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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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That's exactly why I said "amateur", as Jörfi clearly is not a "beginner".

I, too, have heard rather awful anecdotes about Hans Zimmer and his work ethics, which appear to be very, very traditional (i.e. hierarchical-abusive and, basically, exploiting). He offered an online course on film-composing recently, which may be an attempt to redeem himself and to seemingly "give something back"...but even that may not be completely genuine.

It is sobering, or disappointing, that even great composers often end up being known for (and mostly paid for) really just a couple of their pieces, which are probably frequently quite a bit more "mainstream" than they wanted. Let's say, Arvo Pärt can probably live of the income from his "Spiegel im Spiegel", although it really is a relatively weak piece in his catalogue of work.

Modal is a great way of putting it. In essence, I just created a "key" with the eight-note scale, and the harmonies aren't too far removed from those found in tonal pieces.

Your kind remarks warm my heart! As others have mentioned, I do have some works on my SoundCloud account that you are welcome to listen to. Some are tonal, some are modal. I have a string quartet in the works... not sure when that one will be finished, though.

Regards,

Jörfi

Ali Riza SARAL said:

Hi Jörfi,

Beautiful piece.  Congratulations.

I am surprised to hear how soft dissonances sound in the voice parts.

It sounded closer to MODAL rather than ATONAL to me.

Repetition of the base MODE via arpeggios (although transformed) reminds

the base MODE.  Of course when the mode is MAKAM it is also important

where the chant moves around and returns back to the tonic of the MAKAM.

Your piece is definitely not MAKAM based.  But still keeps the strong sense of

a reference point, base MODE as a reference.

Your manipulations of the base MODE are interesting and enjoyable.

Any other works to hear?

All the best.

Ali

Tillerich,

I'm literally blushing right now lol. I get a little awkward—okay, a lot awkward—with undue attention (hence why I compose under a pseudonym) but I'm absolutely flattered by your kind words. I began composing half a lifetime ago (I'm in my 30s now) so it's possible that, like fine wine, my music has gotten better with age. Either that or I just get lucky lol.

Writing music is a passion and a pasttime for me. If others find it enjoyable, too, then I'm doubly blessed.

Thanks again. You've made my day!

Tillerich said:

Ali, I found various other works of Jörfi Terríson on Soundcloud - you can seen them suggested when you listen to this one.

A lot of really good stuff, amazing, that he is "just" an enthusiastic, self-taught "amateur" composer. To me a lot would pass as a "pro"...!

I have to agree with Dane's sentiments, although I've not experienced the banes of professional composing firsthand.

It was initially heartbreaking when I chose the sciences over the arts as a field of professional study. But then, how many 18-year-olds think with their heads and not their hearts, eh? In the years since, although I've regretted not having the social musical network I'd undoubtedly have had, I've come to understand I probably dodged a bullet not choosing music as a career. As in any system where students' creativity is coached by creative "experts," the tendency is for an echo chamber to develop. The "professionals" call the shots as to what is and is not acceptable, thereby weeding out music that is "different" from the mainstay. The result is a circular process in which the music defines the expert, and the expert defines the music. We all know what I'm referring to: the 15-30 minutes of "avant garde" music we have to endure in concerts before we can listen to the Beethoven symphony, or the Haydn quartet—the real reason we paid money for our tickets in the first place.

I'm not saying this happens in every conservatory everywhere every time. They are, after all, just tendencies. The reason I mention it is to emphasize that I missed out on this "emperor's new clothes" effect by forgoing formal music education. It was bad enough in the sciences! At the risk of sounding iconoclastic, I look at the current trends in "fine" music and simply decide to march to my own tune. I don't care what's the "in" thing. If the rise of atonality and serialism was a postmodern reaction to tonality and rationalism (leading to the abolition of functional harmony, melody, and rhythm), then I immediately look to the ground between them. So what if atonal music should sound this way and tonal music should sound that way! Who decides what each should sound like? You guessed it.

