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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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[general apologies for the images in this post, which don't always link easily to the text. My parameter names kept changing over the few days spent composing this, which looks confusing now because the parameter names (descriptors) aren't always the same.]
Having generated the phrases for the guitar and piano, I need to decide how this 5-mins of duet will relate to the rest of the ensemble. I decided to use the Xenakis rotating-cubes technique to generate a phrase-by phrase orchestration behaviour. Crucially, this only defines the type and size of orchestration, not the specifics: I could have generated very specific limitations on instruments etc but wanted to keep this free to save time really, and allow a more intuitive shaping of that aspect. I also wanted to avoid this being too 'blocky' and only mirroring the phrasing of the duet, so I allowed for some orchestrations to reach forward or backwards into neighbouring phrases. My first thoughts on this is that I ne…