New Blog: Lloyd James’ MA Major Project 2014

Following on from contextual studies here, there is a new blog for Lloyd’s MA creative sound production major project entitled – ‘Sentient Shift’:  Electroacoustic Music for 5.1 Surround Sound.  Follow this link to the new blog:



Week 12 – The Abstract Truth

“Thus Steve Reich, explaining to Edward Strickland in 1987 why he didn’t write European-style serial music, argued that his repetitive, low-affect music was true to the popular experience of post-war consumer America:  “Stockhausen, Berio, and Boulez were portraying in very honest terms what it was like to pick up the pieces after World War 2.  But for some Americans in 1948 or 1958 or 1968 – in the real context of tailfins, Chuck Berry and millions of burgers sold – to pretend instead we’re really going to have the dark-brown Angst of Vienna is a lie, a musical lie.”  (Fink 2005:  119).

In visual art, abstract art uses form colour and line to create a composition which may exist independently of visual references in the real world.  From the renaissance up to the mid-19th century, western visual art was underpinned by the logic of perspective and an attempt to reproduce an accurate illusion of reality.  The arts outside of western culture showed alternative ways of expressing the visual experience.  By the end of the 19th Century, many artists has a desire to create new art which would reflect fundamental changes in technology, science and philosophy.  Artists drew inspiration from a variety of sources to fuel diverse theoretical arguments which, reflected social and intellectual preoccupations of the cultures of the time.


Above is a 1939–42 oil on canvas painting by Mondrian titled “Composition No. 10”. Responding to it, fellow artist Theo van Doesburg suggested a link between non-representational works of art and ideals of peace and spirituality.

The Blues and the Abstract Truth is a jazz album by Oliver Nelson (1961).  The album is an exploration of the mood and structure of the blues, though only some of the tracks are structured in the conventional 12-bar blues form.

For this week’s composition a short piece was composed in an attempt to honestly reflect the experience of living in the modern world of the internet, terrorism, global warming etc…  Something that reflects the abstract truth about my personal self and my relationship with the world.

The strategy with this week’s piece was to try and capture the feeling of the progress of the world, always progressing and changing as time constantly moves forward through the time in which we currently live.  The main idea or my own ‘abstract truth’ which I attempted to convey was that of the world constantly moving forward developing and improving slowly despite setbacks which sometimes slow the process.  Real world issues such as the birth of the internet and how that has contributed to terrorism have been addressed. The threat of terrorism always hangs over and strikes suddenly without warning.  Progress is slowed for a time by terrorist actions, but life never stops it always moves forward and recovers, but, sometimes things are a bit different afterwards.

Compositionally the piece is arranged based upon a combination of synthesized, sampled and concrete/real world sounds that are manipulated to create an evolving soundscape.  It begins with synthesized pads and textures which create a busy atmosphere that is a bit chaotic, like the chaos we live in.  The 12/8 drum rhythm helps give the piece a sense of forward motion like time.  Early in the piece the drums drop out and we hear a short burst of a dial up modem reflective of the birth of the internet.  The drums return and time moves on.  Later there is much more dial-up sounds as the internet has expanded which leads into the explosive boom sound which is representative of an act of terrorism.  Everything slows down here, by manipulation of the play rate which reflects the turmoil and the temporary halt of progress that a major act of terrorism can cause.  Time moves on and the piece speeds up and regains its sense of organisation and pattern as life recovers.  Things are not the same however, there is a sweeping EQ effect over the main pad altering its sound from what it was before the boom event.  The piece has changed but at the same time is still the same somewhat.  Time moves on into the future as the piece fades out with a pitch up.  I feel the piece is reflective of the strength of humanity to maintain the constant progress of life despite the setbacks and disasters.

Below is a link to this weeks composition:


Week 11 – Brian Eno/Generative/Ambient

Brian Eno is a musician, composer, record producer, singer, and visual artist, regarded as an innovator of ambient music. Through his solo music he has explored musical styles and pioneered ambient and generative music. Key to Eno’s style are innovative production techniques with an emphasis on theory over practice. Much of Eno’s solo work is classed in the minimalist genre and is often referred to as ‘systems music’ or ‘generative music’. Systems music being a term referring to pieces revolving primarily around sound continuums which evolve gradually, often over very long periods of time (Sutherland 1994, 172) and generative music being a term coined by Brian Eno to describe music that is constantly evolving and created by a system.

