The Italian 20th century composer Aldo Clementi is perhaps one of the largest influences on my current compositional practice. However, there is very little research about his music in the English-speaking world. Therefore, I feel it is important to write an extended blog on his work, in relationship to his temporal aesthetic.
Clementi was grew up in Catania in Sicily to a musical family but moved to Rome in the 1940’s to study piano at the Conservatorio Santa Cecilia. During his time as a student, he received private tuition from Alfredo Sangiorgi before commencing studies with the distinguished teacher Goffredo Petrassi, who’s pupils also included Cornelius Cardew, Ennio Morricone and Franco Donatoni among others. Whilst studying, it is presumed that Clementi was aware of the contemporary visual art scene in Milan, especially that of the art informel movement, led by the Groupa Forma 1. Clementi had a long-lasting association with one of the groups leading artists Archille Perilli who even provided text and artwork for his stage work College, which made direct reference to the abstract art movement going on in Italy during the post-war period. During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s he attended the International Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, the international school for new music in Darmstadt, Germany where he was the recipient of multiple prizes in composition for his works. At this time, he also became associated with the Italian composer Bruno Maderna and spent a considerable amount of time in the electronic music studios of Rome. After further development of his compositional style, he settled down in Bologna where he taught at the university and focused on a much more rigorous technique of using diatonic stimuli from found material to create dense and static textures.
The American cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter suggests that that counterpoint, calculation and emotion are not mutually exclusive, but rather interwoven and work to express as a unified form. For him, “creativity is the essence of what is not mechanical. The mechanical substratum of creativity may be hidden, but it is there.” (Hofstadter, 1979) At the heart of Clementi’s aesthetic is his very clear and defined presentation of canonic material. During an era when the emancipation of the dissonance called for unambiguous rigid pitch structures that were to set the way for serialism as a ‘serious’ movement, Clementi seemed to exploit counterpoint as a form to its very limits. During the 1940’s, his contemporaries such as Luigi Nono and Bruno Maderna were primarily using counterpoint through serial pitch-structure to inform their musical language. However, Clementi instead saw these pitch systems as ‘object’ over ‘component’; something which is symbolic, changing the nature of the music from the direct results of serial technique to an abstraction of form in the more general sense.
A good introduction to Clementi’s compositional canonic writing is his 1977 composition for organ, titled Sigla. This piece has an extremely clear and explicit form that outlines quite distinctly his basic process and common technical decisions. When looking for initial material, Clementi often employs the technique of taking words and translating them directly into musical notes. For Sigla, he starts by taking the letters that are also notes from the names ‘Claudia (and) Gianfranco’ (of which the piece is dedicated to) and presents it in its in its prime form.
From here the retrograde, retrograde-inversion and inversional forms enter in stretto, spaced out after six beats, three beats and then six beats respectively. Dividing the piece into equal thirds, Clementi adds repeat markings; allowing the middle section to act as the piece’s main material with the extra material acting as a sort of ‘introduction’ and ‘coda’. Idiomatic of Clementi’s process, the pitch transformations of the prime row (when referencing his inversional forms) are mapped onto a C natural and C#, rather than being a true inversion of the original cell. This decision seems to be a clear-cut way in which Clementi separates his pitch processes from those linked to the Second Viennese School, as the mapped inversion suggests pitch centricity between the C and C# rather than a denser chromatic aesthetic that could be found in music formed of 12-tone chromatic aggregates.
In the same year as Sigla, Clementi wrote a piece for prepared piano and 14 instruments he named ‘Intermezzo’; a term usually reserved for a movement connecting two larger sections of a work. Named after the eponymous work for piano by Johannes Brahms, Clementi usually reserves this term for movements that join larger sections of music, for example in his operas Es (1980) and Carillon (1992). I can see no significance in the context of his oeuvre why he would use this very specific musical reference. Perhaps, like a lot of his chamber works, this piece acts as a symbolism of his prolonged aesthetic and contrapuntal studies, not least because it seems that his shorter works are generally truer and purer to his contrapuntal technique. Intermezzo is scored for two independent groups of musicians: the first consisting of 12 winds (flutes, clarinets, oboes, horns, trombones, bassoons) and the second consisting of the two trumpets and a prepared piano. Unlike Sigla where the pitch material is taken from synonyms between letters of names and musical notes, Intermezzo draws its pitch material directly from a small cell out of Brahms piano piece. However, much like the pitch processes employed in Sigla, this single melodic phrase is transformed in four different ways (transposition, inversion, retrograde and retrograde-inversion) and mapped onto different starting pitches, spread throughout the ensemble. I have listed these transformations below, where the note names underneath their procedures indicates their phrases starting note and where the Clarinet 2 holds the cantus firmus which is taken directly from bars 5-9 from Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 119, No. 2, shown in Figure 2 (Brahms, 1893). The transposition of the prime appears in the Horn 2, Bassoon 2 and Trumpet one part, mapped onto a C♮, a Db and a Bb respectively. The inversional forms of the row take the same prominence, where the Flute 2, Oboe 2, Trombone 2 and Trumpet 2 play mirror formations of the row. The Flute 1, Oboe 1 and Trombone 1 play the retrograde forms whilst the remaining Clarinet 1, Horn 1 and Bassoon 1 play retrograde-inversional forms of the prime. The RI forms are formed around a cluster from E-F#, as is the transpositions (including the prime) from Bb – Db. The retrograde forms include a slightly wider cluster; however, the inversional forms seem to be further expanded, stretching from a B♮ to an Ab.
