Sumo, I - VII
About this work:
SUMO, I-VII (2002) is a recent work in progress, with seven installments so far. It addresses some of the practical matters of a composer's life, in particular time management, as well as bringing together in an amusing way some of my personal interests.
I have found myself inordinately busy of late, and been frustrated with the scarcity of time for composing. I hit upon the idea of Sumo as one solution to this problem. I decided to write some very short pieces, each a thing in itself but all related by a common theme, composing directly on the computer. In Sibelius, I just throw some notes up on the staff and start improvising. I have a set instrumentation of tenor saxophone, electric bass, piano, and drums, because I currently play in such a group. The pieces in Sumo have no formal structure or system. The only rule is to keep them short, to the point, and to capture if possible, in a purely intuitive and subjective way, the feel of a sumo match - the tight focus, intensity, particular rhythms and energy. Oh, and I like to throw in little snippets of "Tiny Bubbles"; I'm not sure why.
I have found this project very satisfying in that I can, in one short sitting, create a piece that stands as complete, not just a few bars of something bigger. I don't have to get back into the mind set I had before or remember what I was doing three days ago. I can start from scratch and actually finish something. Yet each piece belongs. Like sumo matches, each is different, but all exhibit a similar style, surface quality, and internal feeling.
Compositionally, Sumo addresses the idea of the miniature, while at the same time continuing my recent practice of building large-scale structures out of small independent units. As sumo matches are highly formalized events, with a standard opening and well-defined victory maneuvers, it would make perfect sense to devise corresponding musical ideas, i.e. set motifs and cadences. I decided to keep it free of such baggage and just have fun. It also occurs to me that other art forms have specific models in which to work on a small scale; in fiction we have the short story, in poetry we have haiku. We have the three panel comic strip, in comedy, the one-liner. But to my knowledge no such recognized forms exist for the musical "miniature". Composers make their own rules for such works. Mel Powell had his "overnight pieces". Now I have Sumo.
Sumo also addresses the relationship between music and sport. Other than sumo, I don't have much interest in sports. But I do have a long-standing enthusiasm for surf music, which is, to my knowledge, the only genre of music to have emerged specifically in celebration of a sport. Who knows, perhaps other composers will join in my celebration of sumo, and a whole new genre of music will flower. Probably not, but if it were to happen, Southern California would have been mother to both. Then we'd have two up on you, New York!
Year composed: 2002
Ensemble type: Chamber or Jazz Ensemble, Without Voice:Other Combinations, 2-5 players
Instrumentation: 1 Tenor Saxophone, 1 Drum Set, 1 Piano, 1 Electric Bass
Instrumentation notes: The exact instrumentation of Sumo is tenor saxophone, electric bass, piano, and drum set.