Eno has used generative techniques on much of his works, from early works using tape-delays (1972, in collaboration with Robert Fripp) and Discreet Music (1975) up to the present day. His compositions, lectures and interviews have boosted the popularity of generative music, particularly, among the avant-garde music community. The tape-delay system pioneered by Fripp and Eno, named ‘Frippertronics’, was used for the generative processes on the 1973 album No Pussyfooting. It involved setting up two Revox tape recorders side by side with the tape unspooling from the first deck being carried over to the second deck to be spooled, thus audio recorded on the first deck is then played back on the second deck at a time delay determined by the distance between the two decks and the tape speed (usually a few seconds). The technique was similar to Terry Riley’s Revox tape-delay feedback system (which Riley used to call the “Time-Lag Accumulator”) Riley used on his album Music for the Gift (1963).


Fripp and Eno released a second album Evening star in 1975.

For this week’s composition the Brian Eno-Robert Fripp tape delay loop system was investigated. The idea was to create an ambient and evolving piece with some interesting textures. The method was adapted for production using modern techniques, as it is probably a lot easier these days to set up the system using a DAW than it was with tape and tape machines back in the 70’s. Basically the system was created making a synth loop on one track in Pro Tools which was then sent to a delay unit on another channel. The fully wet output of this delay unit was then sent through an auxiliary channel back into the delay unit. Only the fully wet output from the delay unit is the audible part of the chain. This piece was crammed into under 4 minutes which is extremely short for an Eno style track but long enough to experiment a little with the evolution of the sound. To create an ambient sort of suspended feel root notes were omitted from the mode used. The strategy was to layer 2 delay-feedback loops which were of different lengths and harmonic content to see how they interacted over the length of the piece and also to experiment with recording it whilst manually automating the faders of the auxiliary send back into the delay, the feedback amount on the delay itself and the delay time. The set-up is pictured below:

Tape Delay

Below is a link to this week’s composition:

• Eno, B. (1975). Discreet Music. – accessed 20/05/14.
• Eno, B. (1976), “Generating and Organizing Variety in the Arts,” Studio International 984 (Nov./Dec. 1976), 279-83.
• Eno, B. (1996) Generative Music. – accessed 20/05/14.
• Eno, B., Fripp, R. (1975). Evening Star. – accessed 20/05/14.
• Eno, B., Fripp, R. (1973). No Pussyfooting, The Heavenly Music Corporation. – accessed 20/05/14.
• Gogins, Michael (1991). “Iterated-Functions Systems Music”. Computer Music Journal 15, no. 1 (Spring): 40–48.
• Riley, T. Music for the Gift V. – accessed 20/05/14.
• Sheppard, D. (2008) On Some Faraway Beach: The Life and Times of Brian Eno. Orion.
• Sutherland, Roger. (1994). New Perspectives in Music. London: Sun Tavern Fields. ISBN 0-9517012-6-6.
• Tamm, E. (1995) Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound. Da Capo.
• Terrano, A (2007). Dub Mixing. Sound On Sound. – accessed 20/05/14.
• Toop, D. (2004). The Generation Game: Experimental Music and Digital Culture. Audio Culture: Reading in Modern Music. Cox, Warner (Eds.). New York. Continuum.

Week 10 – Philip Glass/Minimalism/Additive Composition

Philip Glass is regarded as one of the major minimalist composers along with Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young. Although Glass himself has sought to distance himself somewhat from the minimalist label as he describes his own work as “music with repetitive structures”. Much of Philip Glass’s early work on minimalism occurred between 1967-1974. It was I 1967, just after arriving in New York that Glass was influenced by a performance by Steve Reich which included the ground breaking ‘Piano Phase’.

Between the summer of 1967 and early 1969, Glass composed a number of works, including Strung Out (for amplified solo violin, composed in summer of 1967), Gradus (for solo saxophone, 1968), Music in the Shape of a Square (for two flutes, May 1968), How Now (for solo piano, 1968) 1+1 (for amplified tabletop, November 1968) and Two Pages (1969). Much of these pieces clearly demonstrated Glass’s new-found minimalist approach of which a key component was the additive process.

