Music for Use

Music for Use

Digression: a fictional story

Music, News and UpdatesCooper Ottum

Prairie Logic. Photo credit: FuseBox New Music. 

Lately I've tried to give my music some sort of internal fiction. Something (anything, really) that helps guide my musical intuition, whether it be an absurd story or an abstract feeling: that's what becomes the “fiction” of the piece. 

This becomes a way to grapple with what otherwise might just be called “free-association.” Here's the thing: I don't often make the most “appropriate” choices in my pieces—for example, I usually pick harmonies based on a loose concept of counterpoint and an even looser idea of what feels right. But if there's a story, a fictional universe within which I'll generate made-up consistencies and imaginary physical laws, I've found that I feel much more comfortable with whatever series of musical choices I make. 

An aside here: writing music for the harp is frightening. Writing music for your friends is frightening. I am so grateful to FuseBox (thank you, Zane, Scott, and Ted) for this opportunity. But I was so very frightened of writing this piece. 

Digression, the piece, is supposed to sound like a digression. Nothing fancy. My original concept for this piece (that is intended to be programmed sandwiched between two extraordinarily beautiful movements of Debussy's Sonate pour Flûte Alto et Harpe) came from a fascination I have with the use of harmony as rhetoric. I pondered what Debussy was trying to say when he asks the flute to lean in to the major seventh of the chord that closes the first movement of his Sonate. Is he trying to convince me that, after all of those notes, these particular two notes are special? 

Thus the fictional universe of the piece was born: a universe of an imagined Debussy that tries to explain his choice, but gets distracted by some other possible solutions to the problem of concluding his movement. This is the universe of music that Debussy rejected, phrases that he decided against. The pitches and rhythms here don't necessarily lead anywhere, but they all offer tiny examples of where Debussy’s music might have gone. I don't presume that I know how Debussy's musical imagination worked, but, of course, that's part of the fun. This isn't Debussy’s fiction, but mine, spiraling off every which way as it tries to copy, remix, reimagine, and redefine what already exists in the world of Debussy’s music.


Please join me and FuseBox New Music at the premiere of The Debussy Project, of which my piece Digression is a small part. This is an ambitious project and, in my opinion, a great way to experience both contemporary and not-so-contemporary music on the same concert. 

Performances of The Debussy Project will be held at Prairie Logic in Kansas City, MO on October 1st and 4th. Both performances begin at 7:30pm, and are FREE and open to the public, thanks to the support of ArtsKC.