artistic process

Composition competition winner: Man of Mystery

2019 has been our year of music videos (Oblivion, What a Wonderful World, Lullaby, several Tippet Rise collaborations, and lots more to come…), but perhaps we’re most excited about our upcoming video production featuring the winner of our New Music New Video composition competition.

When International Piano Magazine asked for more information on our winner, Edgar Ordóñez, we realized all we knew was what he stated in his application—he is a 57-year-old composer from Columbia. Everything else was a complete mystery to us!

We reached out to Edgar for answers and were utterly charmed by his responses. It’s our great pleasure and honor to now shine the spotlight on Edgar, our New Music New Video International Man of Mystery. 😎

Greg: What went through your mind when you found out we’d selected your composition as the winning piece?

Edgar: I had a hard time giving credit to the result of your contest. After I sent you the score, I told myself that I shouldn't have done it, because I wouldn't stand a chance if I had to compete with professional composers who have solid academic backing and, no doubt, brilliant CVs. But that day I was surely influenced by an excess of optimism and sent that work. 

Liz: We’re so glad your optimism won out! Tell us a little bit about your musical background.

Edgar: Unfortunately, there is not much to say about me, or what has to be said is too poor and perhaps it would be better not to say it. I am Colombian and live in Bogotá, although I was born in a small city where in my childhood and adolescence I did not find any opportunity to train in music, which was what I was passionate about: there was no conservatory, or academy, or music teachers. However, at the age of thirteen I had the madness of becoming a classical pianist, so even though I didn't have a piano at home because my parents couldn't afford to buy one, I managed to borrow an instrument from the only university in the city, and I began to study without any guide, trying to decipher some books on music theory, solfège and harmony that an amateur had in his library and that he had the generosity to lend them to me. 

At the age of twenty I left that city and settled in Bogotá, but economic problems prevented me from continuing my dream of studying at a conservatory. In this city my situation was much more difficult, because I couldn't find anyone who could lend me an instrument. So, between that city, and then in Santiago de Chile, where I lived for a long period, about fifteen years passed in which I could not practice any piano at all. At that time I began to work in publishing houses, and finally my life was directed in that direction, either as an editor, or as a mercenary writer or ghostwriter, or as a style corrector. That's what I'm still working on and that's what I live by. 

Greg: Really, it’s incredible to hear that you’re self-taught.

Liz: We’re on the edge of our seats… How did you get back into music and begin composing?

Edgar: I was in my forties when, in a better financial situation, I was able to buy an old piano, but it was too late to continue my studies as a pianist. My love of music and attachment to the old dream of being a musician motivated me to try composition, and I soon discovered that I actually had more talent for that specialty than for the piano. 

Around the age of seventeen I tried to write a fugue, but was unable to complete it. In order to get rid of that old thorn, in middle age I decided to "graduate" as a self-taught composer by writing a series of fugues. I wrote five, and the "Fuga allucinata" is the third of them.

Music was not my only great love in life: so has literature, and since I felt indebted to my dreams of early adolescence, I have also spent time training myself as a writer and leaving some literary works. In fact, in recent years this activity has robbed music of a bit of time, although it has not been in vain: I have written several books between novels and short story books, and I have won some literary competitions in my country and some in Spain.

Liz: I can relate; music and literature are great passions of mine as well. How has your music not made its way to the masses? Have your compositions ever been performed?

Edgar: I live completely marginalized from musical circles, so the diffusion of my musical work is practically nil. I don't care much about that: finally what I'm interested in is creating, and I try to do the best I can. I've never been interested in becoming famous or looking for success, and I don't live on music either, so I've never set out to promote what I do. Anyway, as I am convinced that music is created to be listened to and not to be kept written in a drawer, I have a modest channel on YouTube where from time to time I upload some occurrences that I try to make audible in versions worked in a digital synthesizer. I prefer not to have a presence on social networks. Maybe it's a lack of self-confidence, as I'm perfectly aware that I can't consider myself a professional composer. 

Liz: The joy and fulfillment of pure creativity is something we live for, too! And we’ve said it before— our judging criteria simply revolved around finding the piece that most excites us. We asked for very little personal information from our applicants because we hoped to connect with the winning composer based on the music, full stop.

Greg: Yes! You should be extremely proud. You’ve won an international composition competition over some very distinguished composers. Your compositional voice, while highly unique and personal, is undeniably at a professional level. Congratulations!

Edgar: I do not know how to express my gratitude to you and communicate to you the emotion and happiness that your decision has awakened in me.

I must add that for years I have enjoyed the versions that you publish on your YouTube channel. Congratulations on the excellence of your work. Some of your arrangements are simply fascinating and I must admit that you have come to awaken my envy. I have great empathy for your idea of what the future of music should be, and I congratulate you wholeheartedly on the effort you are making to channel the interest of new composers into a music that fuses the best of popular music with classical tradition. As you do, I am convinced that this is the new path that music must follow, a path in which rhythm is creatively and provocatively exploited, the sensual harmonic development and the innovative energy that jazz knew how to propose as an alternative to the dead end of the coldly cerebral atonalism and devoid of feelings and emotion.

