on the verge of...

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"on the verge of..." for Cello, Saxophones, and Dance (2010)

“on the verge of…” was presented as part of my graduation work toward a music master’s degree at Tokyo University of the Arts. I created the concept and composed the music for a dance performance, along with my master’s thesis. It premiered November 22, 2009, and then was performed again February 6-7, 2010, on the Senju campus of Tokyo University of the Arts. 



[Description and Score]

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1. Introduction

             I had been thinking about the relationship between dance and music for a while. From my observations, most dance routines are choreographed after the music is composed. I wanted to see a stronger connection between music and dance, which led me to consider composing music from choreography and dancers’ movements, i.e., I wanted to create a dance routine that seems to be visualized music. To achieve this goal, I formulated the concept and composed the music for a dance performance as my graduation project, along with my master’s thesis.

2. The Concept

             The meaning of “on the verge of…” is “You are very close to experiencing…,” as verge means “the edge or border of something.” I was planning to create a piece with a concept that included choreography from the beginning of this project. Dances are often created after the music is composed, but I wanted to create a dance routine concurrently with music creation. By working with dancers and choreography closely, I could create much of the music while being inspired by dancers’ movements. 

             I chose “on the verge of…” as the concept because I was very interested in the idea of boundaries at that time. It was a very simple idea, that there is always an invisible boundary somehow in a person, e.g., the boundary between an artwork and the audience, or between music and dance. When I thought about the connection or relationship between them, I sensed a huge distance. For instance, we may share an experience with someone, but it’s never perceived the same way. Even though dance routines are performed under the same conditions for each audience in a theater, each audience member comes away with individual perceptions. You can experience the same thing with someone, at the same time and place, yet not know what the other person perceived. To begin this project, I shared my concept/ideas with a choreographer and dancers.

3. Creative Process

             First, we discussed the concept and decided that the work would consist of three movements. We also had a tempo for each movement: The first movement is andante, the second moderato, and the third allegro. To create music and dance simultaneously for some parts, I videotaped dancers’ improvised movements at first. At the same time, a choreographer created some movements without music. Then we shared each other’s output to integrate the music and choreography into one piece. We went through this process several times.

              For most parts of the first and third movements, music and dance were created simultaneously, while some small parts of the first and third movements were made after the choreography was created. However, for the second movement, the music was composed first, as this part included improvisational dance. It was a very unique experience, in that we communicated many times (more than usual for collaborative work) throughout the creative process.

4. About Music and instruments

             This work is for live electronics and 5-channel surround sound. A saxophone player played the soprano sax and the alto sax for live electronics with the music I created with recorded and premixed cello and saxophone sound in addition to other materials in advance.

              There are three movements in this music as mentioned above, but at the end of the third movement is considered as part four. I created scores for the recording sound of cello and saxophones and a score for the live performance, but there is no score for premixed and edited sound, which I created prior to the performance.

5. Music Structure

--First movement

             I composed the music based on dance movements and rhythms created beforehand by the choreographer. This movement mainly used recorded and edited cello and tenor saxophone music with a live alto sax performance. This movement focuses on synchronization, so I try to synchronize the music with the choreography.

--Second movement

             We created this movement with high flexibility, writing the music and choreography separately to emphasize the idea of “verge.” There is a solo dance part at the beginning and followed by a solo dance by a dancer while two dancers walk on the edge of the stage in this movement. They moved completely separately most of the time, but they walk together at the same speed, in the same direction, in the end, then disappear from the stage simultaneously. 

             I used alto saxophone and live electronics in simple ways, with fixed media, for this movement. For the fixed media, I used mostly prerecorded and edited cello sounds.

--Third movement

             The musical focus of this movement was rhythm and beat. I used a triple meter for recorded cello music, a quadruple meter for recorded alto sax music, and a quintuple meter for a soprano saxophone live performance. Three dancers were assigned to each instrument. Although their movements looked similar, they were slightly different because they danced to different beats. Once their beats converge, the movements become identical -- then change. For instance, the triple meter and quadruple meter meet on the 12th beat, and the quadruple meter and quintuple meter meet on the 20th beat. Triple meter and quintuple meter meet on the 15th beat, and all three meters meet on the 60th beat. What I tried to create is the moment when the movements are almost the same, bur not the same.

             I used a constant tempo for this part, but the rhythm became gradually smaller as the music and dance built to a climax. I wanted to show the full feeling of lively motion and the presence of dance and music by focusing on rhythm and beat.

             At the climax, we stopped the music and turned off the lights. In the sudden darkness, I expected the audience to wonder whether the piece was finished or not. After around two minutes in darkness, the music from the second movement starts, and the music from the first movement is played again on the soprano sax. Then the work ends, while seeming to continue, i.e., the work is on the verge of continuing, conveying my “on the verge of…” concept once again.

6. Stage setup

             There were three dancers and a saxophone player who played the alto sax for the first and second movements and the soprano sax for the third movement on the stage. We put two microphones on the stage, one for the soprano sax and the other for the alto sax. The microphone sound entered my computer, then I used Logic Pro to add some effects, such as reverb, panning, delay, etc. For the audience area, we positioned five speakers to create surround sound.

(Dancers on the stage)

Here is a stage setting and speakers configuration.