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A Discussion of my Compositional Language

‘The other great paradigm would be the Joyce of Finnegans Wake. He repeats and mobilizes and babelizes the asymptotic totality of the equivocal; he makes this his theme and his operation… the greatest power of the meanings buried in each syllabic fragment, subjecting each atom of writing to fission in order to overload the unconscious with the whole memory of man. This generalized equivocality of writing does not translate one language into another… it talks several languages at once.’


Jacques Derrida: Two Words for James Joyce


A Derridean Deconstruction of James Joyce’s Signature


In this quotation, French post-structuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida engages with the later writing of James Joyce, and in particular Finnegans Wake, which he believed to be a landmark in the history of deconstruction. According to Derrida, Joyce represents an artist’s attempt to condense multiple histories, cultures, languages and religions into a single and individual act of human memory. Joyce pursues this by ‘making [his] organic linguistic totality as rich as possible’, through the use of ‘metaphoricities, equivocalities, and tropes’. Derrida contrasts Joyce’s subjective and irrational treatment of language with the objective and logical approaches contained in philosophical models. He proposes that Joyce reaches towards historicity (historical authenticity) through the ‘accumulation of equivocality in language’ (many voices) where as philosophy reaches for historicity through a ‘scientific and mathematical, pure language… a transparent univocity’ (one voice). The compelling paradox in Derrida’s comparison lies in the fact that Joyce’s babelized equivocalities (many voices) often come across to the reader as being of a highly personal nature, they are intimate accounts of the darkened corners of human nature as revealed through the authors, confessional style, where as the univocal language of philosophy (one voice) reveals a more universal, but detached experience of truth.


Mythological vs. Philosophical: Inverse Linguistic Trends


I am interested in Derrida’s deconstruction of the Joycean narrative because I have observed similar converse linguistic trends within the field of contemporary music. Indeed it may be said that in all art forms, there are two basic tendencies: one towards reductionism and the other toward pluralism and integration. These tendencies may be more broadly understood as movement towards either a ‘philosophical’ or ‘mythological’ representation of language. Philosophical representations tend towards methodical and generative development, where as mythological representations behave more capriciously. The influence of the philosophical in composition would be found in structural hierarchies and ordered principles, whereas the influence of the mythological would be more biographical, and opportunistic. Where as the philosophical would tend towards uniformity of style, the mythological would tend towards stylistic pluralism. I would consider the influence of the mythological to be a metaphorical interpretation of personal experience; to read Joyce is to inhabit his memory. A philosophical approach leads to a more objective manipulation of abstract forces. This is in no way an attempt to dichotomise contemporary music; rather I see these tendencies as playing out within the creative dialogue of every composer, and affecting independent aspects of their music differently. 


Concepts of Static and Dynamic Context


Two contemporary composers who I believe share a strong bias towards a philosophical use of compositional language are Steve Reich and Tristan Murail. Although the harmonic content of their work differs radically, the orthodoxy with which they apply their techniques characterizes and connects their music. Minimalism and spectralism exude a great deal of symmetry in regards to the tempo and intensity of transformation, and the global homogeneity of their distinct harmonic languages. Firstly, change is often fluid and generative. Both composers rely to a large degree on the incremental alteration of fixed musical structures as a primary means of developing their material; change occurs at the structural and cellular levels of the music. This is reflected in Tristan Murail’s description of the ‘spectral aesthetic’ as an understanding that, ‘music is ultimately sound evolving in time’. This concept carries strong resonances with the aesthetic considerations of Steve Reich in his Writings on Music as a Gradual Process. The effect is ‘a compositional process and sounding music that are one in the same thing’. Secondly, the works of both composers exude an overwhelming sense of contextual stasis. This is brought about by strict adherence, on a global level, to a specific harmonic language. In Reich’s case, it is the ubiquitous use of pandiatonism; in Murail’s, it is the realization of the harmonic series as expressed by discrete Fourier transform. In both cases, the entire composition is imbued with a tangible and fixed aesthetic quality.


Ironically, this commitment to a uniform or ‘monolithic’ harmonic language also links their music to an earlier orthodoxy, which both Murail and Reich have admitted to composing in reaction to: serialism. Serialism exhibits the same kind of static context because its compositional practice involves a continuous recycling of the twelve chromatic notes of the tempered scale. This kind of adherence to one aesthetic practice leads inescapably to the homogenization of musical context. Alban Berg was one composer who was successful in contravening the intrinsic homogenizing effect of twelve-tone technique precisely because he organised his tone rows to include local areas of implied tertiary harmony, thus creating a dichotomy of musical context, through the interjection, into serialism, of an external harmonic language. Of course this ran counter to Schoenberg’s intended philosophical aesthetic.


In contrast to a philosophical or reductive compositional aesthetic, my works display a mythological use of musical language. Having grown into composition in a period marked by its notable lack of any pervading orthodoxy, my aesthetic is founded on the incorporation and recontextualization of diverging musical legacies. By refusing to deny my own history in ‘popular’ and ‘folk’ music streams, and by continuing to absorb new vocabularies, I have set myself on the path towards the embrace of Joycean multiplicity. My language is pluralistic. It draws its influences from multiple geographical, historical and social perspectives. The reason the concept of dynamic context is so integral to my compositional aesthetic is that it is the chief means by which I rationalise and resolve the eclectic musical languages, which inhabit my musical imagination.