Philip Glass later went on to compose music for operas, symphonies and film soundtracks whilst further developing his distinctive style. The first opera of his portrait opera trilogy: Einstein on the Beach (1968) has four acts (framed and connected by five “knee plays” or intermezzos), and was composed by Philip Glass and directed by theatrical producer Robert Wilson.

One of the most famous soundtracks composed by glass is that of Koyaanisqatsi (1983). Although the quantity of music was as long as the film itself, the soundtrack was only 46 minutes when initially released, consisting only of selections from the film. In 1998 glass rerecorded the album with two additional tracks and extended versions of previous tracks. Feeding off the popularity of the music the Philip Glass Ensemble has toured the world, playing music of Konyaanisqatsi live in front of the movie screen.

The additive rhythm process is the main technique which gives Glass’s work his distinctive sound. For many of his pieces, the opening simply establishes a melodic unit which is repeated anything from to 2 to 8 times or more. The next unit is then simply an addition or subtraction of notes to the previous one, a process which is repeated throughout the piece.

Like many of Glass’s works ‘Music in Fifths’ (1969) demonstrates the additive process. In Music in Fifths:

“….…a sequence begins with a simple diatonic 8-note rising and falling five finger exercise; the next figure repeats the next two notes (making a 10-note figure), then the original, then the (original) 5th and 6th are added again (12-note). To this a repeat of the first three are added (15-note), then notes 5 to 7 (18-note), then all the first four are added in repeat (22-note) and finally the last four are added again. So that by the end of the sequence the original 8-note sequence has grown-without the addition of any new pitches-into a 26-note melody, and the original sequence of notes 12345678 has been permutated by adding one unit at a time into the following: 121123123412345656756785678 where, because the second note is the same as the 8th, the third the same as the 7th and the fourth the same as the 6th, five separate pitches both retain their original ordering and are subjected to a process regular temporal shifts in a constant pattern of movement.” (Nyman, M. 1999).

This week’s composition takes some influence from Music in Twelve Parts in that different instrumental parts have been layered. With different instruments playing slightly different melodic lines and the additive process being used.

The sounds used for this week’s composition were some sampled horns played through Kontakt and synthesized sounds made in Zebra2. The below picture demonstrates the arrangement of the composition in Reaper. With each separate midi item being just a bit long or shorter (by an addition or subtraction) of notes than the midi item before it.

Music In 1 Part

The rhythm of the horns part is actually fixed throughout the entire piece. There are four others parts layered which are actually subjected to the additive process. I feel however that by layering so many parts all playing slightly different melodies and subjected to different additions and subtractions that the effect of experiencing different time signatures is lost somewhat and everything sounds a bit 4/4. I would say to have many parts is fine but many a number of instruments playing the same melodic lines (so overall less different melodic lines happening at once) is better for experiencing the rhythmic changes.

Below is a link to this week’s composition:


• Glass, P (1968). 1+1, Live Performance. – accessed 13/05/14.
• Glass, P. (1968). Einstein on the Beach. – accessed 13/05/14.
• Glass, P. (1994). Two Pages/Contrary Motion/In Fifths/In Similar Motion (1994 issue). – accessed 13/05/14.
• Glass, P. (1996). Music in 12 Parts (1996 issue). – accessed 13/05/14.
• Glass, P. (1998). Koyaanisqatsi. – accessed 13/05/14.
• Nyman, M. (1999). Experimental Music Cage and Beyond. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
• O’Mahony, John (2001), “The Guardian Profile: Philip Glass”, The Guardian (London). – accessed 13/05/14.
• Potter, Keith (2000). Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass. Music in the Twentieth Century series. Cambridge, UK; New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.
• The Independent (2007). Philip Glass on making music with no frills. The Independent London. – accessed 13/05/14.


Week 9 – Steve Reich/Minimalism

Steve Reich is one of the pioneers of minimalist music.  Other pioneers of the genre include Philip Glass, La Monte Young and Terry Riley.  Minimalism was born out of the New York Downtown music scene during the 1960’s.  The following are common features of minimalist music:

  • Consonant harmony.
  • Steady Pulse.
  • Stasis or gradual transformation.
  • Reiteration of musical phrases, figures, motifs and cells.
  • Additional stylistic features include additive process and phase shifting.