There seems to be no clear or controlled method of why the prime form is mapped onto these specific pitches; rather it seems that Clementi is more interested in the registral and textural qualities of the instruments, using gaps of a fourth or a major second to shape the surface qualities of the music. Although one could argue that Clementi is firmly rooted in his pre-compositional process as the primary source of musical interest within his compositions, it is interesting to see the use of the prepared piano, acting as an ‘object-pedal, something which mimics the overall temporal structure of the music as the gaps become wider between the sounding of each chord. This further clarifies his aesthetic decisions that override process to create a coherent and interesting sound for the listener. It is interesting to re-iterate here that Clementi names his period of works from 1970 onwards as his diatonic period, which can be clearly seen below (Brahms, 1910) by the explicit use of modal starting material and focusing more on a surface engagement of perception and aesthetics rather than strict modernist practice. The trumpet parts are labelled A, B, C and D and have a similar temporal function, where, as the piece slows down over time, the sustained notes with stems pointing upward become longer and the gaps between each labelled section become greater.
On a larger scale, as well as the object-pedal, and remembering that this piece is only six bars in length, this piece can be used to echo my earlier point of the contrapuntal becoming an object over a component, that which gives the piece its form. Again, Clementi seems to extrapolate the idea of counterpoint to its extreme, allowing the technique to shape the piece’s structure and aesthetic. Within the metric counterpoint between the twelve winds, there also exists temporal counterpoint within the macrostructure of the arrangement of the instruments. The two trumpets are separate from the piano part, which are again separate from the twelve winds. Here, we have three separate groups that are all slowing down imperceptibly over time. The interactions within the twelve wind instruments become smoother and more static. At the same time, as the gaps between the piano and the trumpets become larger, the piece seems to not only breath slower as a whole but also focus more on the interactions between foreground and background (the winds and two independent groups). This can be seen as a clear focus on Clementi to take the gestural aspect of counterpoint and project its inherent characteristics onto the pieces structure, allowing the attention of the listener to switch from global to local aesthetics whilst still keeping a coherent focus on the piece being about interaction and communication. At the absolute heart of this piece, the interaction between microstructure and macrostructure can be seen as inherently self-referencing and the music is able to function within its own right; something which I will later write on in more detail.
Found material and pitch procedures
During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Clementi began to go through a shift in his compositional style. Previously as what may have been described as his art informel period, his transfer to diatonic canonic material suggests that he may have become disillusioned or dissatisfied with the method of his work. After completing his Concerto for two pianos and orchestra in 1967 and his string quartet Reticolo: 4 in 1968, Clementi took a break for two years, focusing particularly on the works of Bach. As mentioned before, he began to develop this post-serial technique of transferring note names into musical notes. Using mainly the white notes on the keyboard to generate starting material, the initial sound was naturally going to be diatonic. As I will demonstrate later, Clementi uses this to his advantage, creating multiple layers of subdued chromatic counterpoint and accentuated diatonic fragments.
Composizione No. 1 (1957)
Previously to Composizione No. 1, Clementi had only written four pieces for piano; the most substantial of which being a suite which took him two years to complete. A mile-stone in his oeuvre, this piece can be seen as his first major work for piano and is undoubtedly serial as its compositional roots can be directly linked back to the second Viennese school. The Italian pianist Roberto Prossedra once described this piece “as (not too dissimilar) to Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke (1952-53), of which Clementi was a personal acquaintance to.” (Prossedra, 2011) However, Clementi’s later more distinctive and individualistic style might suggest, he, much like many of his contemporaries such as Scelsi and Dallapiccola, wanted to steer away from the post-second Viennese school austerity and rigidity. Many features of what makes this piece serial are idiosyncratic, starting off with his treatment of pitch material. Much like the melodic and lyrical serialism of Dallapiccola, Clementi seems to be particularly concerned in this piece with harmony, making sure that the function of the contrapuntal lines behaves in the same way vertically as they does horizontally. The subtle and sparse use of repetition also grounds the piece, not only creating interest in the pieces sonic aesthetic but also again makes a clear disengagement with the more formal and rigorous structures set out by the second Viennese school. This detachment can further be seen when contemplating these pieces sonic and pianistic aspects; the kaleidoscopic way in which every note is assigned a different dynamic, the constant registral shifts and disjunct melodies, the contrasting and specific concern with different types of accents and the discord created by the mosaic of polyrhythms. There seems to be an ambition in this piece to create texture; a new sort of consistency within serial music that allows the listener to discover colour and become concerned with the qualities of sounds and not just pitches and rhythms.
