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Fragile Beauty, No. 8: Why I Have Chosen to Use Garageband for my New Compositions

Currently I have been releasing through my social media platforms my new series of compositions, The Seasons. I have already posted Winter in December 2018 and Spring (March 2019) thus far and I will be doing the same in June with the release of Summer and in September with the movement Autumn. I have also just finished two additional suites that will be set for release in 2020 all of which are written for solo trumpet with a foundation to play over using Garageband. Why Garageband? From The Seasons project notes I wrote the following... 


Prior to the release of my album, Connections in 2018, I began to re-examine my music, both in terms of my playing and in my writing. As part of this re-examination, I took a moment to ask myself if there were any styles or concepts that I wish I had pursued further. In 1985/86, I composed my “Suite for Jazz Quintet” which received a grant from the Seattle Arts Commission. This suite was my first work to be in a more electric, ambient style. Written for three keyboards, drum machine, prepared sounds, Clevinger bass, electric guitar in coordination with the organic sounds of the trumpet, flugelhorn, alto, tenor and soprano saxes and flute, drums and percussion. Once this piece was completed, I returned to this style of writing only two more times, on the composition “Coast to Coast” on the 1987 album of the same name and in 1988 the composition “Twilight” from the album, Flip of the Coin.

I felt it was time to return and explore this concept further; however this time I would approach it from a different perspective. I wanted to maintain that electric, ambient texture, but this time in a more minimalistic style and I chose an unusual configuration to get this across (unusual for me, I guess). I made the decision that these pieces would be for solo trumpet accompanied by what I call ‘prepared settings for improvisation’ using Garageband.


I made the decision to use a commercial, off-the-shelf software which is packaged on Apple computers and through an iPhone app in contrast to the cutting-edge audio technology in use today. I self-consciously chose a more DIY approach. Much of this decision was for purely practical reasons as Garageband makes it quick and easy to gather, compare and select material. In these projects, I created settings of from six to 12 minutes in length and the compositions are not based on meter, but on time. The process I used comes from the late period Number Pieces by John Cage. These pieces employed time brackets to indicate where the performer was to begin playing and when to cease playing. What was played was up to the discretion of the performer as they followed a stopwatch. Using an iPad I used time markings to mark my entrances and exits from the music. Within those areas I used a number of notational devices. Sometimes actual notes and rhythms, other times just notes that can be played in any sequence or duration, at times directional drawings that suggested movement of a line and sections of improvisation.

The result is a contrast/clash between the organic (musical) sound of the trumpet next to the analog and digital sounds generated from Garageband resulting in a sort of sonic naivety that I believe is part of the music's charm. One other aspect I purposely chose was to not use a midi keyboard to compose the parts in Garageband, but to use the computer keypad instead. This forced me to simplify my writing especially knowing that for each segment I was recording, I only had a little more than an octave to work with and when I added my horn, I maintained that concept (for the most part) by limiting my approach using only source scales, tetrachords and/or melodic grips. Finally, I approached the writing of these pieces in more of a monophonic style of harmonic grips, fourths and fifths and my primary choice, the use of unison and octave sound. I believe that the music has an open quality where the sound or colors take center stage as opposed to technique, dense harmony or advanced rhythmic concepts.


So in conclusion, the question I asked myself and the question I put to you is: how exactly do the "concrete" sounds relate to the straightforwardly "musical" sounds of the trumpet? I hope to have an answer over the remainder of 2019 with the continued release of my Seasons suite and through the release of my two just completed suites to be released in 2020. Your thoughts would also be appreciated as I look both forward and back in a study of my compositional and performance practice.  

Bill Stevens Artist, Composer, Educator


  • November 3, 2019
    Tomi Jazz, New York, NY
  • November 6, 2019
    Shadmoor, New York, NY
  • November 24, 2019
    The Shadmoor, New York, NY

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