Here’s my Canon #79 – “Diaspore.”
I wrote this piece to explore 11/8 time, divided as 3+3+3+2.
In a recent post, I reflected on why I hadn’t managed to use an odd time signature in any of my first seventy-five canons. The reason is that I’m often seeking rhythmic contrast between the two voices, and I found it difficult to achieve such contrast while still reinforcing the structure of the odd meter. It seemed to me that in order respect the meter, I needed to make the voices more rhythmically similar, but for reasons good or bad, I simply didn’t want to do that. Finally, in Canons 76, 77, and 78 I found an approach I liked. The idea was to have the theme alternate between different subdivisions of the odd meter. So, for example, the theme in Canon 79 alternates between 3+2+2 and 2+2+3 subdivisions of 7/8. When such a theme is layered on itself with a skew, we hear contrasting subdivisions at once. A sense of rhythmic contrast is built into the framework, as is the indisputable fact of being in the odd meter. But now with Canon 79, I think I’ve managed to take the simple, direct approach to writing a canon in an odd meter. In Canon 79, at all times, in both voices, the same subdivision of 11/8 as 3+3+3+2 is operative. And lo and behold, there’s still enough rhythmic variety for my ear.
The piece is harmonically simple, falling squarely in A major with no alterations. It’s an invertible canon at the second, with diatonic imitation, and a lag of one bar. The soprano is the leader in the first half, and the roles are reversed in the second half. The ethos is buoyant.
For whatever reason, I seem to be more at home writing melodies that favor stepwise as opposed to arpeggiated motion; this piece is a rare example where a more arpeggiated style felt natural to me.
I’m happy with how the piece came out, but as I was writing it and listening to some of the early drafts, I wondered if it was just a “toy.” This got me thinking about the differences between “toy” and “miniature” in my own lexicon. To me, a toy is a small disposable piece, a piece that you write to learn something or to demonstrate a point, but that you wouldn’t revisit beyond a few listens because you don’t expect to discover anything new in it. A miniature can be mistaken for a toy because it’s also small and might seem simple, but if you make it your focus, you find enough subtlety and beauty within the piece’s narrow confines to envelop your entire awareness. That’s to say a miniature can become gigantic in your mind, while a toy cannot. As for an etude or technical study, it can be either toy or a miniature.
Of course I’m aiming to write miniatures, not toys, but if one of my pieces seems like a toy should I still give it a name and number and include it in my collection? I suppose so, if I like it well enough. Sometimes what one dismisses as a toy turns out to be a miniature. And sometimes a toy can be made into a miniature with a few small changes. Many of the canons I now consider as miniatures began as toys.