Prossedra tells us that “the origins (of Composizione) were graphic and geometric and the work was outlined on graph paper before being properly notated” (Prossedra, 2011) As I will discuss later on, Clementi seems to have a pre-occupation with the relationship between the visual and the sonic.
BACH for piano (1970)
For thirteen years after Composizione n. 1 was written, Clementi didn’t write for piano and became much more pre-occupied in his orchestral and chamber music; much inspired by the visual art movement in Milan. During the early 1960’s, he completed both Informel 2 and Informel 3 for orchestra, referencing the visual art informel movement. Alongside this, his piece College (of which he later expanded on in three other pieces College 2, 3 and 4) contained canonic material and sonic motives based on the visual art of the Italian painter Achille Perilli, a founding member of the Groupa forma 1, a Marxist art informel movement who were active during the 1940’s in Milan. The 1970’s for Clementi commenced what he describes as his ‘diatonic phase’, in which he would often employ his rich and dense canonic procedures on extremely humble and simple starting material. For BACH for piano (1970), Clementi’s initial pitch material come from both the famous B.A.C.H melodic motif and from Bach’s own keyboard Fantasia in C minor (BWV 906). The piece is split into three dynamic layers which are separated by register; the first from Eb to Db is to be played pp, the second from D to C is marked mp whereas the lower register of the piece from Bb to A is played p.
The three lines play simultaneously throughout the piece, which create an unstable texture that is extremely disjunct and chaotic. The static counterpoint within the three registers remains staccato throughout, with only the dynamic and registral characteristics of each part acting as the separating and defining features. However, throughout there are also two much more present and obtrusive melodic fragments; a series of held notes outlining perfect fourth and fifth intervals along with the accented notes in the tenor register, spelling out the note names Bb, A, C and B♮ (H). This layering effect creates two very distinctive surface depths. The speed and erratic nature of the underlying counterpoint seems to establish a heavy flow of achromaticism; a static and impenetrable sound world that is characterized by the disjunct melodies and immobile shallow texture. However, from this emerges these infrequent accentuations of the B.A.C.H motif, along with brief moments of sustained sounds in the upper register. The dichotomy here is one of temporality; the tempered and shaded sound of the continuous counterpoint allows the listener to become inattentive of the specific amount of time passing, whereas the sudden bursts of accentuated sounds create a rhythmic grounding which brings the listeners attention back to the chronology of the piece.
As with much of Clementi’s music written in this style, the piece is written out over a single page and the performance instructions indicate the pianist to repeat the piece indefinitely. Quite often, Clementi will employ a slowing down in tempo over time to create a temporal de-escalation, which would make sense in that the two layers of the piece would merge into one as the breaks between the accentuated material would become longer and more prevalent. In this piece he does not employ this technique. Nonetheless, the very erratic and dense nature of the writing means that after the third repeat, the player will naturally begin to lose energy and slow down. Talking about playing this music, Roberto Prossedra tells us that “In this situation, the possibility exists that in passages of especial difficulty, the pianist will slow down, poetically showing the way in which the physical effort of the interpreter plays a vital role in the existence and realisation of music. (Prossedra, 2011)” He goes on to say that “After multiple repetitions of the piece, the performer will start to experience fatigue which will cause difficulty in attentiveness and vigour. (Prossedra, 2011).” Both B.A.C.H (1970) and Fughetta (1973) were the earliest examples of Clementi’s newfound perpetuity and continuance within dense contrapuntal material, making specific use of shards of diatonicism as the basic building blocks for pieces. These pieces seem to play quite directly on the audiences dimensional and temporal perceptions, as the recital of either complementary or identical static material becomes almost disorientating and trance-inducing.