I posit that there can be a hybrid between atonality and tonality. Yes, theoretically, the two words are mutually exclusive. But the music community has added so much more to each term semantically that a composer has to virtually choose sides. Am I a "conservative" tonal composer, or am I a "progressive" atonal composer? I say be both (or neither)! Write beautiful atonal works with haunting melodies and stirring harmonies. Write edgy tonal works veiled with so much modalism they sound atonal. But don't be defined by the current paradigm.

So in short, I like being an amateur. Rant over. Lol.

Dane Aubrun said:

Not so sure we should equate "amateur" with "beginner". It happens all too often. To me it means someone who does things for the love of it rather than to pay the mortgage. There's only a tiny number of truly professional composers....even the word professional is abused - a professional is someone who's practice and code of conduct is regulated by a professorial body - i.e. a doctor; a lawyer; a teacher.

I recollect over time that some of the composers I've met including those who tried to "teach" me were professional teachers who also made a bit of money here and there from composing. When I was raging about becoming a professional the advice was always don't!...........And I conclude that much was about losing artistic control, something the professionals don't have particularly in film. If someone else is calling the tune, you write what they want. In the very few instances I've made some money it's been just that. "You want the money, you compose what we want." There's little pride in being a hack. Besides, until you're a name on a separate panel of the credits you'll never make enough to actually live on. The son of the lead violinist in a beginner quartet in which I used to play, Chris Willis, was invited to work with Hans Zimmer in Hollywood. He returned thoroughly disenchanted, ruefully smiling to say "Luckily I could play piano."

So I happily listen to those who write (nominally) from the heart whether they're remunerated or not - the amateur - than one of those for whom composing is their day job....and probably nights as well!

Tillerich said:

Ali, I found various other works of Jörfi Terríson on Soundcloud - you can seen them suggested when you listen to this one.

A lot of really good stuff, amazing, that he is "just" an enthusiastic, self-taught "amateur" composer. To me a lot would pass as a "pro"...!

Jörfi,

I can totally relate to what you write here. I was also turned off by how dogmatic some of my composition professors were about their views. I already mentioned Professor Wilson's remark that "the pitches don't matter". I'm glad that I was his student for only one term. At that time, during the 1970s, there was still very much the sentiment that tonality was dead and that if you didn't write in an avant-garde idiom you didn't really belong in the field. There were some that were less dogmatic. I was much happier with Albright and even Bolcom, though he was not too approving of my interest in Mahler at the time. I was very glad to move over to physics and in fact never looked back. At the time we didn't have daws - at least none that were affordable by mere mortals - or even advanced notation software like we have today. The one thing I regret is that I didn't stay abreast of the technology, as I could have returned as an amateur composer much sooner if I had been paying attention. But yes, I am much happier as an amateur than I would likely be as a professional. And I like my day job!

As you probably know, there have been very successful self-taught composers throughout history. Some achieved recognition during their lifetimes, others did not. One that I've gotten to know fairly well is the English composer Havergal Brian, who not only wrote music well into his 90s, but was constantly trying new things and refining his musical language throughout his long career. At the age of 61 he wrote a cantata called The Wine of Summer (later included among his numbered symphonies as #5) that is by most standards atonal - but still in the late Romantic vein that the rest of his oeuvre is in. But full recognition is something that only came to him late in life - and even today he is largely thought of as either a one-hit wonder or the composer of mammoth scores, neither of which is anywhere near accurate.

As I wrote elsewhere, I don't think tonal vs. atonal is really a meaningful distinction. Someone once said that atonal music is any music in which the listener cannot identify a key center - so in many cases, different listeners will naturally disagree on whether something is atonal. Schoenberg's 2nd string quartet sounds tonal all the way through to me - to some people the last two movements sound atonal. Neither is right, neither is wrong. I think ears that were brought up listening to Western tonal music try to relate all music to a key center and only conclude "it's atonal" when they can't. And some can hear tonal connections where others can't. I think it's largely subjective. One can only compose what one feels is right, and if others call it tonal or atonal when you feel otherwise, that's their business and can't (and shouldn't) change your own perception of your work.

Sorry for the long and rambling reply... hope some of it makes sense.


Jörfi Terríson said:

I have to agree with Dane's sentiments, although I've not experienced the banes of professional composing firsthand.