Many immanent composers have had to come to terms with a creative tendency towards the mythological use of musical language. Igor Stravinsky, Oliver Messiaen, György Ligeti, Alfred Schnittke, and Krzysztof Penderecki are among them. Usually issues of stylistic coherence are resolved by the discrete use of idiomatic vocabulary: different musical works inhabit different compositional architectures. This is often true of my own works, Sinsearach Cainteoir among them, which are predicated on the exploration of a particular idiomatic construct, or poetic aesthetic through a directed creative intention or mythos. But irrevocably, innate aspects of my own eclectic listening history seep into this architecture and are absorbed into the compositional language. I believe this gives my music a dynamic context, by allowing the vocabularies of many musical languages to enter the work simultaneously. This is certainly true of Authorization Codes, which is marked by contrasting melodic and rhythmic vocabulary.


Of course, adopted idiomatic musical vocabularies undergo a process of transformation. This occurs explicitly, as raw musical data is deconstructed and incorporated into new aesthetic contexts by the objective application of compositional techniques. It also occurs implicitly, as prolonged exposure to different musical legacies leads to their subjective integration into my aesthetic construct, where over time, they recombine with pre-existing listening experiences to become indigenous features of my musical imagination. This is evinced in my continued use of altered heptatonic modes and polyrhythmic relationships; these musical elements have become absorbed into my musical sensibility.   


The transformation and reinterpretation of musical legacies through the creative process results in the abstraction of cultural and historical associations. The musical experience that emerges from their recomposition is far removed from that of its original sources. But key components in the ‘genetic’ construction of the raw musical data, the last vestiges of its cultural legacy, remain and these latent features lead to inherent contrasts of harmony, rhythm, melody and timbre in the final work. The effect of these contrasts is heightened considerably by my application of expanded song-form, which precludes the existence of autonomous and self-referencing formal structures, resulting in instances of distinct stylistic contrast. 


The pursuit of integrated stylistic multiplicity diminishes, in no way, the need for a critical awareness of the music’s structural and stylistic properties. In fact, the adoption of idiomatic vocabulary actually increases the importance of a directed aesthetic. The selection, manipulation and transformation of raw materials are crucial to the compositional process, as the potential for cultural or historical derivation is much increased. The signature of my music lies in its combinatoriality, and cross-fertilization, but the many voices of Joyce’s ‘babelized equivocalities’ are directed by the composer’s own unique aesthetic perspective. If the transformational process is successful, it leads to a deep personalisation of diverging aesthetic streams. This is made possible by the good fortune of living in privileged social circumstances during an age of unparalleled listening opportunity.


A Concept of Musical Modulation


There are many creative concepts by which the realization of a dynamic musical context may be achieved. Perhaps the foremost among them is the concept of modulation. The modulation of musical structures is key component of my compositional technique, and a principal means by which I generate and sustain musical interest. Simply put, modulation means change and it may be used to describe changes to any musical parameter. Modulation may occur modally, through the alteration of pitch axis. It may occur harmonically, through the chromatic transposition of pitch content. Modulation may occur metrically, through the alteration of rhythmic values or the introduction of polyrhythmic relationships. Modulation may also occur stylistically through the introduction of contrasting idiomatic vocabulary. Finally, modulation may occur contextually through the manipulation of musical texture. All of these modulatory devices are present in the compositions of this portfolio. In this chapter, we will explore the use of these devices in the creation of dynamic context.


The Harmonic Modulation of Melodic Structures


We will focus first on aspects of harmonic modulation, in regards specifically to the manipulation of melodic structures. The development of melodic structures can be achieved in many ways, but the basis for the interpretation of melody in the listener comes out of its relationship with an existing or implied harmonic context. A melody’s conformity with or divergence from this context is a primary means by which musical tension is created and resolved. The passage of melody through discrete harmonic fields often forms the basis for large formal sections of my music. By controlling the periodicity and intensity of transition between modulatory fields, I control the tempo of change; by controlling the conformity or divergence melody from its perceive harmonic context, I control the level of dramatic tension in the music. 


One passage of music that came directly out of melodic experimentation can be found in the verse sections of Authorization Codes. I began by placing the melody into the Double-harmonic scale discussed earlier in this thesis. As the melody began to develop, I was able to find related areas of harmonic modulation that supported its trajectory and incorporate these modulations into the completed passage. My choices of modulation were directly informed by the innate tendencies of the melodic line.


The entire second verse (measure 67 to 78) passes through a sequence of modulations of varying periodicity: [(Adh - Edh - Bdh - Gdh) - (Ddh - Adh - Edh - Cdh)]. The excerpt below (from the transposed score) begins in D Double-harmonic. At the beginning of measure 75, it passes to A Double-harmonic. In the middle of measure 77, where c# becomes c in flutes and clarinets, in moves to E Double-harmonic. This passes quickly to C Double-harmonic at the beginning of measure 78. The intensity of chromatic alteration increases throughout, but this is tempered by the fact that modulations are dictated by a sensitivity to the melody’s innate sensibilities. All the instruments in the orchestra reflect the changes of pitch collection exactly, except at two points in the accompaniment of the low brass. The e natural in measure 75 of the trombone staves represents the major 2nd of D; the low g natural at the end of measure 77 in the bass trombone and tuba staves represents the minor 3rd of E, or an anticipation of the modulation to G Double-harmonic. Throughout the passage, the modal inflection of the music is dictated by the held tones of the low brass instruments. Some interesting shifts in modal colour include the g natural in the second half of measure 75, and the held f natural in measure 78. These tones are the fourth degree of the Double-harmonic and represent a modal shift to an Aeolian Augmented 4th Major 7th, more commonly known as the ‘Gypsy Scale’. 


