A composition usually starts off with finding a combination of notes that I like, perhaps three or four...depending on the length of the piece. I often consult plainchant or proper nouns for inspiration. I like using groups of notes that sound harmonious in any combination. This prevents any abrupt discordance to suddenly distract the listener, offering a shallow canvas. I've also found that there is more room for 'semantic satiation', a phenomenon where familiar sounds become unfamiliar after prolonged exposure.
Structure, tempo and time signatures
I decide the length of the piece. From here, I calculate how many bars I need at a certain tempo and at what time signature. For example, if a piece is 10 minutes long, I need 150 bars at crotchet = 60. From here, I'll often use simple combinational ordering of time signatures to create this, whilst maintaining the same amount of beats.
(e.g. 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 3/4, 5/4, 4/4...)
Permutations or combinations
I then decide whether I want to order the source material in combinations or permutations. I feel that combinations offer more scope for variety and repetition of material, whereas permutations offer a more symmetrical aesthetic.
Erasure and temporal exploration
If I feel that the texture or rate of harmonic progression is too heavy or irregular, I often use process-led erasure to thin out textures. At this point, I may also explore different ways I can manipulate the structure of the piece, as to play with the listeners temporal consciousness (e.g. metric modulation)
Often tonal, static and sparse, the listener is invited to move around the sonic space at their leisure. As the combinatorial systems are maximally diverse (that is, include every possible combination or permutation), there is no point in the piece designed to be more important than another. For me, if my mind wanders and re-enters at a subsequent moment in the piece, I have often felt that I still land back where I left off.
Listening and reading
I'm enthused by all kinds of music. Relating to my own music specifically, I'm inspired by Morton Feldman, Aldo Clementi, Bryn Harrison, Howard Skempton, Laurence Crane (my composition teacher), Tom Johnson, Arvo Pärt, La Monte Young, Steve Reich, Michael Pisaro and Jürg Frey.
I spend time engaging in cross-disciplinary research about phenomenology, temporal consciousness, meditation and mental health.
In 1980, the American composer Laurie Spiegel released a synth album called The Expanding Universe. She writes, “this is also not ‘ambient music’, a term that came into use some years later. This is music for concentrated attention, a through-composed musical experience, though of course it also can be background.”
My initial research for this project began with exploring the affinity of the temporal qualities and consequences between the cyclical music of composers like Morton Feldman, Bryn Harrison, Aldo Clementi and Michael Pisaro, and electronically produced ambient music. Furthermore, I was inspired by Spiegel’s 1980 synth album. I wanted to have a look at the tension between true ambient music and narrative-based music, in part reflecting on Pauline Oliveros’s writings on the dichotomy between ‘focal attention and global attention’. Due to the coronavirus situation, we were unable to go ahead with a regular workshop, so instead were given the task to work with the clarinettist Heather Roche, creating a piece that could be played live, but produce a live mock-up in substitution of the workshop.
Taking this on board, I began experimenting with ambient music production, immersing myself in electronic music by various composers. Hiroshi Yoshimura’s 1993 composition Wet Land (from its eponymous album) has a continuous stream of small expanding and contracting melodic phrases, each one associated with the last, much like the philosophies of momentary experience laid out in Pauline Oliveros’s writings. Oneohtrix Point Never released their piece The Pretender on their 2008 album A Pact Between Strangers, which alternatively switches between two swelling chords which overlap as time passes. However, one particular album that struck me was the Environments album series by the American sound recordist Irv Teibel. On the album cover and information, it often uses the word ‘easy’ when referencing listening or meditation, as on the album cover, “a new easy method of relieving tension”. I found the idea of this music as ‘easy listening’ interesting, as it’s often true that musical meaning or narrative isn’t given to the listener, rather they are given the opportunity to explore and navigate the sounds themselves unaided.
After experimenting with scripters in Logic Pro X, I constructed a self-perpetuating generative patch which I decided to lay as a base for an array of permutations, played by the clarinet. Exploring both temporal consciousness, layers of sound and the dichotomy between focused attention and ambience, I felt that the balance between an unfolding pre-determined combinatorial process and the spontaneity of continuous newly generated material would give the listeners a wide canvas at which they can navigate between. However, after a few runs of this patch using a MIDI mock-up for the live clarinet material, and after discussing clarinet techniques with Heather Roche, I decided to expand the idea of momentary experience explored in both the music of Yoshimura and Oneohtrix Point Never. Coincidentally, I’d listened to a recording by the pianist Jeroen van Veen of Arvo Pärt’s 1976 composition for piano Für Alina. The piece begins with a low B♮ in octaves, followed by a series of tintinnabulating dyads which seem to expand out of the dying reverb of the initial octaves. Reflecting on the piece’s temporal structures, I decided to divide the combinational array into sections, acting as overarching phrases which would grow out of an initial point. This eventually took the form of multiphonics, adding a pitch shifter and time-stretching reverb to create a dying spectral wash of frequencies that the permutations can grow out of.
