Conversational Carnage

I saw the new Roman Polanski directed film “Carnage” this afternoon. I’m not quite sure how he directed the film since parts of it appear to have been shot in New York and everyone knows he is banned from the United Sates because he’s a perverted sicko who likes to fondle our young women.

Anyway, it’s an imperfect but interesting film and definitely generates some chuckles, though ones derived more from discomforting situations than jokes. (It’s the kind of humor director Todd Solondz specializes in.) It’s based on a play and has that “play feel” – the dialogue is a little too crafted for the mouths of real people. And everyone takes turns talking; there’s four characters and over the course of the film you see this character interact with that character, then this one with that one etc. There’s a flow to the conversation that you seldom find in real life which tends to be messier.

I found myself musing on this narrative devise – this idea of giving each of the characters a chance to converse with each of the others. It struck me that this could be an interesting structure for a musical piece. You get four instruments (characters) and have them perform melodies that weave in and out with the others. At times the instruments would be offering more of a supporting role; at other times they would be front and center (e.g. vocalizing like a actor would.)

You’re doubtless saying, “Wil, what you are describing is a four part fugue. (Here’s a nice example.) A single voice introduces a subject (melody), then a second voice appears and repeats the subject while the first voice offers a countersubject. A third voice then appears playing the subject, the second plays the countersubject and the first voice plays supportive free material. Repeat the pattern so all four voices are involved, and then the piece goes forward offering the different voices opportunities to converse musically with each other.”

Yeah, I guess it is a fugue. It actually makes sense that early musical forms would be based on conversation structure. Anyway, I think the idea of approaching music from this vantage point – that of theater, is interesting. If I mastered this technique I would be more powerful than a thousand gods.

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