In this section of the piece I have allowed the melodic properties of the Double-harmonic scale to speak lyrically. This collection of pitches carries multiple cultural associations in the music of the Middle East and Eastern Europe. I have attempted to modulate these associations through a distribution of the melodic material throughout the orchestra and the introduction of counterpoint melodies in flutes and clarinets and strings. The profusion of counterpoint melody leads to sparse but interesting moments of vertical harmony. I think the use of harmonic modulation in treating the melody has enhanced its expressive potential.  Not unlike my treatment of the Irish jig found in Sinsearach Cainteoir, this passage represents a moment in the piece when the cultural legacy of the music is allowed to come into the foreground. It is a recasting of Eastern melodic aesthetics through the lens of conventional Western compositional techniques.


Excerpt 25: Authorization Codes - Section F, page 16, measure 73 (woodwinds & brass)



The Stylistic Modulation of Melodic Aesthetics


The potential signification of the melodic passage described in Excerpt 21 is also modulated by the use of contrasting melodic language in the surrounding transitional sections of music. These appear on page 11, measures 45-49 and page 15, measures 62-66 of the transcribed score. These passages are built around a sweeping melodic gesture occurring in the woodwinds, which ascend, via a transposing three-note motif, through a Whole-tone scale. By its very definition, the Whole-tone scale does carries none of the varied intervallic features of its Middle-Eastern neighbour, and the melodic vocabulary here lies in stark contrast to that of verses. The quickness of its execution, and the homogeneous quality of the Whole-tone scale, mean that the passage is perceived as one unified and ascending gesture. 


One tone from outside the pitch collection of the Whole-tone scale is introduced and sustained over in each of the transitional passages. In the first transition, built from b - db - eb - f - g - a, this introduced tone is a bb, and occurs in the trombones and cellos; in the second transition, built from c - d - e - f# - g# - bb, this introduced tone is an eb, and occurs in the trombones and violas. The inclusion of these pitches into the harmonic field serves, effectively, to tonicise the Whole-tone scale around these pitches, by generating chromatic leading-tones from above and below them. The ensuing implied modality becomes a Phrygian Major 6th Major 7th scale based on the introduced tone. The intention here is that the ephemeral quality created by the equidistant steps of Whole-tone scale be imbued with modal characteristics. The music of these passages serves two purposes. In narrative terms, it is intended to introduce the verse material with flourish, like the pulling back of a curtain. In functional terms, it provides a means, through the ascending motivic sequence, of modulating the opening pitch centres of the verses from D Double-harmonic to A Double-harmonic. 


The Modulation of Fixed Melodic Structures


I approach the harmonic modulation of melodic structures from a variety of compositional perspectives. Sometimes it is the imposition of a sequence of vertical harmonic fields that initiates the chromatic alteration of melody. Often this leads to more complex musical structures in which multiple areas of discrete harmony occur simultaneously. The next excerpt, taken from the final movement of Helicotrema, displays what may be described as the modulation of fixed melodic structures. In this technique, recursive melodic motives are ‘filtered’ through an imposed sequence of harmonic modulations. If there exists good symmetry between the contour of the melodies and the shifting fields of vertical harmony, the basic melodic components of the motives change very little. Only their tone-colour is altered through the introduction of chromatic accidentals. This may be understood as a process driven approach to melodic variation, but, as we shall see, this is then complemented by aspects of free composition. 


I begin by choosing one pitch to represent the harmonic axis of the melodic motives. This tone is not necessarily the ensuing modality; it is simple a pitch common to all fields of intended modulation. I then submit the melodies through a series of modulations based on modifications to the scale content of the primary axis pitch. This is a highly idiosyncratic approach and some background may be useful here. As stated earlier, the harmonic language of Helicotrema is derived from three altered heptatonic scales: Lydian Minor 7th, Lydian Minor 3rd, and Dorian Augmented 4th. As I became familiar with my compositional material, I came to understand these melodic structures in relation to their particular scale attributes and modal extensions. At times, these altered heptatonic scales are combined with other altered modes and/or conventional heptatonic scales to create areas of expanded modality, or increased harmonic density. In the following excerpt, the chosen axis pitch by which areas of modulation are established is e natural. Again, this is not necessarily the resulting modality, but merely a tone common to all modulatory fields. Because each recursive motif displays a different melodic contour, the actually modality of the material may be somewhat ambiguous and perceived as existing in other related modes.


The following melodic texture is played by piano. It is made up of two independent melodic motives, which inhabit two closely related ‘modalities’ simultaneously. The right hand of the piano plays a recursive melody two measures in duration, beginning on the last sixteenth-note of the previous measure. It begins in E Aeolian Diminished 5th. It would be rational to describe this melody as occurring in C Lydian Minor 7th, but I believe the contour of the lower motive establishes ‘e’ as the dominant modal pitch axis. After one repetition, this upper motif transits to E Lydian Augmented 2nd (or C# Dorian Augmented 4th) at the beginning of measure 365. The b natural at the end of measure 364 anticipates this modulation. The left hand of the piano plays a recursive motif, one measure in duration, beginning on the downbeat of the measure. It begins in E Aeolian, and modulates to E Dorian at measure 364 (c becomes c#). It then modulates to E Lydian Augmented 5th at the beginning of measure 365 before modulating again in at measure 366 to E Lydian. The melodic contour of the motives and their vertical transposition remain static throughout.     