It was initially heartbreaking when I chose the sciences over the arts as a field of professional study. But then, how many 18-year-olds think with their heads and not their hearts, eh? In the years since, although I've regretted not having the social musical network I'd undoubtedly have had, I've come to understand I probably dodged a bullet not choosing music as a career. As in any system where students' creativity is coached by creative "experts," the tendency is for an echo chamber to develop. The "professionals" call the shots as to what is and is not acceptable, thereby weeding out music that is "different" from the mainstay. The result is a circular process in which the music defines the expert, and the expert defines the music. We all know what I'm referring to: the 15-30 minutes of "avant garde" music we have to endure in concerts before we can listen to the Beethoven symphony, or the Haydn quartet—the real reason we paid money for our tickets in the first place.

I'm not saying this happens in every conservatory everywhere every time. They are, after all, just tendencies. The reason I mention it is to emphasize that I missed out on this "emperor's new clothes" effect by forgoing formal music education. It was bad enough in the sciences! At the risk of sounding iconoclastic, I look at the current trends in "fine" music and simply decide to march to my own tune. I don't care what's the "in" thing. If the rise of atonality and serialism was a postmodern reaction to tonality and rationalism (leading to the abolition of functional harmony, melody, and rhythm), then I immediately look to the ground between them. So what if atonal music should sound this way and tonal music should sound that way! Who decides what each should sound like? You guessed it.

I posit that there can be a hybrid between atonality and tonality. Yes, theoretically, the two words are mutually exclusive. But the music community has added so much more to each term semantically that a composer has to virtually choose sides. Am I a "conservative" tonal composer, or am I a "progressive" atonal composer? I say be both (or neither)! Write beautiful atonal works with haunting melodies and stirring harmonies. Write edgy tonal works veiled with so much modalism they sound atonal. But don't be defined by the current paradigm.

So in short, I like being an amateur. Rant over. Lol.

Same here! And I think we can look to the greats like Beethoven to realise how little composition can be taught. Until his Eroica Symphony he had to break away from Mozart / Haydn but with the Eroica he took off. LOL - there were always 4 Beethoven periods to me: early, middle, late and Opus 135 (his last Quartet), the scoring of which is something very different. 

But enough ponderings. I agree with Jörfi about 'hybrid'. These things are only labels after all. 

.

Hi Tillerich,

Unfortunately I could not understand what you mean by

"you can seen them suggested when you listen to this one."

Thank you for giving me the hint that Jörfi has other works on soundcloud.

Indeed, he has written some good amount.  But, having a fast look,

I cannot claim he is an "atonal composer", he has other works.  It seems

a true post-modern-romantic, maybe.

Being an amateur or 'pro' is an issue I faced when I was studying MSc at the

Istanbul Technical University.  I was accepted to the composition department

at the same time totally against the current regulations then.  I had been attending

the classes at the conservatoire for 3 years before that entrance exam (again

as an exception of the rules).  After attending the school for a while, I found out

that I did not want to become a music teacher at the school as a profession.

I wanted to keep my freedom, both financially and politically.  So, I decided

to perform my engineering as a profession and continued to the Conservatoire.

(I received my MM when ILSTU accepted my grad thesis while working in Germany,

once more an exception).

This paid well, when I worked at Air Traffic Control-EUROCONTROL at Germany.

I visited/studied many, many museums and had the chance to understand the Western

thought, including the Bible.  I remember my manager getting surprised when

I made quotations from the Bible during my positional claims in the organisation.

Being free(and individually different) is the most important thing for me.  My only sensitivity when composing

is:  It must have a meaning,  it must express something whether by words or pointing

a direction or just aesthetically.  I do not like political approaches but I do not abstain from

touching human situations that may cost me dearly in performance opportunities.

  I feel totally free to write in any style.

Tillerich said:

Ali, I found various other works of Jörfi Terríson on Soundcloud - you can seen them suggested when you listen to this one.

A lot of really good stuff, amazing, that he is "just" an enthusiastic, self-taught "amateur" composer. To me a lot would pass as a "pro"...!