Variazioni su BACH (1984)
During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Clementi started to become more unconventional and make use of jazz, folk and pop elements, much like with his pieces The plaint (1992) for female voice and 13 instruments or Interludi (1993) for 12 voices and 24 instruments. However, he still had a fantastic obsession with Bach and used the B.A.C.H motif along with fragments of his music and chorales in most of his works. A complementary piece to B.A.C.H, Variazioni su BACH was written in 1984 and has many of the same or similar melodic and technical ideas of the original 1970 piece. Clementi instructs the performer to play without the sustaining pedal the whole time, creating a very metric and static quality. Much like B.A.C.H, Clementi assigns four different intensities to the different registers of the piano; the highest and lowest register is marked pp whilst the middle register sits at mp throughout the piece. Again, acting as an echo to the previous piece, there are two accentuated fragments, the sparse sustained dyads marked p that occur within the upper register of the piano and the BACH motif that is marked mf and occurs within the middle register of the piano. There are further emphasis’ that Clementi makes in regard to the immobility and stasis of the texture. In regard to the tempo, he asks for the piece to be played as quickly as possible but also as constant in tempo. As well as the lack of pedalling, he asks for every single note marked as a quaver (that is, all of the sub-surface counterpoint played in the middle register) to be played ‘sempre staccato’ with no accentuations at all. Again, the only sonic grounding and flag points the listener receives are the BACH motif played mf and with accents.
In the late 20th century, Clementi made contact with the Austrian musicologist Ernst Gombrich about his use of counterpoint and Bach, saying that “the canon may well be close to my anti-symmetrical obsession to fill up space. Bach played with repetition, superimposition, inversion, mirroring, accelerating and decelerating his themes, in many ways, comparable to the way in which I reflect, translate and distort the themes of recognisable figures. This reason may well be why I especially like his music.” (Prossedra, 2011) The pieces extremely disjunct and chaotic melodies along with awkwardly spaced chords makes it incredibly difficult to perform, yet impenetrable and mesmeric for the listener.
184.108.40.206 Clementi’s contemporaries
After the second world war, many European composers saw the serialist agenda as something which could mature into a network of possibilities. The Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975) was one of the first people to embody twelve-tone compositional technique in a new and characteristic way. His early works of the 1930’s like Partita (1930-32) for orchestra and his opera Volo di Notte (1938) began to display a post-serial aesthetic which ultimately grew through a development and expansion of the works of Anton Webern, Alban Berg and Erwin Stein. However, in particular, Dallapiccola was interested in Webern’s assimilation of serial technique and lyricism. His work Canti di prigionia for two harps, two pianos, percussion and chorus epitomise his poetic and linear treatment of dodecaphonic structures, as well as being a good indicator of the clear significance of the voice and operatic approaches to his compositions. Parallel to Dallapiccola’s music in the 1930’s, this aesthetic of ‘serialism with the more universal qualities of diatonicism’ became present in the post-nationalist works of Goffredo Petrassi; an Italian composer who was best known as the composition teacher of Franco Donatoni, Aldo Clementi, Ennio Morricone, Cornelius Cardew and many others. Petrassi’s later music dissipated any attempts at progressive serialism and became more focused on his teaching and conducting.
However, out of the lyrical serialist works of Webern and Dallapiccola came the composers Luciano Berio and Luigi Nono, who were seen as part of the ‘second serial movement’, becoming associated with the dramatization and the atricalization of serialism. For Berio in particular, the social importance of art production was just as important as the technique of composition itself. Critical of ‘elemental’ serialism, he said in an essay published in 1996 that “a composer's awareness of the plurality of functions of his own tools forms the basis for his responsibility just as, in everyday life, every man's responsibility begins with the recognition of the multiplicity of human races, conditions, needs, and ideals.” (Berio, 1996) Comparable to the work of Berio and Nono around this time was the composer Bruno Maderna. Along with his fundamental roots in serial technique, Maderna also became very much associated with the role of electronics, working in the Milan national radio station around this time. Eric Salzman suggests that “the studio became a kind of escape hatch for composers who felt compelled to adopt serial controls but were anxious to find a new, substantial music matter.” (Salzman, 1988) He goes onto suggest that their return to vocal and instrumental music was later transformed by working with fresh materials within a serialist agenda. Both Berio’s and Maderna’s work in this period ultimately helped transform and shape the direction of early serialism, with Berio’s continued interest in mapping linguistic structures onto music and Maderna’s work using constant references and fragmentation of ideas creating a gateway in which the foundations laid out by the second Viennese school could flourish.