Excerpt 26: Helicotrema - Scala Tympani, page 37, measure 363 (piano)



The Chromatic Alteration of Modulating Melodic Structures


The conceptual basis for this technique is very simple, but as we shall will see in the following excerpt, its execution can become very complex, as new recursive motives, are introduced into different strata of the musical texture, and come to inhabit different harmonic fields, or permutations thereof, simultaneously. By measure 369, the rhythmic and harmonic complexity of the musical texture has increased significantly. Four independent recursive motives are now preformed concurrently. They each carry a distinctive rhythmic phrasing and melodic contour that distinguishes them. They are bound together, however, by areas of motivic symmetry and areas of shared harmonic content. The primary axis pitch or common tone, by which modulations are achieved in this section of the music, is b natural. The cello motif is understood as cycling around b natural. Also, it is the only melodic pitch in this passage that is not altered chromatically.


In the following excerpt, the motif of pianos right hand is now performed in unison with viola. Two new recursive motives are introduced in clarinet and cello. The clarinet motif is two measures in duration, the cello motif just half a measure. It would be easier at this stage of the analysis, to conceive of the entire musical passage as occurring in blocks of expanded heptatonic harmony, but this not actually the case. Each of the four motives carries an independent rhythmic phrase, and exact points of modulation differ between them. If we consider the main points of modulation as occurring at the beginning of every measure, this excerpt modulates between four fields of expanded harmony, which contain simultaneous multiple fields harmonic foci. 


Excerpt 27: Helicotrema - Scala Tympani, pg. 38, m. 369 (quartet 1: cl, vla, vlc, pno)



The following list displays the expanded harmonic content appearing in Excerpt 23. Momentary chromatic alterations of melody are used to create subtle changes in tone-colour between the independent voices. These chromatic alterations are rhythmically offset, allowing the material to retain its strong modal character. Introduced chromatic alterations appear in brackets beside the modal pitch collection.





The inherent power of this passage comes from the recursive nature of the melodic motives and from the complex rhythmic relationships that are forged between them. It is an emphatic musical statement, one that refuses to be moved, even though its surrounding harmonic field is remains in constant flux. This section of music may be understood as a form of polymodality. The effective mode resides in B, but individual instruments play altered realisation of the mode concurrently. The enharmonic relationships between chromatically altered notes are segregated, vertically through their placement into different registers, and horizontally through their rhythmic phrasing. The independence of the individual lines, and the discrete relationship between chromatic alterations encourage this interpretation. 


The technique led me to discover related forms of harmonic realisation, in which the expansion of the vertical pitch-lattice is tempered through the rhythmic displacement of chromatic alterations. An example of this technique will be discussed later in this chapter in reference to the modulation of context through contrasting musical textural.  


The Role of Formal Transition in my Work


In composing my works, I place emphasis on the subjective atmospheric properties of the music, in determining the direction of the musical narrative. Globally, the musical narrative progresses in a far less anticipated manner than the moment-to-moment changes found within formal sections. Within a formal section, musical development often evolves methodically, but during the transition between formal sections, more dramatic changes occur through the transformation musical structures and the introduction of new musical material. Formal transitions are elicited via changes at the structural level. The manipulation of local events at the moment of transition is a principal means of controlling dramatic narrative tension. This is achieved largely through the twin forces of contrast and continuance. Changes may take place in any combination of compositional elements: changes in tempo and metre, changes in harmonic and rhythmic content, changes in timbre and textural density, and/or changes in idiomatic vocabulary. When composing spatial music, transitions may take on a further physical dimension: that of spatial dislocation. The degree of change at the structural level determines the intensity of the shift experienced by the listener. If all the musical parameters are altered simultaneously, the sensation of dislocation will be acute. If certain parameters are allowed to continue, or are altered only slightly, the contextual shift will be attenuated. During these formal transitions, there is a strong sense of departure. A kind auditory chiaroscuro is evoked, and the listener is ‘moved’ through the transformation of musical context. Stylistically, my compositional narratives often progress in a kind of dialectic. One comes to understand the piece through the assimilation and synthesis of conflicting elements. It would be wrong to interpret this as placing an emphasis on vertical structures. Actually the emphasis in my music is placed on horizontal trajectory. It is the force and intent of the horizontal trajectory of individual melodic lines, which give transitions between formal sections their power. The natural friction that occurs in my music at points of musical modulation would be meaningless without them. In the following excerpts, we will discuss the use of transitions as compositional devices for the modulation of metre, harmony, idiomatic vocabulary and instrumental texture.


Illustrations of Transitional Contrast and Coherency


Moments of formal transition often include metric modulations, in which the tempo of the music is accelerated or decelerated through the alteration of rhythmic pulse. Often changes in pulse are anticipated in the previous metre, either through rhythmic components within the texture or through the introduction of polyrhythmic relationships into the texture. As all of the metric modulations used in these scores are based on the regrouping of common rhythmic subdivisions, the introduction of rhythmic anticipations of metric modulation encourage a smooth transition by the performers, while foreshadowing the event for the listener. This is true of the formal transition of the following excerpt, taken from Authorization Codes, in which the pronounced dotted-eighth-note rhythm of the brass and strings at measure 181-182 foreshadows an intensification of tempo from dotted-quarter-note equals 66 bpm to quarter-note equals 132 bpm. The value of the durations is doubled here in order to return to the metre of the pieces opening formal section, which is reprised in the finale. The sequence of metric modulations upon which the form of Authorization Codes is broadly based, was actually pre-composed. It is cyclical and progresses in this way:


Diagram 7: Authorization Codes - Formal Sequence of Metric Modulations



Excerpt 28: Authorization Codes - Section L, pg. 37, measure 181 (brass, strings & perc.)



