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About the project

Photo: Kerstin Schomburg

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, cello
  • Rehearsals begin in February 2018 with performance in April.
  • Techniques I'll use include:
    • Peter Maxwell Davies' magic squares
    • Xenakis' 3D hypercube rotations; and other permutation approaches such as isorhythm 
    • canonic imitation
    • random-number mapping
    • non-standard instrumental techniques
    • open-form and non-metric notations
Because the student commentaries are only 1000wds, they need to ensure that the commentary only 'comments' on the process, and use appendices for any lengthy descriptions of techniques etc. My posts are often longer than 1000wds in themselves so I'll try to finish with a recap of the key commentary points.


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Finished Piece (v.1...)

The concert is on May 4th, so at some point I had to finalise the piece, though I could keep tinkering forever. Here's the full score as of 12/4/18, there will still be some minor changes I imagine; some things need tidying up, and at the moment it's missing performance instructions (most of which are in the score, but an instruction sheet will be added. Here's the structure of the piece:

bb.1–33 Opening Full ensemble contrasts material presented in two forms; static chords (reeds/brass/perc/cello), and falling “scales” (flutes/pno/gtr). technique: Magic square, randomness.
Links:Opening Section + Magic Squares 34–71 Saxophone & Percussion duet Improvised duet of sax multiphonics and bowed-cymbal harmonics. Ensemble plays Feldman-like gentle background of overlapping melodies and soft noise. technique: Magic square. Links: generating ensemble part. 72–115 Guitar & Piano duet Guitar and piano play almost together, pushing/pulling each other, the ensemble play sp…

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…

Opening Section + Magic Squares

This section has no solos, it's a simple contrast of two strata: (1) descending rapid scales, and (2) sustained chords swelling and receding. Listen to the opening page (score below) here:
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The pitches for both are derived from the magic square. The chords are most straightforward, they simply read the horizontals of the square as 6-note chords. The piece starts with the uppermost vertical (the main material + high G), and works its way down.