Micro-Dramatic Songs from Prague II (2010)
by Dan Senn

for soprano and piano (BMI)

This song cycle was written in the Spring of 2010 first in my Oregon studio, Waterhouse Studio, and then completed in Prague, in my Břevnov flat. The songs are based on my own texts most of which were written in the the Spring 2009, while in Prague, just after completing the Micro-Dramatic Songs from Prague I (2009) for marimba, soprano and string trio. These songs, like the previous
, are presented as musical vignettes which are meant to be humorous, and both socially and personally reflective. With the pauses between songs, this cycle has a duration of about eleven minutes.

I have used "micro-dramatic" here to describe the small dramas which occur in a society where people are continuously in close proximity with one another. For example, in a trip to the market in Prague, on the #217 bus over the hill to the Anděl shopping area, a dozen small dramatic exchanges may occur before I again cross the threshold of my flat, my back pack full of groceries. That I am not fluent in Czech only adds to the observational intensity. This is one of the attractions Prague has for me, an urban Walden Pond of sorts, which is in stark contrast with my little-too-perfect and drama-free life in Oregon.

The sound files that accompany the scores below are generated by the Sibelius notation software. See note below on the use of compound time.

Click title to see and hear.

The Sun Wrinkled Lady, 2:02

The Tram Spider, 2:37

The Never Close, 3:33

The Bitumen Race, 2:23




About Dan Senn



The Use of Compound Time

When working with speech and music, I am uncomfortable with simple time which inevitably necissitates the use of tuplets to accurately represent the natural flow of language. Also, for me, there is a martial undercurrent to 2/4 which does not befit natural speech. My heart does not beat in simple time. My brain does not flex itself and amble along as such. The anatomic base of human speech is grouped in 6 or 12 beats to the count and never 4 or 8 or 16. In these songs simple time appears on top of a compound sub-pulse. To notate it otherwise is inefficient and feels contrary to the natural flow of human speech.

The process I used to compose these songs begins with writing the texts, all based on real life experiences, collecting many of them, and then going over and over each until the natural speech rhythms are clear to me. These arise in threes and not as often in groupings of four. Simple time feels often simplistic and untrue. Awkward. Like a metrical lie where compound time feels precise, flowing and correct. From here I intone the line using a similar process... with the resulting text acting as a kind of tonal DNA which drives the surrounding accompaniment. Everything is connected, a unity which is important to all of my work, both visual and aural.

And then there's a more modern and technical reason. With midi versions of new music being common now, a piece can be learned, in part, by rote, and even online. Using myself as a guinea pig, I have adapted to my own use of compound time. It is not difficult to read.
If the "dots" are too small, a larger score can be made from the pdf.