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Hi all!

I've recently been exploring composing with altered scales. This particular choral work is based on an eight-note symmetrical scale. The text is by a 19th century Icelandic poet, Jónas Hallgrímsson, from a poem called Strit, which means "toil." It highlights the futility of all that we labor for here on earth.

The harmonies are constructed largely from 4ths and the work is technically atonal, although some tonal centers are visited throughout. I'm curious to know how others perceive the tonality in this piece. Please let me know what works and doesn't work for you. I especially would like advice about the enharmonics, since I'm not used to writing without a key signature.

(I had to do all the voices myself, so I apologize for the grainyness and thick-sounding recording.)

I've attached the score for your reference. Thanks in advance for your input!

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Hi Jorfi, I enjoyed this very much, it is fresh and different without making me search for the time counter at the end if you know what I mean.  I'm very impressed with your resourcefulness in constructing scales and harmony and especially with your method of stretching your natural voice to cover the material.  I'm not going to make any suggestions because you are finding ways to do things that I couldn't and I like what you come up with!

I'm also in the partially self-educated amateur group mentioned here, but most of what I have posted is conservative, although much of my work is not. The discussion you have hosted here is interesting as well, thanks for that.

Wow, thank you for the kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the work.

I'm looking forward to hearing your stuff, too!

Ingo Lee said:

Hi Jorfi, I enjoyed this very much, it is fresh and different without making me search for the time counter at the end if you know what I mean.  I'm very impressed with your resourcefulness in constructing scales and harmony and especially with your method of stretching your natural voice to cover the material.  I'm not going to make any suggestions because you are finding ways to do things that I couldn't and I like what you come up with!

I'm also in the partially self-educated amateur group mentioned here, but most of what I have posted is conservative, although much of my work is not. The discussion you have hosted here is interesting as well, thanks for that.

Oh, it is a beautiful drama. Atonal to me means like everything apart from beauty. And this is the opposite.

You did all the voices yourself, do you mean singing? 

Congrats to you for this excellent piece.

Kjell

Hi Kjell,

Thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Yes, I sang all the parts myself and used a pitch alterer for the female vocal parts. Still sounds a bit robotic, but it's the best I can do without having an actual choir perform it.

Kjell Prytz said:

Oh, it is a beautiful drama. Atonal to me means like everything apart from beauty. And this is the opposite.

You did all the voices yourself, do you mean singing? 

Congrats to you for this excellent piece.

Kjell

 

 Hi Jorfi. I am curious. Do you come to this composition with a preliminary intent as to feel, mood or emotion? Are you looking to induce an emotion? You mention that you are exploring atonality if I understand you correctly. Was the goal atonal or is there some other motive?

I only ask because I guess I simply have difficulty in attempting to get the vision of the artist. If I could understand the intent maybe I could understand the music. If the goal is mysterious, then I suppose I have my answer. I can't look at this the way I would look at it because I think you have a very different approach. Thanks.

Hi Timothy,

This is a great question and one I've had to spend some time pondering for an answer. My overarching goal, I suppose, was merely experimental. I don't know any composers—past or present—who've used these symmetrical scales in a "tonal" sense before, so I didn't really have any preconceived notions or compositional goals. (By tonal, I mean constructing the chords in such a way that the ear perceives a tonal center, even though it isn't a conventional Western key.)

Listener enjoyment is important to me, of course, and the feel I was going for was one of emptiness, despair, hopelessness. However, what emotions the piece invokes in the audience is anyone's guess and really beyond my ability to control. I think my greatest hope is that I produced an enjoyable, unique soundscape for the audience. These are chords that won't sound "happy" because I avoid the major triads, nor will they sound "sad" because I don't use minor triads.

To be honest, I'm not sure what they're supposed to sound like since these are unconventional chord progressions and transpositions. They sound haunting and mysterious to me, with a touch of mourning and melancholy.

I'm not sure if I've been clear at all—I feel like I've just rambled on and on. In a nutshell: I'm trying to make atonal sound beautiful. Or at least like art, lol.