Greg: We truly couldn’t be more thrilled to have you as a partner in our mission to make classical music a powerful and relevant force in society. I think our fans will be in complete agreement once they have the opportunity to hear your winning composition, “Fuga allucinata.” Bravo.

Liz: Absolutely. Thank you, Edgar. We can’t wait to share the music video we create together.

Making the Video, "DIY"-style

Our imaginations are running wild, conjuring up new worlds inspired by your outstanding New Music New Video composition competition submissions! Keep them coming! (The deadline for submissions is September 1, 2018.)

The creative process is one of our favorite aspects of video-making, and we look forward to collaborating on this with the winner of the New Music New Video competition. Our budget is is usually very small (we're musicians, after all!), and so most everything we do fits within the realm of "Do It Yourself," or "DIY." We turn our dreams into reality by finding creative solutions to the seemingly endless set of limitations that shape our productions. While we've created some wild effects through meticulous editing in post-production, our most beloved music video moments often stem from utilizing unusual techniques and props on set.

The most common filmmaking challenge we face with our tiny budget: the limitations of our venue. We can't afford Hollywood-style sound stages (yet 😉), so we've filmed everywhere from our own homes to our friend's backyards. To transform our less-than-glamorous venues into MTV music video-style sets, we often place a strong light immediately behind us at the piano; the backlighting is super dramatic (yaaas!) and it disguises whatever mess may be hiding in the background. Fog machines can also turn a dour bedroom into a heavenly vision. (Speaking of fog machines, we've used these multipurpose devices to create radiant shafts of morning light!) And in making our Contrapunctus music video, we simply hung black & white bed sheets from the walls to create a high budget, high contrast look.

Another common, recurring filmmaking challenge we encounter: how do we create sweeping shots without the use of super expensive camera trains, cranes, and stabilizing rigs? Our solution has been to recreate the effects by situating our camera crew on roller skates and wheel chairs. In a few instances we affixed the camera to a long monopod and waved the contraption above the pianos. And in a recent shoot, we asked a professional dancer to literally dance with the camera in hand, ultimately giving our viewers the sensation that they are dancing along with our performances. 

We love playing with "time" during our video shoots. In our video of Gluck's "Dance of the Blessed Spirits," we tested our pianistic abilities by playing the piece extremely fast—nearly five times fast, in fact. We then slowed down the resulting footage (nearly five times) so that our hands appeared to be playing the music at the correct tempo, but in a dreamy, almost ghostly manner. Similarly, in a few sections of our Rite of Spring music film, we learned our parts backward (an utterly nasty challenge!). We dipped our fingers in paint before filming, and then, with the cameras rolling, we performed the passages (backwards) as our fingers covered the keys in paint. Later while editing, we reversed the footage so that our hands appeared to be playing the passage correctly (i.e. not backwards!) while giving the illusion that the paint was coming off the keys as we played.

Sometimes we go all out with over-the-top, crafty filmmaking effects, like by making use of bugs and bubbles. For a mind-bending look, we've found that we can focus our camera into a flexible mirror and artfully distort the image by warping the mirror. For a hair-raisingly spooky scene, we once used the static electricity from a balloon to make Liz's hair stand on end. (Thank you, grade-school science class. 🤓) And in one extra challenging film shoot, we turned out the lights, donned L.E.D. gloves, and attempted to perform from Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."

In every case of creative DIY filmmaking, our mission has been to enhance the spirit of the music—to accentuate the music's dreaminess, to illustrate the music's decay, to add potent visual punch to the music's most dramatic moments. We reap inspiration from the generous imagination already latent in the music.

The beautiful, surprising, and weird pieces submitted to our New Music New Video composition competition so far all have exciting boundary-pushing potential! There's still time to submit a piece—the deadline for submission is September 1, 2018. We're so eager to see what unusual visuals we can come up with when we put our heads together with the winning composer.

We're all fired up. 😉

piano flames 2.gif

Let it Be

"And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow
Let it be..."

We were feeling ultra-ambitious going into our three-day film shoot last fall, planning to capture footage for as many as five music videos. Keeping our jam-packed schedule and the Beatles' gentle reminder to "Let It Be" in mind, we settled on a simple concept to let our wild dueling-gospel-piano arrangement of "Let It Be" speak for itself.

Our filming days are usually quite hectic. You can generally find us running around, tending to all the film's production needs, serving not only as performers, but also producers, directors, camera people, assistants... the list goes on and on. The pleasant surprise of this shoot was that the uncomplicated concept allowed us to relax a bit and really enjoy the music and each other's company. During post production, we got the idea to include the fun "behind-the-scenes" moments in the music video itself.

After all these years we still genuinely like each other and have so much fun doing what we do. That's why we're SO excited about our New Music New Video composition competition. It'll be such a blast to share this process with someone new and see how that shakes everything up!

Although we shot "Let it Be" digitally, we applied a faint VHS-style color degradation during post production as an indirect throwback to the original (gorgeous) Beatles video. We got lucky with another subtle Beatles reference when Liz started to get into it and toss her hair around; we couldn't help but think of the Beatles rocking out in their shaggier years.

All in all, we're so happy with how "Let it Be" turned out and thrilled that it was ready to share with you all in time for Mother's Day! It'll be the perfect addition to your glowing Mother's Day tribute on mom's Facebook page this weekend. 😉