Visual art in 1940’s Milan
The British composer Bryn Harrison, someone whose compositional aesthetic is not too dissimilar to that of Clementi’s, said about visual art that he is “drawn to the idea that painting, as an immobile art form, can convey movement and conversely, that music, as a temporal art, might be able to convey stasis”. (Saunders, 2009) The idea of informel and object abstraction within the visual art movement during the 1940s and 1950s was something very much alive in Milan, the city of which Clementi was based in for most of his life. For Aldo Clementi, visual art was a “catalysing agent of the experiences (I) have already had.” (Luca, 2009) The term informel, coined by the French art critic Michael Tapié in 1952, addresses the gestural and abstract procedures that were becoming much more common in visual art during this period. One central figure in the early 1940’s in Milan was the painter Achille Perilli. Working with artists such as Piero Dorazio and Giulio Turcato, he quickly became associated with the Groupa Forma 1 whose ideas centred around a duty to overcome the division between post-war abstract and realist artistic movements; all whilst working towards a socialist agenda, using art as dialogue and protestation for contemporary political trends. They also acknowledged their ambition on technical development and wanted to expand current practical and formal technique and artistic trends. To the Groupa Forma 1, the idea of artistic autonomy was absolutely vital, much like the high art and the modernist ideology where art had to function within its own right and work as an organic whole. The idea of Immanuel Kant’s disinterestedness was a key component to their philosophy, where abstract art requires aesthetic contemplation and engagement to be a process of stepping back and relies heavily on art being self-referencing. Their manifesto stated:
We hereby proclaim ourselves ‘formalists’ and ‘Marxists’, convinced as we are that the terms Marxism and formalism are not ‘irreconcilable’, especially today, when the progressive elements of our society must maintain a ‘revolutionary’ and ‘avant-garde’ position instead of settling into the mistake of a spent and conformist realism that in its most recent experiences in painting and sculpture has shown what a limited and narrow road it really is. (Gutiérrez, 2012)
Summarising their manifesto, the group were first and foremost driven to deposing art that is in some way an extension of the human condition. They wanted to move away from art being a channel of expressing and referencing something and to allow form to be its own function within a work, something of which they militantly believed formalism was the only answer to. Stating later on in their manifesto, they said that “in art, the traditional, inventive reality of pure form is all that exists” (Celant, 1994). They draw the example of art’s functionality, using form as an objective that allows art not just to be important in its own right, but to be useful in achieving a certain aim (for example, as furnishing or decoration). As a political movement, the Forma One wanted to move away and repudiate any arbitrary and indistinct work that did not work towards their political agenda, rejecting anything that postulated natural or psychological ideas as a starting point or means to an end for art creation. The Forma One were distinctive in their almost anti-nationalist agenda where there were no hegemonic goals to associate their work with partisan-nationalist agenda or historical/mass-culture. Their idea of form and object within art was to act as a representation of social conscience rather than anything a priori or anything naturalistic between the depiction and the object itself. The Italian art historian and painter Giulio Argan states, when referencing aesthetic contemplation within this phase of Italian art:
“It would be a mistake to consider abstract art as mere aestheticism, as art for art’s sake. On the contrary, the common programmatic motif of the different abstract trends is the justification of the artistic event as a social event. In answering the undoubtedly legitimate question of how the explicit, destructive historicism of abstract art can be combined with the undoubtedly positive scope of its social interests, it can be argued that this art does not constitute itself as an achieved social end (which indubitably supposes a full consciousness of history). Rather it intends to define the condition of the man’s social consciousness, his way of being in reality and the limit of his horizon.” (Argan, 1948)
It's clear to see how the Marxist agenda shaped the doctrine and reasoning for their artistic practice; however, it was just the Italian painter Carla Accardi who died in 2014 keeping to the groups manifesto, whilst the group formally disbanded five years after its creation.
I go around exhibitions and art fairs, and figurative art continue to be predominate, as if to arrogantly ignore that the abstract can and should be a primary form of art from Italy. Many young abstract Italian artists, trying to follow in the footsteps of what was then the abstractism capitalist of the United States, but in general, like I try to do as an artist, the work should start over where it was left by the group Forma 1. (Vela, 2015)
Temporality and Clementi’s lasting impact
The way in which the listener must engage with the music of Clementi is that of two perspectives. The first is the more distant aesthetic created by the general texture of the dense canonic writing. The second is a more concentrated awareness of the individual parts that make up the music, perhaps the registral characteristics of the individual melodic lines, how the pitches create dissonance and resonance or how the rhythmic counterpoint create abrasion between one another. The American composer Pauline Oliveros talks extensively about deep listening by saying “focus is more like digital, in that focused attention needs to be renewed moment by moment, in order to exclusively follow a stream of some sort. Global attention is expanding to take in and listen to everything that is around you.” (Gottschalk, 2016)
Bryn Harrison’s research
An extended quote from the British composer Bryn Harrison on Aldo Clementi’s work demonstrates precisely how composers how the idea of a depthless surfaces alters the audience’s perception of time. In an article written for Contemporary Music Review, he says:
For me, Clementi’s music ensures a close-range listening experience; it is difficult to step back from the work, to retrieve a sense of what has gone on before. From this standpoint, these works suggest a sense of scale imagined on a large level. The beginning is the middle is the end: the form is a circle observed from the centre. (Harrison, 2011)
Bryn Harrison’s music seems to embrace the idea of structural development that materialises from inside the piece itself, rather than from the piece’s original pre-compositional material. Where Clementi’s music is self-perpetuating, meaning the music is constantly self-referencing and enclosed, Harrison uses repeating cells filled with cyclic pitch structures to create aesthetic coherency, whilst maintaining a degree of textural and harmonic development, albeit within a fairly static and surface-level texture. Harrison describes his compositional and aesthetical goals as trying to “create a perception of an object that appears both static and in motion, comparable to ripples in a stream or watching a torrent of rain”. (Harrison, 2011) In an extract below taken from his 2009 chamber piece Surface forms (repeating), one can see, for example, how the pitches of the alto flute line on the top staff are somewhat replicated in a distant form in the right hand of the vibraphone.