Minimalist pieces that are based upon process techniques are often referred to as process music.  The style of Steve Reich relies heavily upon the phase shifting technique and is often referred to as phase music.  Minimalist Composer Tom Johnson describes minimalism as:

“The idea of minimalism is much larger than many people realize. It includes, by definition, any music that works with limited or minimal materials: pieces that use only a few notes, pieces that use only a few words of text, or pieces written for very limited instruments, such as antique cymbals, bicycle wheels, or whiskey glasses. It includes pieces that sustain one basic electronic rumble for a long time. It includes pieces made exclusively from recordings of rivers and streams. It includes pieces that move in endless circles. It includes pieces that set up an unmoving wall of saxophone sound. It includes pieces that take a very long time to move gradually from one kind of music to another kind. It includes pieces that permit all possible pitches, as long as they fall between C and D. It includes pieces that slow the tempo down to two or three notes per minute”.  (Tom Johnson, 1989).

Reich’s started life as a composer with investigations into twelve tone composition where, he experienced a greater interest in the rhythmic aspects than the melodic aspects. Reich’s early minimalist compositions were innovative involving the use of tape loops to create phasing patterns.  This can be heard on ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ (1965) and ‘Come Out’ (1966).



In 1967 Reich attempted to translate the tape loops phasing technique into a live performance technique; the result was Piano Phase and later that same year Violin Phase.  In Piano Phase, two live pianists repeat twelve-note loop, initially in perfect sync.  However, as one player maintains even tempo the other speeds up slightly until the two parts are one sixteenth note apart, they lock in for a bit then phase shift some more and so on.  The method employed here which Reich favour in his earlier phase shifting compositions is that of the gradual phase shifting, later he preferred to phase shift in steps of say 16th notes or 8th notes.



Steve Reich composed perhaps his most seminal piece during 1974-1976, it was entitled ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ and by now Reich was preferring the sound of the phase shifting in steps technique, which many people including myself feel is more rhythmically pleasing.



For this week’s composition, the phase shifting technique of Reich was investigated.  Taking influence from Reich’s ‘Music for 18 Musicians’ this week’s piece is composed in 12/8 with a fast tempo.  The method of phase shifting in steps of 8th notes is investigated and the characteristic 8th note string lines further accentuate the ‘Reich’ sound.  The approach to composing was to first construct a 12/8 loop of notes which when phase shifted would produce aesthetically pleasing harmonic relationships.  Also, the minimalist technique of adding one note at a time was explored to give a sense of gradual change and dynamic range of some elements are experimented with.

Below is a link to this week’s composition:




  • Aidu, Peter (2007). Peter Aidu plays Steve Reich’s “Piano Phase” with an absolutely unique technique. – accessed 06/05/2014.
  • Anderson, Virginia. 2013. “Systems and Other Minimalism in Britain”. In The Ashgate Research Companion to Minimalist and Postminimalist Music, edited by Keith Potter, Kyle Gann, and Pwyll ap Siôn, 80–106. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate. ISBN 978-1-4094-3549-5.
  • Johnson, Tom. 1989. The Voice of New Music: New York City 1972-1982 – A Collection of Articles Originally Published by the Village Voice. Eindhoven, Netherlands: Het Apollohuis. ISBN 90-71638-09-X.
  • Potter, Keith (2000). Four Musical Minimalists: La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass. Music in the Twentieth Century series. Cambridge, UK; New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Reich, Steve; Hillier, Paul (Editor) (April 1, 2002). Writings on Music, 1965–2000. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 272. ISBN 0-19-511171-0.
  • Reich, Steve (1965). It’s Gonna Rain. – accessed 06/05/2014.
  • Reich, Steve (1974). Writings About Music. Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. p. 78. ISBN 0-919616-02-X.
  • Reich, Steve (2008). Music for 18 Musicians, Tokyo Opera City, Japan, 2008. – accessed 06/05/2014.