As mentioned, the regular workshop was cancelled, so I created an audio mock-up of the piece, with Heather Roche recording the clarinet part separately. This project has allowed me to explore more free temporal structures, reflecting on how an awareness of a listener’s fluctuating consciousness might shape my compositional practice, and how I might manipulate that consciousness. Furthermore, it has improved my confidence in writing extended techniques for woodwind instruments. Although I still have reservations about using these techniques in my practice, it gave me the opportunity to learn in-depth about spectral multiphonics and circular breathing; the latter a technique I decided not to use in this piece having previously considered it. Over the summer, I am working on two vocal pieces which both engage with a looser approach to form and structure. I hope that, in future works, I can also experiment further with unconventional notation practices and focus more on musical materials.
Oliveros, Pauline, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice (Bloomington: iUniverse, 2005)
Oneohtrix Point Never, A Pact Between Strangers (United States: Gneiss Things, 2008)
Spiegel, Laurie, ‘The Expanding Universe’, Unseen Worlds (New York City, 1991), p. 1
Teibel, Irv, Environments 7 (USA: Syntonic Research Inc, 1976)
van Veen, Jeroen, Für Alina: Arvo Part Complete Piano Music (Netherlands: Brilliant Classics, 2014)
Yoshimura, Hiroshi, Wet Land (Tokyo, Japan: Eastword Records, 1991)
 Laurie Spiegel, ‘The Expanding Universe’, Unseen Worlds (New York City, 1991), p. 1.
 Pauline Oliveros, Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice (Bloomington: iUniverse, 2005).
 Hiroshi Yoshimura, Wet Land (Tokyo, Japan: Eastword Records, 1991).
 Oneohtrix Point Never, A Pact Between Strangers (United States: Gneiss Things, 2008).
 Irv Teibel, Environments 7 (USA: Syntonic Research Inc, 1976).
 Jeroen van Veen, Für Alina: Arvo Part Complete Piano Music (Netherlands: Brilliant Classics, 2014).
In c. 400 AD, Saint Augustine makes the following observations in his writings Confessions:
And yet we say that "time is long and time is short" . . . A long time past, for example, we call a hundred years ago; in like manner a long time to come, a hundred years hence. But a short time past we call, say, ten days ago: and a short time to come, ten days hence. But in what sense is that long or short which is not? For the past is not now, and the future is not yet. Therefore, let us not say, "It is long;" but let us say of the past, "It has been long," and of the future, "It will be long." . . . “When we say a period of time is long or short, what are we describing as long or short? It cannot be the past, as it has already finished. It cannot be the present as it doesn’t have any temporal properties or duration. The future is non-existent until it becomes the present.”
I was initially inspired to write after exploring the influence of early fifth-century Augustine philosophy on the twentieth-century phenomenological and hermeneutic theories of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and Edmund Hursell. Heidegger’s concept of time had many similarities with Saint Augustine, such as his acknowledgement of our experience of time being momentary, defined by our experience and expectation.
Due to the current coronavirus situation, I understood that it would be challenging to run a successful workshop, so decided to write for organ, as I was able to perform and record this myself. I began by researching works which used concepts that would temporally disorientate the listener, having often employed long durations and repetition of familiar objects already as a process of temporal detachment. In Elliot Carter’s String Quartet No. 1 (1950/51), Carter employs metric modulation as a way of creating a gradual acceleration while maintaining the temporal duration of some rhythms. In Bryn Harrison’s Vessels (2012), Harrison uses repetition and variation of self-similar cells to create cyclical disorientation, like the music is flickering or bubbling but from a stationary position. In Eva-Maria Houben’s nur ein klang (2010), Houben examines the idea of movement by sustaining a single chord on an organ for a very long time before changing to a second chord, allowing the listener to examine the changing timbral qualities of the sounds actively. After researching music with similar temporal goals to that which I wanted to create, I decided to employ Carter’s use of metric modulation in the context of a static structure: a continual and expanding maximally diverse system.
I started by mapping out the piece’s durational structure, creating a steady increase and decrease in tempo while also using permutations of time signatures to create expanding and contracting cells at which pitch permutations could operate in. I initially designed the piece so there would be a pulsating figure in every bar, which created a clear feeling of expanding and contracting tempo. However, there was a lack of narrative in the miaxmal system, and I felt that the obvious metric changes would simulate a sense of structure. Therefore, I erased part of the process, so repeating notes would only occur in bars that were six crotchet beats long. This way, I found the metric changes were not as obvious, in fact quite difficult to hear without the pulsating figure as a reference.
