Thursday, May 17, 2018

A closer look at "Seconds - Fast Gone"

Recently, I posted a piece of music on YouTube that I just have been dying to write about. What can I say, I'm a big time music theory nerd. So in this post, I'll be taking a look at the thought behind "Seconds - Fast Gone".

The overall form of this piece was inspired by sonata-allegro form, which is commonly used for the first movement of symphonies. In a typical sonata-allegro piece in a minor key, the A section would be in the tonic key and the B section would be in the major III key. I wanted to be a little different, so I used the major IV key instead, which is much more distantly related than III. Minor i and major III are so closely related that they often sound like different aspects of the same tonality. So instead, I moved my B section outside of the original key quite dramatically. This makes the B section much brighter- a change from minor to major, and a change from a flat key to a sharp key. I also move the melody up to a higher register and lighten up the texture. The combination of all of these factors leads to a dark A section and a carefree B section. The modulation between the A and the B sections turned out to be pretty easy, despite their extreme contrast. While D minor and G major are not closely related keys, both are closely related to C major, which I used as a stepping stone between the two keys.

In the "development" section of this piece, I chose not to develop my melodic themes, choosing instead to focus on tonal and rhythmic instability. Unstable rhythm is easy, I just switched to 5/8 time. The most unstable tonal idea that I could think of off the top of my mind (without lapsing into atonality) is a multitonic system, where the key changes rapidly between three very distantly related keys. This is the same idea behind Giant Steps' chord changes, so I decided to write this section as a saxophone soli as a nod to John Coltrane. This section was the hardest to record, and I still think it could have turned out better if I were a better saxophonist.  As unstable as the multitonic system is, I got incredibly lucky with modulating in and out of it. The B section is in the key of G major, which easily resolves to C major, which easily resolves to F major. Except that F major is not the first key of my mulitonic system, F minor is. I hopped straight from G major to C minor and then F minor, which weakened the resolution a bit but didn't seem too far of a leap- after all, we were about to jump into a mulitonic system. Big leaps are what the section is made of, and a strong resolution might sound too cheesy at this point in the piece.

After the multitonic system in 5/8, the piece sits on a Dmin9 chord for 16 bars in 4/4 while the guitar solo shreds on top and chord tones are gradually introduced, mostly in the woodwinds. After that, the main themes return in an ABA form with a much lighter texture than before, and the saxophone takes up some of the melody. One of the rhythm guitar parts also gets a solo under the sax/guitar duet, which concludes the piece on a Dmin9 chord. Did I mention I love 9th chords? I love 9th chords, okay. It's also worth mentioning that I keep the main themes in their separate keys, instead of moving them to the same key like in a real sonata-allegro piece. I didn't want to ruin the innocence of the major section.

So, what does all this mean? You just read a lot of information about how my piece is structured, but not a lot about my intent. What's the moral to the story? What am I trying to say with this piece? The simple meaning is that I love music theory and I love trying ideas out to see if they work. I think this piece works really well, despite intentionally breaking almost all of the rules of the form that I chose. As a whole, I think the piece is written about its own conception, if that makes any sense. If there's anything I'm saying, it's that you should try your crazy ideas every once in a while. It just might be really cool.

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