Thank you for taking the time to explain. My term "induce emotion" was likely accurate for many composers although I believe many more simply play from a very real feeling and they have a way to convey that musically.

There seem to be a very high number of composers here who go for the so called "atonal" music. I can only guess as to why. 

I suppose if a person has an interest in mathematics and structure, they might like to use music as a calculation. This probably actually feeds their dopamine levels. They can make something that sounds like music using only intervals and theory. Forgive me I'm still attempting to understand because this music is so far from me that I have little reference. Another guess is maybe they have an education in music or are very educated in music theory and frankly have become bored with the most accepted and traditional structures. In that case their only way to branch out is to do something different (to them). It isn't really different because there are plenty of others doing this as well.

Jazz might be a close cousin in that it merges lots of structures together that would have never flown in the Bach era. I often see jazz as an expansion of that and it is something I DO get even if only on a surface level. You could probably take some atonal pieces , add rhythm and have jazz. I don't claim to be an expert on any of it. All I can say for a certainty is that much of it strikes me as something that wants to convey that something is "not right". The kinds of things I heard in horror movies. If it were a recipe it would taste like someone added rotten octopus to my pizza. I can appreciate that it is a structure to the composer. I can appreciate that it conveyed something to them personally. I don't get it though from an emotional perspective, unless the intent is aimless uncertainty mystery and fear. I wish understood it better.. I want to be clear that I'm making a very general statement about most music that attempts to somehow color outside the lines.Not focusing on only your music.

I thought your recording methods taking the voices and transposing in software was cool. I know no one owes me an explanation for anything.As a musician I guess I was just curious, especially since this kind of thing is fairly prevalent here.

Thanks and have a good day!

Hello again,

thank you very much, yes, I found it on ebay for £3.50 (including postage!). It looks good at first sight: little text but loads and loads of practical examples. This is likely to be helpful.

Thanks again - happy for further recommendations, of course!

Dane Aubrun said:

I started learning early - I joined a choir more to get out of the house/home than to sing. The choirmaster/organist taught me the basics of 4-part harmony using some (now) old books - Kitson's Elementary Harmony. Part 3 was like opening a treasure chest to me but that's aside! I notice it's still in print in a single volume and available pretty cheap used at Amazon. (Note: academics have probably re-jargonised everything to get their doctorate theses but the principles remain the same. It IS a bit of an old treatise though and you'll probably find something less demanding in its insistence on how you should progress - or just omit the earlier parts that don't appeal!).  

Hi Tim!

I don't mean to hijack Jörfi's thread, but I wanted to comment on something you wrote here. I find your statement that a very high number of composers here go for atonal music a bit surprising... among composers working in acoustic media (as opposed to electronic), since I have joined only Dane, Jörfi, and I have posted anything well outside the bounds of conventional tonality that I'm aware of. The vast majority of composers here seem to be working in a very tonal idiom. And, speaking only for myself, I don't consider myself an "atonal" composer. I am mostly interested in finding new ways of using tonality, and in exploring the outer boundaries of tonality. If there are places in my music that leave tonality behind, it's because I'm trying to express something with that, maybe a sense of rootlessness or despair, or even anguish, as in parts of my quartet.

I guess, I don't necessarily think of atonality as contrasted with tonality. At least in my music, there is a continuum between the purely diatonic and music that is so chromatic that the sense of a key center is lost completely. And the absence of a key center is (so far at least) never a happy state in my music.

Jörfi's aesthetic, by contrast, seems very different from mine, and that's a great thing...

Liz

Timothy Smith said:

Thank you for taking the time to explain. My term "induce emotion" was likely accurate for many composers although I believe many more simply play from a very real feeling and they have a way to convey that musically.

There seem to be a very high number of composers here who go for the so called "atonal" music. I can only guess as to why. 

