ROCK MUSIC is possibly the very first geo-electroacoustic minimalist band piece: it's largely devoid of melody, and of rhythm. It's conceptual and atmospheric, using textures of instruments, voices, and rocks to weave a wind band into a piece of sonic fabric stretched across linear time.
Every player has merely a few detached instrumental notes in their part, each of which contributes to the overall texture of the score. Musicians are tasked with fully concentrating on the quality of those few notes and how they interact with the sounds around them: a sonic environmental awareness. Vocal effect-enhanced humming, pitch bending, improvised and notated percussion textures with two rocks, and subtle floor rumbling ensure that the musicians have something to contribute even when not playing traditionally.
It's an experiment, really: how can we encourage people to HEAR, to CARE about hearing, and to FOCUS on something that's rather still and nearly uneventful, lacking grooves and an obvious melody? It took the planet's glaciers thousands of years to form the landscape we know. This piece only takes four minutes.
NOTES ABOUT THE ROCKS:
Ask each musician to go outside, and find two rocks of any kind. The rocks should be bigger than pebbles, but no larger than four inches or so in diameter, to comfortably fit in the hands.
Random rock playing is notated by a varied pattern of dots within a box, followed by a solid line indicating event duration. Ask the musicians to initially refrain from being very active with the improvisational rock playing at the beginning of the piece. More activity can start to build at measure 28.
Sparseness— hitting the rocks against each other slowly and occasionally rather than quickly and constantly— is much preferred, as opposed to a constant clicking or a discernible pulse, except where a specific rhythm is indicated with crosshead notes.
At bar 115, the band drops their rocks to the floor in a cascading pattern. The drop should be from no higher than a chair seat bottom. It is assumed that the rehearsal and performance spaces have hard floors, but if on carpet, have each player place something flat and hard on the floor next to them that will be similarly resonant to a hard floor when the rocks are dropped: a hard cover book, a small wooden board, etc.
ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE GUIDANCE:
Attention to dynamics— notably, the need to play quietly and subtly— will result in the most musical performance.
All humming is notated in the same transposition as the instrument the hummer plays.
ROCK MUSIC is a piece that can span virtually all capability levels, and work musically for ensembles of any age, whether musicians are at a Grade 2, or Grade 6 playing ability.
Educationally, this has the potential to be a superb opportunity for the musicians to:
• Listen to and improve their intonation: by being given permission to bend notes and play "out of tune" against other musicians, students gain a greater awareness of what playing "in tune" actually feels like;
• Develop their breath control;
• Hone the ability to play quietly while controlling pitch and volume;
• Heighten listening skills and focus;
• Heighten awareness of alternative sounds;
• Develop patience, in a world of hyper-everything!
ROCK MUSIC offers a different view as to what music— especially band music— can be, through a piece without an apparent melody or pulse. Possibly the very first geo-electroacoustic minimalist wind band work, it merges the realms of performance and environmental art.
If desired, emotionally stimulating photos or video of rocks, glacial ice, calving or flow could be projected in the background. Alex Shapiro has many appropriate photographs that she is pleased to make available, some of which can be seen on this page.
Ensembles are encouraged to use this piece as a platform for explorations into the geology of their area, and to expand those observations to global climate changes and the effects that the melting glaciers are having across the planet. Playing music using rocks found on the ground at their feet may lead to being a more conscious citizen of the Earth!