This excerpt is also indicative of the extent of textural contrast that may occur between formal sections of the music. In measures 181 and 182, a highly chromatic descending line in the strings and low brass move in contrary motion to an ascending melodic crescendo in upper brass and strings. This is the final musical gesture in a densely orchestrated passage of expanded harmonic texture that is built through the chromatic expansion of D Dorian Augmented 4th, an altered modality built from the fourth degree of A Double-harmonic. The rich timbre of this formal section is contrasted by the stark metallic timbre introduced at the point of formal transition. This new timbral amalgam is produced by spatially displaced vibraphones, accompanied by a rhythm played on the shell of the timpani drum. Spectrally, the resulting timbre is much more focussed. 


The transition represents an intensification of rhythmic activity. As discussed earlier, this passage displays the use of composite rhythm and is created through a process of deconstruction. The perceived rhythm is an amalgam of two independent rhythmic patterns; accented beats of the phrase are those shared by both vibraphones. The effect of the composite rhythm is amplified here by the spatial dislocation of the two vibraphones to the far left and right of the orchestra. 


The opposing motives of the stereo vibraphones represent a modulation of melodic vocabulary. The shared melody of the vibraphones, which is traded between them every measure, is built from conventional Western heptatonic modes. It is a varied and modulating two measure motif, which changes in harmonic content every measure or half-measure. This is created by the chromatic extensions that occur when melody is harmonised using parallel fifths. This modulating melodic texture is filtered through a static harmonic block of vertical fifths, (b/e/a/d) in the opposing rhythm. As the low ‘d’ of the block harmony is continuously sounding, changes in the harmonic content of the shared melody, although they were conceived of as harmonic modulations of key centre, will be perceived by the listener as parallel modulations occurring in D. This is a form of polytonality in which the chromatic modulation of melody is filtered through a limited collection of vertical pitches. The complete harmonic progression of the shared melody may be interpreted in this way. Middle brackets indicate modulations within the measure:


Measures 183 - 186[DIonian - DDorian - DIonian - (DLydian - DMixolydian) - 

Measures 187 - 190(DIonian - DLydian) - DMixolydian - DLydian(Aug.1) - (DLydian - DIonian)]


I would consider this entire section as being transitional in nature. This interpretation is reinforced by its brief duration and its static harmonic movement. It leads directly to a reprise of the opening section of the piece, which was discussed earlier in relation to its polystylistic integration. It is another example of the interpolation of contrasting melodic and harmonic vocabulary that occurs throughout the piece.


At times, the pulse displacement that occurs during metric modulations between formal sections is attenuated by the continuation of previous rhythmic activity. This is evident in the following formal transition from the third movement of Sinsearach Cainteoir. At the double bar-line, the tempo of the music relaxes from dotted-quarter-note equals 120 bpm to quarter-note equals 120 bpm. The tempo of the uilleann pipe motif, however, remains constant via its translation into eighth-note tuplets. The phrasing of its melody, which continues to betray its origins in compound duple metre, is subverted through its incorporation into simple triple metre. The inherent antecedent and consequent phrasing of the melody is severely obscured by the surrounding texture. It realigns with the harmonic movement of the rest of the ensemble only every eight measures. It is cast adrift, losing its prior syntactic significance. 


Excerpt 29: Sinsearach Cainteoir - Movement 3, page 83, measure 439 (full ensemble)




The intensified harmonic rhythm and introduced chromaticism of the music in this section further serves to obfuscate the idiomatic vocabulary of the pipe’s E Dorian modality. This is defined by the movement of the cello and electric-bass, which climb via partial realizations of a Dorian Augmented 4th scale through a modulatory sequence of ascending fifths every four measures, ending in a chromatic ‘leading-tone’ to the next area of modulation. This is harmonized by voices and viola. Three new counter melodies are introduced in flutes and clarinets. The harp and vibraphone share a driving four-measure quarter-note theme, which carries a different pattern of modulation than the bass voices, transposing up a tone after four measures, and then a minor third to return to its initially vertical relationship with the harmony, and finally transposing once more up a tone. The uilleann pipe is the only instrument to remain harmonically static. Its relatively simple melodic gesture in E Dorian is filtered through the chromatic harmonic texture produced by the rest of the ensemble. This stylistic dichotomy represents the subversion and intensification of idiomatic vocabulary through its harmonic and rhythmic recontextualization. 


Our next example of formal transition, from the second movement of Helicotrema, also carries many aspects that are typical during formal transitions, but the modulation of musical aspects is subtler and reveals more continuity. It contains multiple polyrhythmic relationships and these undergo changes to the subdivision and allocation of their pulse. Unlike the previous excerpts, the tempo here remains constant. Only the metrical organisation of the material changes, from dotted-quarter-note equals 40 bpm to quarter-note equals 60 bpm. The metre in measures 177 to 179 is dictated by the cellos, which play a compound duple rhythm in 6/8. This shifts subtly at ‘H’ to sixteenth-note rhythm in 4/4, which is grouped as [3+3+2+3+3+2] thus blurring the transition to simple duple. The polyrhythmic relationship in measure 179 between the cellos 4 in 3 motif and the descending sixteenth-note melodies found in clarinet, viola, flute and english horn, combine with the slight hesitation caused by the quarter-note delay at the end of the 8/8 measure to further blur the perception of a shift in metre, and could be described as a momentary metric modulation to quarter-note equals 80 bpm. 


