Composition Study #3

Posted by PH on March 10, 2013
Composition Study, Music & Technology, Students

For this week’s study I didn’t use any previously existing music as exemplar. Instead we sat down as a group and “performed” a couple of the most basic of John StevensSearch and Reflect exercises, namely ‘1-2’ and ‘Sustain’.

Why? The object of this week’s compositional study was to write a piece of music using only one note and the source material simply doesn’t exist. These were the rules:

  • A composition using only one note (one pitch).
  • Multiple instances in any register.
  • No drones or sustaining instruments.
  • No drums or percussion.

Permitted instruments:

  • Piano.
  • Mallets (vibes, marimba, xylophone, etc.).
  • Acoustic guitar.
  • Harp.
  • Acoustic bass.
  • Pizzicato strings.

Here’s my solution:

What is the point of this exercise, you may ask? Abbreviating, I think that:

  • The sound of that note had better be pretty compelling.
  • It becomes impossible to compose using any of the standard methods: 32-bar, 12-bar, verse-chorus-middle 8, canon, theme-and-variation, sonata form, serialism, additive, phase, modal, etc. Any attempt to fit a one-note composition into these pre-existing formulae or systems is doomed to failure because they all depend upon tonal movement.
  • It highlights register, timbre, and rhythm as compositional tools.
  • You need an idea.


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