52 Weeks – Week 7 – Phrustration
Today’s piece of music is:
Of all the more “serious” pieces I’ve written, this is definitely one of my top three or so. “Phrustration” was originally written for my final project in a music theory class, proving that I could write a modal piece: in this case, the Phrygian mode. It was just a piano piece, with a person saying, “Frustration!” every so often and screaming and breaking glass near the end. Phrygian mode + Frustration = Phrustration! I originally planned to do it with Casey coming in and breaking a bottle, but he bailed on me literally in the last minute, causing me to grab some random girl from the class to do it instead (with no bottle break), which didn’t work nearly as well, but whatever; I passed the class.
A year and a half or so later, I brought this piece back and orchestrated it to present at my junior recital. It was the first real project I worked on using Logic Pro, the program I’ve used nearly exclusively since then. For the recital I once again brought Casey back (this time he showed up, too!), and we worked out a whole routine where he was sitting at home trying to do homework or something, but increasingly frustrating things started happening: he broke his pencil, he spilled his drink all over his homework, he couldn’t find anything to watch on TV, he got his foot stuck in the wastebasket, he asked a girl out on the phone only to find out she got married, etc. etc. Near the end he was supposed to smash a picture frame against the desk and scream. Now, I had dubbed in the glass breaking sound on the track and taken out the glass from the frame to make sure Casey didn’t injure anything in the auditorium. However, he replaced the glass before the number and actually smashed it against the desk sending glass flying everywhere. Now, keep in mind that this was in the Maeser building on BYU campus, and the first row of audience members is maybe three feet away. Luckily nobody was hurt, but it kind of brought everyone out of the moment when suddenly they have to fear for their safety. And for the rest of the night Casey was trying to clean it up while I continued with the recital. So, in short, both times I’ve performed this in front of an audience it really has been frustrating.
In any case, I love the Phrygian mode. It’s extremely dark, the second darkest of all the church modes, but it’s not so dark as to lose a sense of finality, as the darkest mode, the Locrian, does. The Locrian mode may imply a sense of loss, spiraling into madness and uncertainty, a despair so deep that it is not understandable. The Phrygian, in contrast, portrays the same level of despair, but without any of the madness. It is a final hopeless loss, one that can be understood but from which there is no escape. The lowered second (which is the difference between the Phrygian mode and the plain ol’ minor key)is what really drives the despair home. In a minor key there can be victory: a villainous victory, but a victory nonetheless. But in the Phrygian mode there can be no victory, not for the protagonist anyway. The opposing forces have overcome him, and he is aware of it all, but unable to surmount any of it. In a way that makes this piece and the one I just wrote last week sort of companion pieces if you will. In this one he is driven to the depths, but in the other he finds redemption and can soar once again.
It was also with this piece that I learned a lot of tricks I hadn’t quite been able to master to make my pieces sound more realistic, especially with the cymbal rolls, orchestral swells, glockenspiel, and harp glissandos. I’m still working on the brass, but I think the rest of it sounds real enough that people don’t automatically say, “That sounds like a video game!”
Interestingly enough, this piece was featured on my last 52 weeks project as well (the one that only lasted four weeks).
Coming up next week: “Dun dun dun!” (And no, that’s not just a dramatic introduction of next week’s piece; it’s the actual name.)