As is consistent in a lot of his music from around this period, he seems to use a musical object that is treated as a structure, which is then loosely mapped or mirrored onto another part. This creates a shadow-like structure, where the original fragment appears at the same time of another object, somethings that’s is either augmented, diminished or damaged in some way. Because of the way in which pitch, rhythm and gesture is used in his music to create expansion, the music becomes self-developmental and yet still is ‘held back’ in its aesthetic, remaining within an overall static texture. Unlike Aldo Clementi’s music, the repetitious cells are much smaller and so the self-contained development with the piece is smaller and somewhat clearer for the listener to engage with.
To have an awareness of phenomenology in compositional practice is to actively ask specific questions about the listener’s experience and our consciousness when writing music; where our concentration might lie? How might we perceive sound? What emotions might we feel? If a phenomenological approach is present in the compositional practice, then there is both a dynamic relationship between the composer and listener and a vested subjectivity in the conception of the musical idea along with the piece’s subsequent architecture. This essay will focus specifically on how an awareness of temporal perceptions and ideas of consciousness when composing might change compositional practice. My current musical interests lie in the unfolding of the combinatorial process over time that results in a static sound world. When listening and reflecting on my music, I have found that the experience of narrative does not lie in ‘the music itself’, something which the American musicologist Richard Taruskin describes as a “cordon sanitaire…a quarantine staking out a decontaminated space within which music can be composed, performed and listened to in a cultural and historical vacuum, this is, in perfect sterility.” Rather, the experiential chronology lies in the way that the listener perceives repetition, experiences the flexing of time and the fluctuation in their concentration. At one point in the music, their attention may be focused deep into the chronology and development of the enumeration but may shift to another extreme, not even focusing on the fact they are listening to music.
Opposing this, to see the world from a semiological approach is to view ‘the world itself’ as meaningful. When referring to objects, the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce defined three phenomenological categories; icons, indexes and symbols . There are some ways in which composers have displayed signs iconographically in their music, e.g. diegetic sound, The Finnish musicologist Eero Tarasti writes about symbols in Bach’s music, using the example of interleaving cross-shaped melodies, which Bach extensively used in his music, which “acted as a meaningful musical sign: it represented the cross and thus the Christ.” However, indexical and symbolic signs are much more common. Indexical signs, as described by Terrence Deacon William, are “mediated by some physical or temporal connection between sign and object.” In music, displaying concepts through causal links exist when, for example, percussionist imitate thunder rolls. Taking this Cartesian approach, we would be able to, as listeners of logical sound, decode to comprehend what empirically the meaning of the music. However, an awareness of symbolic representation for a composer, being unnatural but socially accepted signs like a 4-3 suspension connoting tension, is to accept that an individual reading of a sound or piece of music is personal to that listener. Our senses and emotions impact how we interpret music but also come as a precursor to our semiotic interpretation of a musical sign. René Descartes suggests that our perception and a priori meaning of the world is distracted by our emotional responses or the fragility of our senses, saying, “Perception...is neither a seeing, nor a touching, nor an imagining...rather it is an inspection on the part of the mind alone.” So, to see the world phenomenologically suggests that musical meaning would only come into existence in relation to our own emotional responses and sensory experience. In other words, in a musical performance, our emotional response from the music contributes to part of the music’s meaning; this meaning only comes into existence when there is a listener present.
To have an awareness of the temporal implications of the music during the compositional process would be to engage with phenomenology; to understand that the experience of time passing is both momentary and personal to every individual listener. Although there may be fortuitous events that create changes in this experience as something personal, such as extraneous sound from the concert hall or the physical eccentricities of a performance, many composers who engage with statis in their work naturally display phenomenological awareness. The composer Brian Ferneyhough states:
When we listen intensively to a piece of music, there are moments where our consciousness detaches itself from the immediate flow of events and comes to stand apart, measuring, scanning, aware of itself in a 'speculative time-space' of dimensions different from those appropriate to the musical discourse in and of itself. 