Week 8 – Text-Sound Composition

The Electro Acoustic Resource Site defines ‘text-sound composition’ as:

“A genre, originally evolved from poetry (text-sound or phonetic poetry) involving works that are to be heard in the first instance, not read. Artists involved in this genre have come from the worlds of poetry, fine arts, performance (live) art and music. A number of electroacoustic works in which the voice is the only or key sound source belong to this category.”

Bengt Emil Johnson and Lars Gunnar Bodin established the term ‘text-sound composition’ whilst attending a meeting in Hilversum, Holland (1967) as representatives of the Swedish National Radio.

Text-sound compositions have largely been shaped and influenced by earlier movements such as futurism, lettrism, dadaism, music concrete and more…  One of the most prominent early pioneers was Öyvind Fahlström, a Swedish visual artist and poet, who popularised the term ‘concrete poetry’.  ‘Concrete poetry’ related to Pierre Schaeffer’s music concrete.  Text-sound compositions can be thought of as being in the middle ground between music concrete and concrete poetry.  One of the key concepts in music concrete that is also key in text-sound compositions is, the concept of sounds not being listened to in terms of their original context (cause) but, being reworked and layered with other sounds in order to give a new meaning.  The electronic music studio allowed sonic artists to break down components of voice and language and rearrange/fuse sounds together in a new way which had never been heard before.  Most early composers in the genre would only work with pure vocal sounds but, as time went on and the genre evolved many began to integrate the vocal sounds with other concrete sounds and even electronic/synthesized sounds.  Between 1968 and 1977 Fylkingen Records were players in the text-sound genre and, in collaboration with the Swedish Radio they released a number of text-sound LP records.  Notable text-sound artists on the Fylkingen label during this period included Charles Amirkhanian, Lars-Gunnar Bodin, Svante Bodin, Henri Chopin and many more…..

For this week’s composition the text used consisted of 2 spoken word political speeches as follows:

  • PM Winston Churchill’s ‘finest hour’ speech (1940). – This is the main text that forms the body of the composition.
  • Adolf Hitler giving a public speech in Nuremberg in 1934 (from the film Triumph of the Will). – This text interrupts the main text, in stark contrast, at various points.

Basically the idea for the piece was to toy with the music concrete concept of reworking sounds in order to present them in a different context.  The context of original speeches is that of positivity, strength and leadership with respect to the deliverer of the speech and the country they represent.  They are basically part of propaganda campaigns which were designed to have an intended effect on their listeners. The message of the main text used (Churchill’s speech) is summed up in the phrase “this was their finest hour” which sends out a positive, heroic message.  For obvious reasons it was not good for these propaganda speeches to acknowledges the true darkness of the period, the horror of war and the evil menace of Hitler, which was the reality of the time.  For this week’s composition, in order to present the same text in a different light, methods of reworking sounds were employed, including:

  • Cleaning Sounds – Obviously using such old recordings required some cleaning up of background noise, pops, crackle etc… This was done using the various module in Izotope RX3. Whilst it was not possible to achieve perfection in sound quality the clarity was radically improved and the sounds maintained a distinctly historic quality to them.


  • Stretching vocals using Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch in order to create dark atmospheric swells and drones.
  • Adding reverbs to sounds.
  • Reversing Sounds.
  • GRM tools delays.


  • Filtering sounds (band pass and comb filtering) and LFO’s were used to modulate filter cut-off’s.
  • Slowing sounds gradually using sliding time scale/pitch shift by Clayton Otey which allows for changing of tempo without changing pitch.

Sliding Time Sacle Pitch Shift

Below is a link to this week’s composition:


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). – accessed Tue 25th March 2014.
  • Machtlen, P. (2010). Performance of December 1952 (Earle Brown). – 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). – accessed Mon 24th March 2014.
  • Wellesz Theatre (2012). Karlheinz Stockhausen: Klavierstück XI (1956). – accessed Mon 24th March 2014.
  • Worby, Robert (2009). Turn on, tune in: John Cage’s symphony for 12 radios. The Guardian. – 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).


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. and – 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). – accessed Tues 4th March

Encyclopaedia Britannica (2014). Definition of monophony. – accessed Tues 4th March 2014.

Im Sabina (2013). Performance of Musica Ricercata by Gyorgy Ligeti. – 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.