Monthly Archives: February 2013

Composition Study #2

Posted by PH on February 27, 2013
Composition Study, Music & Technology, Students / No Comments

This week’s class saw us still in the early 20th Century with the key work this time being Ionisation by Edgard Varèse.

I remember hearing this for the first time when I was in my 20s and it just completely blew me away: music with no notes, organized sound.

Of course outside of the Western tradition percussion music is relatively common. Whilst in London I went to see South Korean percussion group SamulNori a couple of times:

Stunning. And of course we have various modern interpretations, an obvious one being Richie Hawtin thrashing an 808:

Or here’s another: not quite strictly adhering to the “rules” as it includes some tonal material but it’s an excellent track and of course we love Dave dearly:

Anyway. After absorbing these tasty drum treats we (myself and aforementioned MA Creative Sound Production students) agreed a basic set of compositional rules for this week’s exercise:

  1. Drum & Percussion sounds only.
  2. No notes.
  3. No sampled loops.
  4. Can’t all be in 4/4.

We are exploring:

  • Rhythm.
  • Time signature.
  • Tempo.
  • Dynamics.
  • Frequency range.
  • Contrast (dynamics, frequency, etc.)
  • Human “feel” or expression.

And to cut a long story short, here’s my attempt:


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Composition Study #1

Posted by PH on February 20, 2013
Composition Study, Music & Technology, Students / 1 Comment

I’ve just started teaching the Contextual Studies module on our new MA Creative Sound Production course. As part of this I’m working through a series of composition studies: the students have to compose a short piece each week using the techniques we explore in class and publish them on a blog. Trying to put my money where my mouth is, I’ve said that I’m going to do one as well.

The first week looked quickly at the development of classical music from the mid-19th century through into the 20th. Obviously this period saw a remarkable transformation in compositional methods, the most obvious signifier being the move into atonality. We could state the resulting question quite simply: what on earth were the serialists up to?

We ended up taking apart the opening of Webern’s Symphony Opus 21:

From our analysis we derived a set of compositional rules for our own studies:

  1. Use inversions, retrogrades, and retrograde inversions of our source material (which we were expecting to be primarily melodic).
  2. Use canons.
  3. Use klangfarbenmelodie (“tone colour melody”).
  4. Notes mostly off the beat: this is how Webern gets that “everything’s suspended” feeling.

In the end, I only really used (1) and (4). Once I had four variants of the basic melodic material that seemed plenty already for a short piece. A shame, because I love the idea of klangfarbenmelodie. Next time…

So, here it is: the first piece of music I’ve written and recorded (ahem, “finished”) in over 10 years:


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Posted by PH on February 03, 2013
Film, Photography, Visual Culture / No Comments

Our first exhibit: the full-length documentary Requiem for Detroit by Julien Temple from 2010:

The other side of the coin? A more positive view in a Johnny Knoxville fronted show from (30 mins):

And to round off here’s a photo essay and commentary from Wired entitled Captivating Photos of Detroit Delve Deep to Reveal a Beautiful, Struggling City.

As the West spirals into decline, is this a glimpse of the future, or simply an aberration? One slightly more trivial point: apart from a mention of Richie Hawtin—born in Britain, grew up in Canada!—in the Julien Temple film, the absence of any discussion of Detroit Techno (or, indeed, any music on the soundtracks) is jarring feature of both films. Plenty of mentions and appearances by the old guard (Motown, MC5, Stooges, etc.) needless to say.

All very strange…


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