Static music naturally lacks teleology; the narrative of musical experience is not engraved in the score. Instead, the narrative (or at least, chronology) is transferred to the listener, made up of momentary experience where one might zoom in and out of a score, observing minute details in the sound or being more aware of the physicality of the space the music is being performed in. The British composer Bryn Harrison’s work actively engages with implications of temporality on musical composition. James Saunders describes his music as being concerned with “the passing of time, exploring how it might operate in a non-teleological way, trying to slow it down, or suspend it momentarily.”  Harrison’s work Surface Forms (repeating) engages with “the exploration of time through the use of recursive musical forms which challenge our perceptions of time and space by viewing the same material from different angles or perspectives”.  His music seems to engage with both the passing of time as momentary, both on a small and large scale. The use of repeating cells, as seen in Figure 1  in the appendix, establishes a continuity, allowing the listener to engage with the piece’s structural elements on a more casual basis and in their own time. However, on a larger scale, the piece is formed out of blocks of material that recapitulate, playing with the listener’s memory and recollection of previous material.
The Italian twentieth-century composer Aldo Clementi similarly engages with repetition, gradually distorting the perception of time by slowing the music down after each repetition. His 1977 composition for organ Sigla involves four melodic lines which are rhythmically displaced in canon by four and five crotchet beats. The performer is then instructed to play the music for as long as they desire, gradually slowing down over time, with a minimum duration of approximately 10-minutes. It may be speculated that the idea of a gradual decrease in tempo comes from the physicality of the piece. Due to the congestion of the player’s fingers on the keys, the player may experience a natural slowing down of tempo due to the decrease in stamina. His music follows the logical inner narrative of temporal experience; the further time passes across a piece of music, the more fluid our distinctions between our different levels of perceptions.
A semiological implication of repeating sounds come in the way that context alters our perception of that sound, individual to the listener. The painter Wassily Kandinsky says in his book The Art of Spiritual Harmony, “frequent repetition of a word deprives the word of its original external meaning…Sometimes perhaps we unconsciously hear this real harmony sounding together with the material and later with the non-material sense of the object.”  In psychology, semantic satiation is described as the phenomenon of words losing their meaning after repetition. Repetition for a phenomenologist raises the implication that the sound itself does not change, but the meaning does. It could be argued that this is due to a change in the context of the sound, something which is global to all listeners, or a change in approach and understanding the listener has to that sound. Either way, the music of composers such as Bryn Harrison suggests that the use of repetition and actively engaging with a phenomenological approach to compositional practice would indicate an acceptance of music meaning stemming from the inner experience of the listener rather than something inherent within the music.
There are times at which one may argue there is objectivity in the surprising elements of musical composition. As the American philosopher, Bruce Ellis Benson says, “an essential ingredient in having a genuine experience (Erfahrung) is the element of surprise: it is precisely when we do not expect something that it affects us the most.” However, the listener’s perception of what is fortuitous is still affected by their experience and character. Furthermore, these surprises are always characterised as ‘moments’ which is, in itself, problematic. The German philosopher Edmund Husserl talks about “immanent time” , noting “the intuiting of a time-point is possible only within a nexus” . From a phenomenological perspective, the experience of time passing is not only a subjective experience but unique to an individual, shaped by the person’s characteristics and eccentricities. David Clarke suggests that this is in part due to there being an ambiguity in momentary experience. He asks the question in the book Music and consciousness “how do we make a robust distinction between the moment of perception and the beginnings of memory?”  If a composer has an awareness of phenomenology, especially when investigating temporal implications of musical perception, it seems that on any level, time perception has an innate fluidity. Each listener’s levels of perception may differ within a piece of music. Furthermore, even if a listener is fully engaged with a particular element of the music at a point in time, the perception of that moment may not be distinct due to the obscurity between the experience of the present and recollection.
Benson, Bruce Ellis, The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)
Card, James, ‘Descartes’ View of Sense Perception’, Jdcard, 1997, p. 1 <http://jdcard.com/descar.htm#fn0> [accessed 2 January 2020]
Clarke, David, ‘Music, Phenomenology, Time Consciousness’, in Music and Conciousness, ed. by Eric Clarke and David Clarke (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 8
Deacon, Terrence William, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, 1st edn (New York City: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997)
Ferneyhough, Brian, ‘The Tactility of Time’, in Collected Writings, ed. by James Boros and Richard Toon (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Press, 1995), p. 43
Harrison, Bryn, Surface Forms (Repeating) (University of Huddersfield, 2009)
———, ‘Time, Memory and Recursive Structures’, Speculations in Sound, 2015, p. 1 <http://speculationsinsound.squarespace.com/bryn-harrison-1> [accessed 4 January 2020]
Husserl, Edmund, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, ed. by D Welton (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991)
Peirce, Charles Saunders, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. by C Hartshorne and A Burks (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press)
Saunders, James, ‘Confined Spaces: A Short Profile of Bryn Harrison’, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 2008, p. 1 <http://www.brynharrison.com/writings.html> [accessed 4 January 2020]
Tarasti, Eero, Signs of Music: A Guide to Musical Semiotics (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002)
Taruskin, Richard, A Myth of the Twentieth Century: The Rite of Spring, the Tradition of the New, and “The Music Itself”, 2nd edn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995)
Figure 1 - Bars 53-56 of Surface forms (repeating)
 Richard Taruskin, A Myth of the Twentieth Century: The Rite of Spring, the Tradition of the New, and “The Music Itself”, 2nd edn (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).