Excerpt 30: Helicotrema - Scala Media, page 17, measure 177 (quartet 1 & quartet 2)



The introduction of tuplets in flute, clarinet, piano and vibraphones at the point of transition also distorts the listener’s perception of the metric shift to a 4/4 metre. Except for the polyrhythmic relationship that occurs between this area of the new texture and the driving rhythm of the cellos, it could be perceived as occurring in 6/8, and having modulated metrically at the point of transition to dotted-quarter-note equals 60 bpm. The music here displays a particularly complex sequence of rhythmic notation, and yet this is deceptive, as the acoustic result is a smooth and seamless transition between complimentary passages of music. This is largely due to the continuity of melodic contour in the descending voices, which leads to a low ‘d’ in the cellos, the tonic of the previous section. The melodic vocabulary remains consistent, and the harmonic modulation is smooth, occurring in parallel motion from D Harmonic Minor to D Dorian Augmented 4th. This is a parallel transposition to a mode built from the 4th degree of D Harmonic Minor.


The modulation of other musical aspects is also less pronounced. Texturally, the two sections of music betray a similar amount of activity, but the area of greatest activity shifts from the upper voices to the low cello line, and the principal melody shifts from flute and clarinet to viola and english horn. This transition forms part of larger continuous arc of intensification in the compositional narrative, which comes to a close, with the first introduction of the ‘rolling wave’ melody performed in rhythmic unison at the following point of formal transition. (Please refer to the score, measure 193.)


Textures of Varying Complexity


In discussing aspects of transition, I have made references to transitional sections, which occur when two larger formal sections of a work are joined or separated by a brief transitional statement. In reference to Excerpt 21 and Excerpt 24, we discussed transitional sections in which the manipulation of harmonic language and texture is used to create formal contrast. At others times in my compositions, a transitional section of music is used to bridge two formal sections that are considered to be of a very different aesthetic quality. In this instance, the gestures and textures of the transitional section incorporate features of both larger formal sections in order to soften the contrast between them.


The formal section in the following excerpt from Authorization Codes is strident in character. It is harmonically dense and rhythmically active. It contains many recursive and ascending gestures, and a strong and delineated pulse. A layered texture of repeating ostinati patterns are used to colour a simple and forthright melody played in the lower register by bass trombone, tuba and cellos. This aspect of the texture is created by the introduction of a highly chromatic motif played by oboes and violins 1a. It traverses via repetition through: [a - bb - (b - c) - bb] over four measures. It is phrased over eight quarter-note-beats and carries a polymetric relationship with the pervading 6/4 metre, which is recycled every four measures. This ostinato line is harmonised in rhythmic unison by ostinati in the flutes and violin 1b. The resulting collection of chromatic pitches is quite dense: [c - c# - g - g# - b - bb] but the effect of this is offset by the rhythmic displacement of chromatic pitches. By allowing only certain chromatic pitches to sound simultaneously, the implied modality of the chromaticism is retained. The musical spectrum shimmers between discrete points of modal inflection. I describe this harmonic treatment as polymodality.


Excerpt 31a: Authorization Codes - Section H, page 23, measure 107 (woodwinds)



The principal melodic thrust and modal foundation in this section is provided by the shared melody of the bass trombone, tuba and cellos. I often place my principal melodic content in the lower register of the ensemble. In this case, the static or recursive treatment of the other instrumental motives, places this melody even more into the foreground. The melody is created by the transposition of a four measure melodic statement in G Ionian. It begins on d and resolves to g at the fourth measure. This statement is then transposed through a sequence of ascending diatonic thirds: [d - f# - a - c]. In Excerpts 27b, it is in its final stage of transposition, which ends tersely on f# (against g in the trombones) before descending to low g in the last measure of the section. Many of its component pitches carry a tense relationship with the expanded harmonic field of the layered ostinati: g against g#, b against bb, c against c#. This is mediated by the distinct registers these two aspects of the texture inhabit, and by the pronounced difference in the quality of their gestures.    


Excerpt 31b: Authorization Codes - Section H, pg. 23, measure 107 (brass & vibraphones)



Two elements of this texture help to moderate the relationship between the melody of the low brass and cello and the recursive motivic material of the winds and upper strings. The first occurs in the trombones and horns. The trombones sustain a g natural throughout the entire section; 2nd and 4th horns (transposed) sustain an a natural through the entire section. 1st and 3rd horn play an simple three note sustained melody that vacillates stepwise around a held d: [d - c - d - e ]. This core sound anchors the section, becoming the harmonic reference point for all other materials. The second moderating element is more mobile. This is a staggered descending chordal melodic sequence occurring in the upper register of the vibraphones. This melody occurs in G Lydian and it shadows the melodic movement of the bass trombone, tuba and cellos harmonizing it and colouring its spectral content.


These two elements of the texture are partially retained into the next transitional section, where they provide the harmonic foundation of the music. At measure 112 of Excerpt 28a, the horns play a descending chromatic chordal passage:


[A - E/G# - G - D/F# - F - C/E - D].


The stereo vibraphones enrich this harmony with suspended chords. The suspended chords of the vibraphones allude to the previous section’s tonality by referencing the suspended harmony of the horns and trombones. The direction of the harmonic movement, which resolves to D (add9), alludes to the harmonic movement of the following formal section. These features, combined with a general relaxation of vertical tension and rhythmic activity, help to prepare the subsequent formal section of music. 