I suppose if a person has an interest in mathematics and structure, they might like to use music as a calculation. This probably actually feeds their dopamine levels. They can make something that sounds like music using only intervals and theory. Forgive me I'm still attempting to understand because this music is so far from me that I have little reference. Another guess is maybe they have an education in music or are very educated in music theory and frankly have become bored with the most accepted and traditional structures. In that case their only way to branch out is to do something different (to them). It isn't really different because there are plenty of others doing this as well.

Hi Liz!

Thank you for your opinion on this.

 I have heard a lot of tonal music here. I haven't broken that down into percentages, but it seems to me that of late there have been some really odd sounding tunes out there. Pardon me for lack of a better description. It might be that these are the composers who post more often. I don't pretend to know. I go to several forums all over the place and this is the only forum where I see these kinds of compositions. I realize it was debated whether this composition was really atonal or not. It seems we only have maybe 25 or so regular posters here. Like any website there are a large number of creepers in comparison to those who post. Some pop in , post and leave never to return.

I will admit attempting to adopt some of those ideas in a very distant way in a recent composition to see if I could "get it". My attempts were still very much in line with traditional composition with some "odd" stuff thrown in. I wasn't really happy with that composition and that's unusual for me to do something I'm not at least mostly content with. In that sense I felt I was straying from my center.

This is also the only website I go to where references are even made much less discussed concerning atonality or tonality. I mostly just make the d** music and don't generally look at any of that :) so I guess this aspect of the whole thing interested me on a deeper level and made me ask..what am I missing? I'm not sure how useful it is to me to dissect music in this way. In the beginning I thought it was interesting.

I think I have just come to accept the fact that this is where some composers are coming from both technically and by feel. It's about as alien to me as it can be. I tend to "feel" music so music that  when I hear some of this it takes me to a dark scary place. If this is how the composers really feel inside I don't know what to say to that since it's also alien to me from that perspective.

I realize that there is still plenty of individuality as you mentioned Liz. Your music was much different than this is. There are combinations of chromatic, diatonic, tonality and atonality in much of the music I think of as unusual. I simply generalized it by calling most of it "atonal". I think if you keep hanging around here you might pick up on more of it. I could also be focusing on the atonal music more because it is so different.and not realizing it I guess.

Your misgivings are perfectly understandable. In fact, it hasn't been so very long ago that I've posed similar questions to atonal composers. I can't speak for every non-tonal composer. But now that I understand your question better, I can offer you a little more background, at least from a motivational standpoint.

You and I grew up listening to diatonic music constructed from the do-re-mi scales so prevalent in Western culture. The intervals whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half to us sound very consonant. From this, of course, we construct chords and counterpoint, melodies and harmonies, and string them together to make music. We experience this music throughout our formative years (and beyond) linked to various emotional states, and thus learned to assign emotional value to certain musical patterns. Chords and harmonies built from such scales are called conventional because they're just that: convention. Western civilization's music, since the Middle Ages and up until only the last century or so, has consisted exclusively of these diatonic scales, their harmonic/melodic minors, and the various modes associated with them.

But these aren't the only scales in existence, and a quick listen to traditional Arabic, Indian, Hungarian, Turkish, Mauritanian, Chinese... the list goes on and on... solidly confirms this. Even if the traditional instruments are taken away, it's still relatively easy to pick out a Chinese song and an Indian song—all because of the scales they use. Despite the dissonances of some of these (Mauritanian is a real treat!), those who grew up listening to this kind of music find nothing unconventional about it at all. I wonder how overwhelming our "dissonant" seven-note scales were to East Asians and Polynesians upon their first hearing, who were used to five-note (pentatonic) scales!

I realized that it's not really the note intervals that determine what is and isn't music: it's the melodies and rhythms. That's my theory, anyway. So I'm testing it out with symmetrical scales (there are seven scales of symmetry in semitone music). Thus far, I've been quite pleased with the unique soundscapes these have produced.

I am slightly disturbed that you think there are plenty of others doing this as well—not because I think you're rude in saying so but because I want so badly to be unique lol. In my limited experience, I haven't come across many composers who use altered scales in this way.

