply a drama – think of the ubiquitous chromatic mediant shifts of a classic film score – and yet lead nowhere. To most people the word Trinity would imply spirituality of some sort, or maybe the atomic bomb in a cruel yin-yang of history. Either are appropriate. In this work it is about the triad as a portal to those things or anything else. It uses the grammar of tonality to depict the cyclicality of history, Music of the Spheres, infinity. It can be meditative and spiritual, or it can be strongly narrative depending on the listener, or it can begin as one thing and move to another, thus effecting a change. In the end, I consider it to be austere and playful at once. Anyone who knows my music knows that I am in constant conflict between architecture and free play, for I love both equally.