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About the project

I'm a composer and lecturer at the University of Leeds, UK. As part of our undergraduate composition teaching we introduce various flexible generative techniques, and an expectation that students write a commentary that outlines their compositional process. To give the students another example of how this can be done, I've decided to compose a piece [jump to final piece] for the student new-music ensemble that explores several of these techniques; to augment existing examples, and give a more first-person account of using them. This blog follows my process as I compose using some techniques that I've taught often but wouldn't normally used myself: see here for examples of what I do usually.

[Impatient? go straight to the finished score, or watch the video]

Here's what I begin with:
the ensemble is unusual to say the least, but I like a challenge!3 fl, 2 cl,  sax, tpt, cornet, euphonium, perc, piano, guitar, celloRehearsals begin in February 2018 with performance in…

cello solo v1

Cello solo v1 The cello solo will use my prepared cello: not a million miles from a prepared piano as mentioned in previous blog post. The preparations make pitch quite indeterminate, so rather than generate a stream of pitches (like for the guitar/piano) what I wanted to generate was essentially a tablature score for the cellist to create a stream of actions that would limit the indeterminate pitches in different ways to create loose patterns. Tablature notation differs from standard notation be being more about telling the player what do (what actions to carry out, where to put fingers etc.) rather than what sound/note to make. It can be especially useful in situations where the specific pitch result is indeterminate so instead the notation deals with timing, positions etc. See Aaron Cassidy's scores and writings on this as a good example. Below is a page of his solo for any bowed-string instrument, with staves for: (top) fingerings and bowing on the four strings; (middle) fing…

piano+guitar 1

Piano and Guitar duet v.1 Because this is based on Linda Catlin Smith's gtr/pno piece Drifter, I know the general 'feel' of it but not the details. I know there'll be lots of moving between unisons and broken unisons, but what's the basic material, and how do I vary it. Unlike Smith I'll also be using a lot of different piano/guitar timbres; guitar harmonics, prepared guitar, and prepared piano, etc.

It took me a while to settle on a pitch strategy. Initially I wanted to use a random number system to generate the pitches for a motif/harmony that I could re-order and sequence. And I'd use a system of weighting to make sure that some pitches are more prevalent than others, to give it a more coherent harmonic identity. At this time I also decided to avoid traditional metric notation and instead use stemless notation, with points of togetherness (connecting lines): this means I can have a notation that implies togetherness but allows the parts to drift (both p…

Initial thoughts

My first thought is to look to the instruments for inspiration about how to approach the piece. The ensemble is by volunteer so from year-to-year we never know what we have to work with, but this year's line-up is more bizarre than normal.


3 flutes 2 clarinets (I'm hoping one can double bass-clarinet)  saxophone (probably alto but I'm hoping tenor also) trumpet, cornet, euphoniumpercussion pianoclassical guitarcello
Clearly I can't approach this with classical orchestral 'choirs' in mind; there's no string group, and a real lack of bass instruments across the board. My instinct is to divide the piece into solos, with the rest of the ensemble supporting in different ways as a group. Here's my first attempt at thinking through how to approach the ensemble.
piano & guitar duet.I was inspired by Linda Catlin Smith's Drifter for guitar and piano. In her piece the two instruments play in a broken unison, constantly drifting in and out of time (and pitch…