Week 7 – Pseudo Random Composition

In music, indeterminacy began with the compositions of Charles Ives in the early 1900’s, was continued in the 30’s by Henry Cowell and taken further by John Cage from the 50’s on (Griffiths, 2001). John Cage an experimental composer provides the best definition of indeterminacy in music as follows: “refers to the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways” (Pritchett 1993, 108). ‘Indeterminacy’ can be thought of in tandem with ‘chance composition’. There can be indeterminacy of composition as well as indeterminacy of performance.

There are actually three classifications of indeterminate music. In the first class are scores in which chance only plays a part in the composition, every parameter is fixed prior to the performance. For example, in composing Music of Changes (1951), John Cage used the I-Ching to determine duration, tempo and dynamics which were then fixed prior to performance.

The second class of indeterminism involves chance in the performance. Notated events are provided but, their arrangement is left to the determination of the performer or chance. Cage regards this as the only true type of indeterminate music. A good example of this type of indeterminism is Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück XI (1956), in which nineteen events are presented and notated traditionally, but the arrangement is determined spontaneously by the performer as it is performed.

In the third class of indeterminate music traditional notation is replaced by visual or auditory signifiers which suggest how a piece may be performed, for example graphic scores. This is the case in Earl Brown’s December 1952 (1952) where various lines and rectangles can be interpreted as loudness, duration, pitch etc… It is determined by the performer how it is read.

Perhaps the most iconic piece of indeterminacy in music is John Cage’s “Imaginary Landscape No. 4” for 12 radios (1951). Using FM radios the piece is always different as it depends what is on different radio stations at the moments they are tuned in.

This week’s composition is more in line with the second class of indeterminism in that events are provided in the form of samples which were loaded into several instances of the sampler Kontakt. Five ‘instruments’ full of samples were loaded into Kontakt. The five ‘instruments’ were of five basic classifications: Percussion; Bass; Mid; Hi; and FX. The instruments were loaded with up to 127 samples selected very randomly but in accordance with the five classes. Bass example picture below:


The 5 ‘instruments were then ‘played’ by a P.D. patch which I constructed to select samples randomly at different rates/time signatures which would change periodically. The P.D. patch entitled John Cage Random Midi Selector is pictured below:

JC's MIDI Selector
The idea with the patch was to randomly select samples from 127 (MIDI) at the rate of a specified metronome. Each class of sounds has a master metronome which periodically selects from three lower metronomes which trigger samples at different rates/time signatures. The idea is that this will make the piece busy at times and sparser at other times. As you will hear in the composition I don’t think this aim was achieved as it sounds very busy all the time, but I’m sure different results could be achieved with longer metronome times. Also, the sound of the piece is characterised by the samples which were loaded into the sampler. Many of the samples came from a few house music sample folders, the end result is a chaotic composition which sounds a bit like John Cage plays house music. Obviously different results could be achieved with different samples and it could be possible to produce a well-structured piece of music with well thought out samples and metronome times. However, I feel this composition is a good demonstration of the John Cage style of indeterminism. A link to this week’s composition is below:



  • Cage, John. (1961) Silence: Lectures and Writings. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.
  • Childs, Barney. (1974) “Indeterminacy”. Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Music, edited by John Vinton. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-01100-1 American edition published under title Dictionary of Contemporary Music (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1974) ISBN 0-525-09125-4.
  • Griffiths, Paul. (2001) “Aleatory”. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Hunter College (NYC) (2008). John Cage: “Imaginary Landscape No. 4” for 12 radios (1951). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0BNsBlzQII#t=130 – accessed Tue 25th March 2014.
  • Machtlen, P. (2010). Performance of December 1952 (Earle Brown). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlGkaP4u2cw – accessed Mon 24th March 2014.
  • Pritchett, James. (1993). The Music of John Cage. Music in the 20th Century. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-41621-3 (cloth); ISBN 0-521-56544-8 (pbk).
  • Wellesz Theatre (2012). John Cage: Music of Changes (1951). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_8-B2rNw7s – accessed Mon 24th March 2014.
  • Wellesz Theatre (2012). Karlheinz Stockhausen: Klavierstück XI (1956). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76BlqTGqAgc – accessed Mon 24th March 2014.
  • Worby, Robert (2009). Turn on, tune in: John Cage’s symphony for 12 radios. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/aug/06/john-cage-symphony-for-radios – accessed Mon24th March 2014.

Week 6 – Graphical Scores/Nataraja

In music a graphical score can be thought of as music written in the form of a diagram or picture, rather than notation. Graphical scores may convey meanings through the use of symbols in the form of geometric shapes or colours which may be explained by a key. Graphical score composers began to gain recognition in the 50’s and the method experienced its peak popularity through the 60’s and 70’s. Notable composers who used graphic scores during this period include John Cage, Brian Eno, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ligeti and more. Stockhausen’s scores retained elements of standard musical notation within them as a starting point from which more abstract graphical ideas could be developed, whereas Cage’s graphic scores, at first impression, did not look like music notation at all, in a style which combined drawing with peculiar shapes and lettering.

