Steiner Shimmy | John Abram

Steiner Shimmy was written in 2001 for Arraymusic. There are 2 movements, each based on a fragment of an existing work. Why make new music out of already existing work? The great Italian composer Aldo Clementi has written that he believes music to be almost dead and that the most a living composer can do is to sift through the music of the past, grubbing around for scraps which may be transmuted into something “new” by various means. Clementi seems to favour Donizetti waltzes as his raw material–he subjects them to complicated canonic treatment resulting in pieces which don’t sound anything like Donizetti, or like canons for the most part. I’m not convinced that music is dying, but there is certainly a long tradition of musical borrowings. The first movement of Steiner Shimmy uses 2 measures of George Antheil’s Little Shimmy, a short piano piece written in 1923. The second uses 2 measures from the Perry Mason Theme by Fred Steiner. My choice of these two particular works has first of all to do with how much I love them. It was shocking to me to discover Antheil’s pre-1930 music a few years ago and realise how similar it is to some of my own. During the composition of the first movement I heard the Ray Conniff Singers version of the Perry Mason Theme on the radio - I almost crashed the car! It had always struck me as an odd melody, and this version with it’s slower tempo and wispy vocals seemed to separate it completely from the harmonies. 

Both fragments were subjected to a number of extrapolations using a computer programme of my own. The programme utilises Per Nørgård’s infinity series and is able to construct 4 series based on different musical parameters. For the first movement I chose my favourite of the many attempts I made and orchestrated it. The pattern of repetition is typical of the infinity series. The processes in the second movement were more complicated. Suffice it to say that the recognisable Perry Mason Theme extract happens in the middle of the piece, though references to it occur before and after.

Steiner Shimmy is dedicated to my brother Mike.


© John Abram 2017