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.