Stockhausen Graphic Score – Mikrophonie 1 (1964)


John Cage Graphic score – Concert for Piano and Orchestra, Fontana Mix (1958).


Since the 70’s artists such as academian Tom Phillips, DJ Aphex Twin and software designer Hans Christoph Steiner to name a few have all experimented with graphic scores. Below is the graphical score for Han Christoph Steiner’s Solitude (2004), created using Pure Data’s data structures. It reads from left to right. The different colours and shapes in the score control various parameters of different samples which are played back.

Hans Christoph Steiner – Solitude (2004). http://mp3.at.or.at/composer/me/Solitude_-_Hans-Christoph_Steiner_-_2004.mp3


For this week’s composition the task was to compose a piece using the supplied image as graphic score. The image was Nataraja by Bridget Riley (1993), pictured below:

Nataraja 1993 by Bridget Riley born 1931

Nataraja is typical of much of Riley’s work from 1986 onwards in that it is a diagonal stripe painting. The painting is divided up vertically and diagonally into separate areas of different colours. The relationship between the different colours is complex due to many different colours being represented in as many as twenty different shades. The position of colours has been thoughtfully arranged with respect to correspondence, contrast and proportion. The idea is that the painting creates a balanced and unified visual field, whilst also representing individual and contrasting areas of colour. The term ‘Nataraja’ means ‘lord of the dance’ in Hindu Mythology, in reference to the God Shiva in his form as the cosmic dancer. Riley’s use of the term Nataraja is in reference to a theme of rhythm and counter-rhythm, which are main concepts in the painting.

This week’s composition was approached with the following considerations:

  • Colour – The painting is very colourful and bright, therefor the music/sounds used should reflect that and create a bright positive ambience.
  • Rhythm – Trevor Wishart (On Sonic Art, 1985) describes Western Music as being ‘lattice’ oriented in terms of its organisation being restricted to the specific intervals laid out in standard notation. As this painting is very lattice-like in appearance being divided up into a grid of diagonal boxes then the music should reflect this with use of even tempo rhythm and tonality in the sense of appropriate scales and modes.
  • Line – As the painting is repetitive in term of the horizontal and vertical lines then the music is repetitive in nature with an underlying piano motif which is basically looped but changes key/is transposed to give more movement and tonal colour.
  • Space – The painting is very busy and there is no space therefore the music is very busy with the fast piano underpinning the whole thing which never lets up. Melody lines on top provided by guitar enhance the tonal colour and movement.
  • Texture – Although there are a lot of notes, it is not a mish mash, notes can all be heard and appreciated distinctly in their own right. Textures of sounds used are fairly clean, good quality and bright sounding to reflect the painting.
  • Implied Depth – The painting is very up front and in your face, so is the music.

Obviously, there are many different ways in which a task such as this could be approached. My approach was to capture the mood of and rhythm of the painting and translate that using melodies and harmonies which sounded colourful, rhythmical and busy. This was just my personal interpretation others may differ, depending on culture musical background etc… A link to this week’s composition is below:



Week 5 – Noise/Pencil and Paper

There are many different ways noise can be defined depending on the context in which we think of it. Usually we think of noise as loud or unwanted sounds. However, noise can also be thought of in terms of physics as fundamental to the sound of many vibrating systems (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2014). Some types of noise are commonly used in lots of music:

• White Noise – Equally intense sound waves at all frequencies of the audio spectrum. Similar to static heard between stations on an FM radio.
• Pink Noise – frequencies that decrease in intensity at a rate of three decibels per octave towards higher frequencies.
• Many different forms of coloured noise occur naturally everywhere. For example, wind whistling through trees. Distinctive types of coloured noise occur where there is a wide noise spectrum with emphasis on a narrow band of frequencies.

Noise Music is a genre characterised by the use of noise in a musical context. One of the people to experiment with noise music was Luigi Russolo (30 April 1883 – 4 February 1947), an Italian Futurist painter and composer, and the author of the manifesto The Art of Noises (1913). Russolo found traditional tonal music to be too restrictive and saw noise music as its replacement in the future. He built his own instruments/noise machines called Intonarumori.

“The variety of noises is infinite. If today, when we have perhaps a thousand different machines, we can distinguish a thousand different noises, tomorrow, as new machines multiply, we will be able to distinguish ten, twenty, or thirty thousand different noises, not merely in a simply imitative way, but to combine them according to our imagination” (Luigi Russolo (1916). The Art of Noises (English translation.)

Noise has featured prominently in the work of many artists following Russolo, for example Pierre Schaeffer (Music Concrete) and Karheinz Stockhausen.  For this week’s composition the task was to create a piece using only the recorded sounds of a piece of paper and a pencil. Influence in making this piece was taken from the likes of Pierre Schaeffer and the music concrete style.

