Anonymous yet personal, this Blog chronicles
the daily events and musings of Jim.
It provides an easy way for his friends and family to check in on him,
and serves as a online repository for his random
thoughts, kaleidoscopic flashbacks, and writings on an array of diverse topics.
“Deconstructing Jim” is simply here to
entertain you, but not intended for college credit.

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Chapel Hill, NC, United States


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Friday, December 22, 2017

New Year's Message

I'm a little early to the party, but I would like to wish everyone a great 2018. You deserve it.

This has been a challenging year for many of us - on many fronts. Yet on a personal level I have several important things to be grateful for; not the least of which is family, a roof over my head, and relatively good health given my age. This year has also been a productive one for composing. I'm happy with what I've written. It is work that seems to have merit.

Although it has been a while since my music has been performed in public, it seems that this predicament is the "new normal" for quite a lot of composers. Often years - even decades - can pass without a public realization of one's creative work.

Over the years I have slowly acquired immunity to the general indifference our culture has to new music. Some of us who take music seriously forge on regardless of the consequences. We don't do our work for practical, political, or economic reasons. We are compelled to write music because we have a basic need to express our innermost private ideas as dynamic, vibrant, sonic images. We strive to create from nothing, something that is new and original - something that both poses and attempts to answer probing questions about the nature of artistic expression.

Fortunately (after a lifetime of day jobs) I am in a place and phase of life where I am able to compose relatively unabated. I still have most of my marbles (or so I believe). I am also grateful for Social Security.

As for the practical side of the profession, I've done my due diligence over this past calendar year as well. I have mailed, emailed, and hand-delivered literally hundreds of scores to musical organizations all around the world. I'm not a natural self-promoter, but I do realize that music composition is a highly competitive field. Perhaps, if we throw enough seeds into the wind, one will ultimately take root somewhere, somehow.

This coming year I plan to spend more time composing and far less time applying for grants, fellowships, and residencies. I have seen too much of my time consumed by administrative efforts that routinely end with flat-out rejection. I've grown too old to continue banging my head against the proverbial brick wall in search of professional accolades or validation from academic circles or the commercial musical establishment. Besides, "competitions are for horses, not artists" as Bartók so famously said.

I'm not sure how long my current creative streak will last, but I'm continually dreaming of new ways to arrange sounds into interesting patterns that ignite the imagination.

Looking ahead to 2018, I have reason to be hopeful. My Piano Sonata (2014) may receive a premiere performance by a musician I greatly admire. There is also a possibility that the piece will be recorded and included on a CD along with five other works of my piano music. Stay tuned! This would be (if it happens) my first commercially available recording.

I'm looking toward the future with open ears, lots of hope, and a sharp pencil.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

New work for String Quartet...

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New piece for Brass Quintet...

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Constructed Languages

Today I'm pondering the universe of constructed languages (or "conlang").  I'm thinking about artificial and experimental languages created purely for the purpose of artistic expression - particularly in the context musical composition and performance.  I don't mean to detract from a global effort to protect the thousands of endangered languages that struggle for survival on our planet. Linguists estimate that at least 3k of our remaining 7k spoken languages will disappear in the next century alone.  It's a mass-extinction occurring before our eyes.  But imaginary languages have been and are being constructed anew and can add diversity to the modern linguistic jungle.

While Klingon (Star Trek), Na'vi (Avatar), Cirquish 
(Cirque du Soleil), Newspeak (Orwell's 1984), or the Simpson's inspired post-apocalyptic gobbledygook in Anne Washburn's "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play" emphasize the cultural issues of communication, I'm drawn more to the innate timbre, texture, and rhythm of spoken sound regardless of the meaning its language attempts to convey.  Meaning and language are not necessarily joined at the hip.  Steven Pinker for one has postulated that ideas and language exist quite independently from one another.

A large body of contemporary vocal music has exploited the human voice for its sonic effect and has treated its sound rather abstractly.  This music often minimizes (or even annihilates) the contextual meaning of the text (if any) and goes directly for the auditory and emotional jugular.  It allows for an auditory experience free of the constraints of linguistic meaning.

Luciano Berio's "Sequenza III" for solo voice (1965) is an example that leans heavily in this direction.  The majority of the vocal sounds composed in Sequenza III are mutterings which evoke a wide range of basic emotional states - some of which are akin to "baby talk."  The text (a mere three lines by Markus Kutter) is greatly obfuscated and treated as a found-object, subjected to permutation, transformation, and processing not unlike deconstruction of sampled vocalisms in today's electronic music.

Milton Babbitt's "
Phonemena" for soprano and tape (1969) is unique.  Babbitt
bases his invented language on sounds sourced from the notations and tables carefully compiled in the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).  The result is stunning.  It sounds syntactically correct, even though any semblance of linguistic meaning is utterly elusive.  I could imagine intelligent alien life communicating according to its serial patterns and algorithms.

John Cage's "Aria" (1958) also verges on a new language.  While it borrows words from Armenian, Russian, Italian, French, and English (almost as a distant memory), most of the text is sourced from isolated vowels and consonants.  Not only is the music invented from scratch, so is the text.

Contemporary musicians and composers have been working at the forefront of language creation - knowingly or not.  It's a conceptual activity that is at the very core of both musical creation and vocal communications.  There very well could be a common link between the creation of human language and the creation of a new kind of music.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Here is a new digital realization of my orchestra work "Tone Poem" (2003).

Hope you enjoy it!

-James Ricci