Further inspired by S. Augustine’s writings and Martin Heidegger’s philosophy, I wanted to emphasise the sonic space as a place that gave the listener room to move around in at their leisure, not necessarily guided by any structural elements in the music. Therefore, I set the pitch permutations on separate staves, assigning a different sound to each manual. I felt that this gave the piece layers at which the listener could explore; from the acumination of all of the sounds to examining each sound individually. The idea of fluid consciousness also related to Augustine’s dealing with time. After a period of time, when the listener might examine an individual sound closer up, they may ‘zoom out’, and the temporal disorientation would be exaggerated. This is further highlighted by the use of a cyclical permutational system with static pitch material, inspired in part by the music of Bryn Harrison.
Unfortunately, due to the current coronavirus situation, I was unable to employ another organist to play this piece for me, so I produced the recording myself on a home organ. However, the situation of writing for myself to perform has forced me to scrutinise the accessibility of my writing, particularly in terms of notation. For example, I had many options for notating the act of fingering across two manuals. Morton Feldman famously uses this technique in his 1980 organ composition Principal Sound; however, the finger crossings are often almost impossible to produce and require a great deal of preparation. I spent a considerable amount of time interfering with the process to create music that both were mathematically accurate and technically playable. The intention of creating more technically playable music allowed me to consider idiomatic writing and prompted me to research in more depth than I usually would have. From this piece, I would like to explore further the link between S. Augustine’s philosophies and the phenomenological writing that I have recently engaged within my compositional practice. I am currently working my way through a book by the philosopher Ryan Coyne called Heidegger’s Confessions, which explores this further, but I only discovered after completing this project.
Augustine, St., and R.S. Pine-Coffin, Saint Augustine Confessions, ed. by Jill Jones (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing Inc., 2013)
Carter, Elliott, String Quartet No. 1 (London: Boosey and Hawkes, 1951)
Coyne, Ryan, Heidegger’s Confessions: The Remains of Saint Augustine in ‘Being and Time’ and Beyond (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015)
Feldman, Morton, Principal Sound, ed. by Martin Haselböck and Thomas Daniel Schlee (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1980)
Harrison, Bryn, Vessels (London: Bloomsbury, 2012)
Houben, Eva-Maria, Nur Ein Klang (Berlin: Wandelweiser, 2010)
 St. Augustine and R.S. Pine-Coffin, Saint Augustine Confessions, ed. by Jill Jones (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour Publishing Inc., 2013).
 Elliott Carter, String Quartet No. 1 (London: Boosey and Hawkes, 1951).
 Bryn Harrison, Vessels (London: Bloomsbury, 2012).
 Eva-Maria Houben, Nur Ein Klang (Berlin: Wandelweiser, 2010).
 Morton Feldman, Principal Sound, ed. by Martin Haselböck and Thomas Daniel Schlee (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1980).
 Ryan Coyne, Heidegger’s Confessions: The Remains of Saint Augustine in ‘Being and Time’ and Beyond (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).
A listener’s experience of a musical work can be understood as a series of moments, the beginning and end of each moment fusing into one’s memory of previous music and anticipation of events to come. The context of a moment is defined by our past experiences and memory, but self-similar material and extended durations can temporally disorientate us. Furthermore, repeating material separated by time can seem dislocated from its original, much as continuously developing music can blend into a single moment.
The task of writing for a full orchestra was initially an extremely challenging prospect. Not only was it my first attempt at orchestrating an original composition, but I often use basic homophonic building blocks which I didn’t believe would work successfully in this project. Therefore, I began to seek out composers with similar temporal and aesthetic interests who have successfully written for orchestra. Michael Pisaro’s Umbra & Penumbra (2020) uses the orchestra as a shadow for a solo amplified percussionist, allowing the listener to wander freely between the foreground and background. Bryn Harrison’s Shifting Light (2006) leads the listener into a false sense of temporal certainty, the different instrumental voices continuously swelling and shifting at separate rates. The orchestral music of Morton Feldman also had a profound effect on me during this project. In Coptic Light (1977), Feldman uses extended duration as a way of alienating developed material from its source. In For Samuel Beckett (1987), the orchestra is divided into small territories playing contrasting melodic material, but all functioning within the same cyclical ecosystem. After researching music with similar temporal and aesthetic goals, I decided to aim towards a layered and static texture, giving the listener space to wander through the different timbral surfaces at their own pace.