Wow, so that was a very long reply and I do apologize! I hope I've cleared some things up, but feel free to ask any follow-up questions you may have!

Timothy Smith said:

Thank you for taking the time to explain. My term "induce emotion" was likely accurate for many composers although I believe many more simply play from a very real feeling and they have a way to convey that musically.

There seem to be a very high number of composers here who go for the so called "atonal" music. I can only guess as to why. 

I suppose if a person has an interest in mathematics and structure, they might like to use music as a calculation. This probably actually feeds their dopamine levels. They can make something that sounds like music using only intervals and theory. Forgive me I'm still attempting to understand because this music is so far from me that I have little reference. Another guess is maybe they have an education in music or are very educated in music theory and frankly have become bored with the most accepted and traditional structures. In that case their only way to branch out is to do something different (to them). It isn't really different because there are plenty of others doing this as well.

Jazz might be a close cousin in that it merges lots of structures together that would have never flown in the Bach era. I often see jazz as an expansion of that and it is something I DO get even if only on a surface level. You could probably take some atonal pieces , add rhythm and have jazz. I don't claim to be an expert on any of it. All I can say for a certainty is that much of it strikes me as something that wants to convey that something is "not right". The kinds of things I heard in horror movies. If it were a recipe it would taste like someone added rotten octopus to my pizza. I can appreciate that it is a structure to the composer. I can appreciate that it conveyed something to them personally. I don't get it though from an emotional perspective, unless the intent is aimless uncertainty mystery and fear. I wish understood it better.. I want to be clear that I'm making a very general statement about most music that attempts to somehow color outside the lines.Not focusing on only your music.

I thought your recording methods taking the voices and transposing in software was cool. I know no one owes me an explanation for anything.As a musician I guess I was just curious, especially since this kind of thing is fairly prevalent here.

Thanks and have a good day!

Well said, Liz. I don't consider myself an atonal composer, either. I also don't find "purely atonal" music pleasurable, likely for the reasons I mentioned in my response to Timothy: it's difficult for me to pick up on the melodies and rhythms (if the composer was kind enough to include those).

And of course I don't mind if you hijack my thread, lol.

Liz Atems said:

Hi Tim!

I don't mean to hijack Jörfi's thread, but I wanted to comment on something you wrote here. I find your statement that a very high number of composers here go for atonal music a bit surprising... among composers working in acoustic media (as opposed to electronic), since I have joined only Dane, Jörfi, and I have posted anything well outside the bounds of conventional tonality that I'm aware of. The vast majority of composers here seem to be working in a very tonal idiom. And, speaking only for myself, I don't consider myself an "atonal" composer. I am mostly interested in finding new ways of using tonality, and in exploring the outer boundaries of tonality. If there are places in my music that leave tonality behind, it's because I'm trying to express something with that, maybe a sense of rootlessness or despair, or even anguish, as in parts of my quartet.

I guess, I don't necessarily think of atonality as contrasted with tonality. At least in my music, there is a continuum between the purely diatonic and music that is so chromatic that the sense of a key center is lost completely. And the absence of a key center is (so far at least) never a happy state in my music.

Jörfi's aesthetic, by contrast, seems very different from mine, and that's a great thing...

Liz

Timothy Smith said:

Thank you for taking the time to explain. My term "induce emotion" was likely accurate for many composers although I believe many more simply play from a very real feeling and they have a way to convey that musically.

There seem to be a very high number of composers here who go for the so called "atonal" music. I can only guess as to why. 

I suppose if a person has an interest in mathematics and structure, they might like to use music as a calculation. This probably actually feeds their dopamine levels. They can make something that sounds like music using only intervals and theory. Forgive me I'm still attempting to understand because this music is so far from me that I have little reference. Another guess is maybe they have an education in music or are very educated in music theory and frankly have become bored with the most accepted and traditional structures. In that case their only way to branch out is to do something different (to them). It isn't really different because there are plenty of others doing this as well.

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