Excerpt 32a: Authorization Codes - Section I, pg. 24, measure 112 (horns & vibraphones)



The melodic contour of the woodwind melody in Excerpt 28b, shared by flute and clarinet, compliments the leading quality of this harmonic progression. This effect is reinforced by its melodic anticipation the chromatic movement of the horns. The appearance of g and c natural over E/G# in measure 113 anticipates the modulation to G; the held c natural over D/F# in measure 115 anticipates the modulation to F. It also colours the progression with modal inflections.    


Excerpt 32b: Authorization Codes - Section I, page 24, measure 112 (woodwinds)



This musical passage is transitory in nature. It occurs in one unified gesture that refers only to that which has come before and that which is to come. It could be argued that there is a great deal of contrast between this transitional section and the section that precedes it, and indeed there is, but the continuation of key aspects of the preceding texture tempers this contrast by extending harmonic and timbral aspects of its makeup. The easing of textural density acts like a suspension or slowing of time, and this allows the listener a chance to internalise and respond to the music of the previous section. It also clears the air, creating listening space for the next formal section to establish its identity.

Textures of Increasing Complexity


Many examples of compositional texture have already been identified in previous chapters in reference to aspects of style and form. The use of contrasting texture is perhaps the most important feature of my work. It is the means by which the emotional dynamic of the music is achieved. I have attempted in all of the pieces included in this portfolio to explore the full expressive range of the particular ensemble, while crafting the compositional narrative in a manner that would imbue these contrasts with syntactical significance and metaphorical gesture. The first example of texture we will discuss is from Sphèrós and occurs in Tableau D. The formal section is described as a Plateau; this refers to the cyclical harmonic movement upon which it is based. The music modulates harmonically or modally every measure through a repeating sequence of modal centres. This first three modulations of the sequence, presented below, are harmonic. The final modulation, between F Ionian and C Mixolydian, is modal and occurs at the turn of the phrase.


[C Mixolydian - Bb Mixolydian - G Aeolian - F Ionian] - [C Mixolydian - etc.


At times the modality of the progression is modified through changes in the register of bass voices. At times, it is extended and continues to descend in stepwise motion through AbIonian to G Aeolian or Eb Lydian to D Phrygian, before ultimately returning to C. The movement is cyclical and self-referencing, its point of repose residing in C Mixolydian. Like many passages of music in this portfolio, the narrative evolves through varied repetition and increasing textural density. The repeating principal motif, upon which the entire section is based, is a descending melodic phrase beginning on the first downbeat of every measure. It is passed between vocal registers, between spatialized sections of choir and between opposing choir groups. In Excerpt 29, it resides in the alto voices of Choir 1 in the first two measures and the tenor voices of Choir 2 in the final two measures.


Excerpt 33: Sphèrós - Tableau D, page 24, measure 78 (alto 1 & tenor 2)



Tableau D of Sphèrós actually begins with two measures of vocal silence, in which a kind of musical question is asked by the accompanying soundtrack, to which the choral section of music is a response (see Excerpt 30). The suspended intervals of ab over eb and bb over f in measures 76 and 77 imply an unresolved state. The contour and intervallic movement of the upper melody, from g up a perfect 4th to c, and from ab up an augmented 4th to d, implies a question or request. The general harmonic movement of this statement, in rising a tone, is leading and anticipatory.


Excerpt 34: Sphèrós - Tableau D, page 24, measure 76 (soundtrack)



The choir’s response moves in contrary motion to the previous passage, descending through the modal axes described above. It begins simply and nakedly, the resolve of its answer increasing with each repetition. As the density of the harmony increases, and its texture becomes more complex, and the vocal statement becomes more emphatic. One effect of a texture of increasing complexity is that it allows the audience to enter into the music. Each new element of the texture is streamed and integrated into the experience. The dynamic of this relationship is enhanced further through the spatial dislocation of the voices. Through phenomena like proximity effect, aural perspective can be used to submerge or expose different features of the texture. As aspects of the texture pass across the concert space, they return to the foreground of the music, if they contain good motivic continuity, their spatial dislocation perceived as movement. 


The following excerpt occurs after two repetitions of the descending melodic statement. A counter-melody is introduced here in the soprano voices. It uses an eighth-note division of the last quarter-note of the measure to enter, it phrasing anticipating the downbeat of the principal melody in the alto voices. It rises against the principal motif in the first half of the measure and echoes its contour in the second half. Changes also occur in the supporting tenor voices, where upward melodic movement is introduced in measure 89, filling out the interior harmony. The modality of this passage is also altered, as new melodic material is introduced in the bass voices. The modulating sequence now occurs as:


[F Ionian - Eb Ionian - C Dorian - Bb Lydian] - F Ionian -]


Excerpt 35: Sphèrós - Tableau D, page 27, measure 86 (choir 1)



At the height of vocal activity, displayed in excerpt 32, there is a considerable amount of textural independence introduced between spatialized choir groups. The principal melody here is transposed up an octave and carried in 2nd soprano of Choir 2. This is doubled at the original octave in the altos, (measures 96-97) and in the tenors, (measure 98-99) of Choir 2, who alternate between principal melody and less active supporting parts. Upward melodic movement is introduced in the supporting alto voices, measures 96 and 97, further filling out the interior harmony. The modality of the modulating sequence is returns to its original form, as a descending sequence of held tones beginning on C3 of the bass voices in Choir 2, is introduced in the accompanying soundtrack. Through discrepancies in the melodic content of the bass voices, this modality is reinforced differently in Choirs 1 and 2. It is thought that the overall harmonic texture here will permeate the entire concert space, but that the counter melody, currently in soprano 1, will figure more prominently to members of the audience seated closest to Choir 1 due to proximity effect.