The factor in achieving this aesthetic goal was in my dealing with time. Therefore, I decided to start the compositional process by mapping out the duration of the piece, beginning with the macrostructure and progressing inward [MG1] into the smaller details of the piece like tempo and harmonic changes. From here, I calculated the number of bar numbers needed at an average tempo and grouped instrumental voices together in pairs. For the pitch and rhythmic material, I used a maximally diverse system of combinations and permutations, and each group was assigned a separate combinatorial set which spanned the entire length of the piece, progressing at different rates.
At this point, every instrument had a note in every bar. Recently, I have become increasingly interested in the dichotomy between process and intuitive composition, reflecting on when the composer might intervene in a process and what this means for the work. The piece was texturally dense and, although the work may have been easy to become temporally disorientated, I felt that there was too much sonic information to invite the listener to explore the different textural layers at their own pace. Consequently, I began a process of erasure, systematically deleting material in all voices but maintaining the maximal diversity of the overall combinatorial system. The inspiration for my second intervention was concerned with temporality and came when reading an article by Jürg Frey called And on it went from 2004. He states,
“A monochrome sound world will not always resonate in the listener as a monochrome experience. It may easily be that, at the end of a performance of static music that has remained motionless, the listener is in himself no longer where he started out – just as, conversely, directed, mobile music that lays a path need not always take the listener along on a journey.” 
After reflecting on Frey’s writings, I decided to explore the boundaries between a static and active aesthetic, using metric manipulation as a way of engaging the listener with their inner temporal narrative. I imposed a series of metric changes that swell throughout the piece. A major benefit of this was to compensate for any disorientating qualities lost in the erasure process and the thinning of texture.
A reoccurring feature of John Cage’s music that has interested me is the cohesion between the microstructure and macrostructure. This is especially important when writing static music, as the listener often has greater freedom to wander between the music’s fine details and the unified whole. I decided to take the temporal disorientation a step further by, at systematic points in the music, allow instrumental pairs to play ametrically, freely bouncing off one another in a bell-like fashion. This not only reinforced the distorted pulsating of the composition but encouraged the listener to begin to link their experience of the piece together between different levels of consciousness.
Unfortunately, the scheduled orchestral workshop was cancelled due to the current coronavirus situation. However, the inability to hear the music live has presented me with the challenge of refining the piece by ear. The American musicologist Lawrence Kramer suggests in his book The Thought of Music that we should take the score “as part of the full scored composition rather than a detached template.” Not experiencing the piece live during this final process has forced me to both scrutinise the effectiveness of temporal and aesthetic goals I set out to achieve and reflect on how the score visually expresses these goals to the performer. From this process, I would like to further explore the link between textural layers and the fluctuation in a listener’s consciousness over time. Although I feel that the combinatorial process has been lost in the orchestral setting, it has allowed me to see how the process operates in a completely different setting than what I am used to.
Cambreling, Sylvian, ‘Morton Feldman: For Samuel Beckett’ (Austria: Klangforum Wien, 1999)
Frey, Jürg, ‘And on It Went’, Edition Wandelweiser, 2004, p. 1
Harrison, Bryn, ‘Shifting Light’, London Sinfonietta, 2006
Kramer, Lawrence, The Thought of Music, 1st edn (California: University of California Press, 2016)
Tilson Thomas, Michael, ‘Morton Feldman: Coptic Light’ (USA: Argo Records, 1995)
Weaver, Stephanie, ‘Michael Pisaro’s Umbra & Penumbra’ (USA: University of California Television, 2020)
 Stephanie Weaver, ‘Michael Pisaro’s Umbra & Penumbra’ (USA: University of California Television, 2020).
 Bryn Harrison, ‘Shifting Light’, London Sinfonietta, 2006.
 Michael Tilson Thomas, ‘Morton Feldman: Coptic Light’ (USA: Argo Records, 1995).
 Sylvian Cambreling, ‘Morton Feldman: For Samuel Beckett’ (Austria: Klangforum Wien, 1999).
 Jürg Frey, ‘And on It Went’, Edition Wandelweiser, 2004, p. 1.
 Lawrence Kramer, The Thought of Music, 1st edn (California: University of California Press, 2016).
a bit of background
Since I was 14 years old, I have suffered from auditory hallucinations on and off. However, the past couple of years has been quite intense. I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder (a mixture of schizophrenic and bipolar symptoms) after two hospital admissions totalling about 5 months.
In 2018, I wrote a piece called 'Lithium' that is inspired by the mood part of the condition, going between mania and depression. It's been an interesting journey hearing voices as a composer, as an almost Cage-like view has changed my behaviour and reaction to hearing them.
Intervoice are an amazing hearing voices movement that internationally raise awareness of hallucinations, I've linked them below: