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Challenge in Composing 1 Minute Piece

I am of the opinion that composing a very short piece is as difficult as composing a long piece. Composers might use their opportunity to explore wide ideas to compose a piece in entire long duration. They are able to create their own taste of creating structure flexibly. On the one hand, composers might think several times to compose a very short piece especially while it lasts only maximum 1 minute.

The challenge of composing a very short piece is how composers use their ideas effectively to design dynamics so listeners will not seem consider the piece boring or too fast. If the composers use only 1 or 2 ideas, it will be quite easy to develop them into a piece. However, if they have more than 2 ideas to develop into a piece, this might be a challenge.

I faced this situation when I was applying to Fifteen-Minutes-of-Fame: Alex Lubet (a steel-string guitarist) in last February. Alex is a guitarist who has an idiosyncratic technique; he is able to play natural harmonics which can sound wide range of chromatics (though not every picth in every octave), multiphonics on each string (mostly combinations of open strings and harmonics played simultaneously), and intricate pitch bends.

This is the example of Alex's work from the album Spectral Blues:

He noted that his own preference is works that use unusual technique he uses in his compositions. He also prefer pieces that make a good use of open strings, music with tonal or modal centers (including scales from composers' traditions or their own scale), and kind of nuances between Blues and Eastern, especially Korean and Japanese, music. Alex is also a fluent improviser who expected works with clear and precise parameter for improvisation which would differentiate composers' works than his.

Based on those criteria, I composed a piece dedicated to him. I entitled mine as "Sketch for Alex" which hopefully described his musical interest. I mapped all of the ideas and brainstormed. I absorbed the essence of Blues, Korean, and Central Javanese musical idioms and transformed it into what I called Alex's realm. Using bending and natural harmonics techniques, I made my own version of Eastern-Western fusion work presented on a steel-string acoustic guitar.

I experienced a unique process in composing a 1 minute piece. In all composing occasions, composers need an awareness on how to attract audiences and the performer(s) with our works. Besides, composers need to map all of ideas to develop into their own preferences of thought and musical intuition.

Whereas composers need a good control on timeframe to make sure that we compose all things in proper dynamics and intended time. Composers need to extract ideas in order to make a resemble of big ideas. These extracted ideas, therefore, is set a very short duration. Thus it is clear that composing 1 minute piece need a frame of compact ideas to sound much like composing a long piece while at the same time paying attention to create a good structure and dynamics.

For the information, "Sketch for Alex" has been performed by Alex Lubet on June 21 in New York and will be performed again on October 17 in Minnesota and October 23 in Canada.

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