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).