 Charles Saunders Peirce, The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, ed. by C Hartshorne and A Burks (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
 Eero Tarasti, Signs of Music: A Guide to Musical Semiotics (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2002).
 Terrence William Deacon, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, 1st edn (New York City: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997).
 James Card, ‘Descartes’ View of Sense Perception’, Jdcard, 1997, p. 1 <http://jdcard.com/descar.htm#fn0> [accessed 2 January 2020].
 Brian Ferneyhough, ‘The Tactility of Time’, in Collected Writings, ed. by James Boros and Richard Toon (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Press, 1995), p. 43.
 James Saunders, ‘Confined Spaces: A Short Profile of Bryn Harrison’, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, 2008, p. 1 <http://www.brynharrison.com/writings.html> [accessed 4 January 2020].
 Bryn Harrison, ‘Time, Memory and Recursive Structures’, Speculations in Sound, 2015, p. 1 <http://speculationsinsound.squarespace.com/bryn-harrison-1> [accessed 4 January 2020].
 Bryn Harrison, Surface Forms (Repeating) (University of Huddersfield, 2009).
 Bruce Ellis Benson, The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
 Edmund Husserl, On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time, ed. by D Welton (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991). p. 5.
 Husserl. p. 198
 David Clarke, ‘Music, Phenomenology, Time Consciousness’, in Music and Conciousness, ed. by Eric Clarke and David Clarke (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 8.
When I was writing that yesterday, I remember feeling very on edge, agitated and excited. I think that I was thinking about things I would normally think about. I have control over everyone and can manipulate people for my own benefit. I don’t need to eat ever again. This morning, I’m in a low. The only thing I want to do today is die. My body is completely drained of all energy, like an empty shell that is unkindly being forced to exist in suffering. I don’t want to compose. I don’t want to eat. I just want to die. If I had a gun right now, I would shoot myself. I’ve just eaten, and I’m too drained to even pull a trigger.
I wrote that down in 2017 on day 32 of my 5-month admission into a psychiatric unit. One year and myriad of medical opinions later, I finally received the news. Matthew, you’ve got schizophrenia. I’ve been hearing voices on and off since I was fourteen years old, but it was only when I started at University that these voices began to impact my day-to-day life. They would shout at me when I was trying to listen, talk over me when I was trying to speak, or just tell me that “Today is going to be a bad day”.
At the end of my hospital diaries, I wrote a short note to myself. It said, “You’ve got no choice other than to hear voices, but you can choose how you listen to them”. Over the few years of psychological treatment that followed, many therapists seemed to echo the same thing; there’s nothing you can do to stop the voices in the moment, but you can change how you react to them. Now, there is a parallel here between mental health and physical pain treatment. If you suffer from an excruciating pain in your elbow, you can become frustrated by the pain, or you can focus deeply on the pain, noticing and being mindful of every element
of the pain, how the pain may pulsate, or ache, or radiate up your arm. Focusing on the elements that make up the pain can often help you in dismantling the internal structures that cause your initial frustration and anger towards the pain. Now, for me, it’s the same with hearing voices. I might be hearing a voice telling me that “You’re worthless”. It might be repeating that short phrase over and over again like a mantra or fire alarm. But, instead of getting increasingly frustrated with the voice, I try and dismantle the individual elements of that sound. I won’t hear the words as words, I’ll listen to the pitch, the speed, the texture, how it’s articulated and pronounced.
As someone with schizophrenia, I felt that I could deal with voices better. But, as a composer and musician, I still found listening to music really difficult. Maybe if I listened to music in the same way I listened to the voices, I might hear sound in a new way. So, I tried it, and I did. I began listening to music I never thought I’d ever listen to, focusing intensely on dismantling the specific qualities of each sound I heard. The more I listened, the more self- aware I became and, subsequently, the better my mood was. This doesn’t just have to apply to music you don’t like, or music you do like. It can be the sounds around you when walking through a woodland, waiting in a queue or sitting on a bus.
Growing up, my only real exposure to the word schizophrenia in the media was through criminality. I’ve experienced first-hand the stigmatisation of people suffering from conditions with psychosis. Perhaps, by listening to people who suffer from these conditions, we can not only understand better what it means to live with schizophrenia, but we may also take away coping mechanisms that can be brought into our own lives. Because, after all, it’s not about just hearing our stories, it’s about listening.
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: