I work on projects in distinct stages for various reasons, not least of which is simplifying my workflow so I have some idea of what I need to do each day. (Oh I’m editing today? Okay great.) This has an inherent benefit: it creates separation between different ways of working. For my current project, I divided it into four stages. The first stage was recording a series of marimba chords. I placed no limits on what I would play, except of course for the self-imposed limitations of what chords I could actually come up with while recording. For the most part, I played triads with open voicings, but there were always a few outlier chords, and upon re-listening to what I played, these chords were super interesting because I could hear that I had no idea where I wanted to go with them. Which is just as such things should be.
The second stage of composing was mapping each of the chords I played to my grid controller so I could re-play them by tapping the pads. Even before mapping the chords, I had a sense that this would be an important start to getting some distance from whatever I had intended while playing the chords on the marimba. By mapping the chords, one chord per pad, I turned them into marimba samples that could be used however I wanted. Finally the sounds were free!
The third stage was trying out various ways of sequencing the marimba chords mapped to the pads. I had between thirty and forty chords from which to choose, so the hardest part was knowing where to start and how many to use. Would my sequences be 4 or 24 bars long? Would there be one or two sequences per piece, or five or six? The only way to know was to try out different sequences to hear how they sounded. As a side note, playing the chords on the pads became a challenging game of trying to remember what sound was mapped to what pad.
The fourth stage was to manipulate my chord sequences in various ways. I repeated them, I added and subtracted space between them, I transposed them, and I moved them about the timeline of the piece, so that a beginning might appear again at the end, or the middle part of one might be superimposed upon the end of another. I was always pleasantly surprised when I dragged a sequence into a new position and heard an unexpected juxtaposition with the other parts. Since I had kept my marimba playing to a single key per session, the chords could function in a modular way.
By the fourth stage, I had forgotten all about having played the original marimba chords. I knew the key but couldn’t tell you what the chords were. But this had been my goal all along: to transport the chords from the gestural space of playing an acoustic instrument onto a grid controller and then re-sequence them onto the virtual space of the screen. It was still me playing, but I now had separation between my original idea and the new place I had arrived at. Which is just as such things should be.