Obviously much of the sound of music concrete and the past works of Pierre Schaeffer was created through the use of and manipulation/abuse of tape. Nowadays there are many more tools available to create many imaginative effects with sounds and so, the aim with this composition was to compose a piece of music concrete using modern tools to the fullest extent.

To begin with the sounds of the paper and pencil were recorded using an ADK A51 Type V condenser microphone which has a cardioid polar pattern. This enabled the high quality and clean capture of the following sounds:
• Pencil drawing lines, circles and scribbling.
• Pencil Breaking
• Crushing the pencil
• Flapping the Paper
• Hitting the paper with the pencil
• Hitting pieces of the pencil together
• Stabbing the paper with the pencil
• Ripping the paper

Using the recorded sounds as source material an arrangement was created. The piece progressed from fairly normal drawing sounds, to more aggressive sounds as the paper and pencil ‘clash’, and on to an ending of destructive sounds as we hear sounds of the pencil being crushed. Many effects are used throughout the piece to created interesting sound landscapes and sound transformations. The suite of GRM tools effects was used manipulate the original recorded sounds.

Comb ResonatorFreeze Delay

To pick out some effects in this week’s composition:
• From 11 secs to 51 secs we intermittently hear the effects of delays on the sound of pieces of the pencil tapping together.
• At 36 secs we hear the pencil break and the reverb is comb filtered and layered with stretched comb filtered reverb which has been stretched with Pauls Extreme Sound Stretch.

Paul Stretch Comb

• At 1.31 secs we hear the sound of the pencil drawing circles suddenly freeze and the sound is transformed with filters.
• At 2.11 the GRM resonator can be heard as the pencil is being crushed.

Below is a link to this week’s composition:



• Battier, Marc (2007). “What the GRM Brought to Music: From Musique Concrète to Acousmatic Music”. Organised Sound 12, no. 3 (December: Musique Concrète’s 60th and GRM’s 50th birthday—A Celebration): 189–02.
• Dack, John (1994). “Pierre Schaeffer and the Significance of Radiophonic Art.” Contemporary Music Review 10, no. 2:3-11.
• Encyclopaedia Britannica (2014). Noise. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/417178/noise and http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/555255/sound/64014/Noise – Accessed Tue 18th March 2014.
• Hegarty, Paul (2007). Noise/Music: A History. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.
• Luigi Russolo (1916). The Art of Noises. A Futurist Manifesto. (English translation)

Week 4 – One Note

In music, when only one note is played this can be termed monophonic. The encyclopaedia Britannica defines monophony as “musical texture made up of a single unaccompanied melodic line”. In other words, melody without accompanying harmony which may consist of just one note or, one note which is then duplicated in octaves. Byzantine and Gregorian chants (the music of the medieval Eastern and Western churches, respectively) constitute the oldest written examples of monophonic repertory. In the later Middle Ages in Europe, the primarily secular songs of Provençal troubadours, French trouvères, and German minnesingers and meistersingers kept the tradition alive, although their performances often featured improvised accompaniment.

One of the most famous pieces of music to use just one note is Gyorgy Lygeti’s Musica Ricercata I.  It is the first of eleven pieces composed for piano between 1951 and 1953. It uses the note of A exclusively until D is introduced as the final note providing impetus to the following movements. Ligeti keeps the piece interesting by developing rhythm and timbre. The sound at the beginning is very large leading on to a gradual crescendo and accelerando with layered polyrhythms in different registers. The Coda is a metered accelerando of several more octaves of A before we eventually hear D.

Another famous example of one note music is Yves Klein – Monotone Symphony. Klein composed the piece between 1947 and 1948. It consisted of a single chord sustained for 20minute followed by a 20 minute silence. This piece was a precedent to La Monte Young’s Drone Music and John Cage’s 4’33”.

For my one note composition the note used was E. Several different octaves of E are played polyrhythmically for the duration of the piece over a bass note of E. The BPM remains constant. A sense of tension and release is created with use of synth strings and a guitar layered over the top which just plays E in the form of single notes and octaves. The guitar sound used is quite loud and distorted and helps to give the piece some grit. The idea is that all the normal concepts of making a piece of music can still be applied except that only one note is used, so more emphasis is put upon the quality of the sounds, the textures and the way the one note evolves.

Below is a link to this weeks composition:


Beginning of “Monotone and Silence Symphony” by Yves Klein (2013-09-18). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFUr6Kw-8Ng – accessed Tues 4th March

Encyclopaedia Britannica (2014). Definition of monophony. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/389948/monophony – accessed Tues 4th March 2014.

Im Sabina (2013). Performance of Musica Ricercata by Gyorgy Ligeti. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Cgo9gE42VU – accessed Tues 4th March 2014.

Kliewer, Vernon (1975). “Melody: Linear Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music”, Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.