All of the choral voices are now engaged. The dynamic range of the music has increased from mezzo forte to double forte. The tessitura of the section has increased two octaves and its harmonic density with it. The principal melodic gesture, and its associated metaphor of ‘response’ have not change, however. They have simply amplified and intensified in expression. 


Excerpt 36: Sphèrós - Tableau D, page 30, measure 96 (choir 1)




Relationships of increased textural complexity may also occur between segregated formal areas of the music, and this is true in the reprise of Authorization Codes. We have already discussed the diversity of compositional techniques found in the Introduction of the piece in Chapter 3 of this dissertation, ‘Polystylistic Elements in my Music’. The piece opens and closes with the same basic formal material, but in the reprise, beginning at measure 201, I have attempted an intensification of the compositional narrative by manipulating circumstances to increase the perceived unrest of returning materials. Many changes and additions to the structural level of the music are introduced to accomplish this.


To begin with, the underlying harmonic progression of the opening passage, which modulates every three measures, is reversed and moves in retrograde to its original statement. (see Excerpt 7a) Instead of modulating in a sequence of descending third relations, it moves in a sequence of ascending thirds: A - C - E - G - Bb - D - F - F/A. This has strong implications of the melodic content of the brass and strings investing the reprise with greater harmonic tension. In the reprise, the individual melodic lines of the trumpets are allowed to sustain over points of modulation, resolving melodically to the following vertical harmony, thus increasing the texture and harmonic density. The following excerpt begins in G Double-harmonic and modulates to Bb Double-harmonic in the fourth measure. The ‘f#’ of the 1st trumpet is a melodic resolution the major 7th of G; the ‘d’ of the 2ndtrumpet in the fourth measure is a resolution to the 10th of Bb. This results in an increased presence of the brass instruments.


Excerpt 37a: Authorization Codes - Section O, page 44, measure 210 (brass)



In addition to the three main layers of polymetric activity discussed in regards to the Introduction, (see Excerpts 7b & 7c) another complex polyrhythmic texture is introduced into the woodwinds. Four independent rhythmic patterns of 6, 8, 10 and 12 beats are played simultaneously. They are voiced in three parts, and are monotone in character. They carry a consonant relationship with the pervading vertical harmony, playing the most stable degrees of the Double-harmonic scale: the octave, fourth and fifth. This aspect of the texture further augments the rhythmic and harmonic density of the music, while increases the overall dynamic range of the crescendo. Textural density increases further, with the reintroduction of the sixteenth-note descant in the 1st violins at measure 216. (Please refer to Excerpt 7b)


Excerpt 37b: Authorization Codes - Reprise, Section O, page 44, measure 210 (brass)



Changes also occur to the cello, contrabass, bassoon parts of the reprise, which have dropped their cadential phrases (see Excerpt 7c) to pursue a more forwardly leaning melodic course. There is a pronounced increase of rhythmic activity in the timpani, which no longer shadows the modulatory sequence, but performs a driving rhythm in ascending fourths and fifths. 


Excerpt 37c: Authorization Codes - Reprise, Section O, page 44, measure 210 (brass)



Changes in context also play a role in encouraging a sense of increased unrest. The transition into the reprise passes via a metric modulation at measure 183, which transits from dotted-quartet-note equals 66 bpm, to quarter-note equals 132 bpm, sharpening the atmosphere through an increase in tempo (see Excerpt 24). The re-statement of sustained tones in the low registers of brass, which reintroduces the passage at measure 191, is also exaggerated, with new pedal tones introduced in the trumpets and trombones, darkening the timbre. The angular descant, which appears later in the section in 1st violins, (m. 216) makes an early appearance here in the high register of the flutes. Its recognition by the audience builds an anticipation of tension, by signalling a return to more dissonant harmonic material. I have attempted, through the application of these compositional devices, to intensify the narrative subtext of the passage and summon a new metaphorical associations in the listener. Although greatly intensified, the distinguishing feature of the global musical gesture, occurring in the overlapping ascending melodic lines of the brass, remains clearly identifiable. Perhaps though, its signification for the listener has changed.  


The mounting tension of the final reprise begins to dissolve at measure 226, as the brass shift to descending melodic motion. This relaxation in tension is reinforced at measure 228 by a shift in the strings from the repeated sixteenth-note descant to arpeggiated figures. This leads to a retard in tempo beginning at measure 230 and a final cadential resolution in the horns at measure 232. The entire section resolves to an A69 chord, a conventional musical gesture, but one made arguably more effective by its contrast to the previous more dissonant musical architecture.


In Closing


In this chapter, I have used the manipulation of musical concepts such modulation, transition and texture as a method of revealing and analysing key components of my compositional language. I have proceeded in this way, because like all languages, although music is made up of individual ‘signifiers’, or ‘fragments’, it is spoken in complete sentences. It is the organisation and delivery of these sentences that form the ideas that make the experience of music listening meaningful. By filtering my analysis of the music’s detail through the conceptual devices that make up its broader structures, I have attempted to establish the connection between micro and macro levels of the language, informing the reader not only of its component architecture (detail) but also of the conceptual basis for their realization.



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