Ali, here it is: https://soundcloud.com/brazealnut

Fully agree with your comment regarding the need for a meaning in the work. One could say, very simplified, that a professional is, when compared to an amateur, more often and more consistently able to convey meaning, even if they may, at the same time, also challenge and stretch the boundaries of the usual experiences of the listener. Jörfi Terríson's music resonates well with me, and I hope for him, that there will be opportunities to have his pieces played and performed life by real people.

Thanks, Liz! It's nice to know there are others who share my sentiments.

And I do think I'm making the tonality vs. atonality thing a bit dichotic, as it were. I realize there's something of a spectrum, and I realize there are those out there (like yourself) who are bit freer in their definitions of those terms. I think that's wonderful!

It's also fascinating to me how so many amateur composers have similar story arcs. Maybe we're seeing a shift in the paradigm?

Liz Atems said:

Jörfi,

I can totally relate to what you write here. I was also turned off by how dogmatic some of my composition professors were about their views. I already mentioned Professor Wilson's remark that "the pitches don't matter". I'm glad that I was his student for only one term. At that time, during the 1970s, there was still very much the sentiment that tonality was dead and that if you didn't write in an avant-garde idiom you didn't really belong in the field. There were some that were less dogmatic. I was much happier with Albright and even Bolcom, though he was not too approving of my interest in Mahler at the time. I was very glad to move over to physics and in fact never looked back. At the time we didn't have daws - at least none that were affordable by mere mortals - or even advanced notation software like we have today. The one thing I regret is that I didn't stay abreast of the technology, as I could have returned as an amateur composer much sooner if I had been paying attention. But yes, I am much happier as an amateur than I would likely be as a professional. And I like my day job!

As you probably know, there have been very successful self-taught composers throughout history. Some achieved recognition during their lifetimes, others did not. One that I've gotten to know fairly well is the English composer Havergal Brian, who not only wrote music well into his 90s, but was constantly trying new things and refining his musical language throughout his long career. At the age of 61 he wrote a cantata called The Wine of Summer (later included among his numbered symphonies as #5) that is by most standards atonal - but still in the late Romantic vein that the rest of his oeuvre is in. But full recognition is something that only came to him late in life - and even today he is largely thought of as either a one-hit wonder or the composer of mammoth scores, neither of which is anywhere near accurate.

As I wrote elsewhere, I don't think tonal vs. atonal is really a meaningful distinction. Someone once said that atonal music is any music in which the listener cannot identify a key center - so in many cases, different listeners will naturally disagree on whether something is atonal. Schoenberg's 2nd string quartet sounds tonal all the way through to me - to some people the last two movements sound atonal. Neither is right, neither is wrong. I think ears that were brought up listening to Western tonal music try to relate all music to a key center and only conclude "it's atonal" when they can't. And some can hear tonal connections where others can't. I think it's largely subjective. One can only compose what one feels is right, and if others call it tonal or atonal when you feel otherwise, that's their business and can't (and shouldn't) change your own perception of your work.

Sorry for the long and rambling reply... hope some of it makes sense.


Jörfi Terríson said:

I have to agree with Dane's sentiments, although I've not experienced the banes of professional composing firsthand.

It was initially heartbreaking when I chose the sciences over the arts as a field of professional study. But then, how many 18-year-olds think with their heads and not their hearts, eh? In the years since, although I've regretted not having the social musical network I'd undoubtedly have had, I've come to understand I probably dodged a bullet not choosing music as a career. As in any system where students' creativity is coached by creative "experts," the tendency is for an echo chamber to develop. The "professionals" call the shots as to what is and is not acceptable, thereby weeding out music that is "different" from the mainstay. The result is a circular process in which the music defines the expert, and the expert defines the music. We all know what I'm referring to: the 15-30 minutes of "avant garde" music we have to endure in concerts before we can listen to the Beethoven symphony, or the Haydn quartet—the real reason we paid money for our tickets in the first place.

I'm not saying this happens in every conservatory everywhere every time. They are, after all, just tendencies. The reason I mention it is to emphasize that I missed out on this "emperor's new clothes" effect by forgoing formal music education. It was bad enough in the sciences! At the risk of sounding iconoclastic, I look at the current trends in "fine" music and simply decide to march to my own tune. I don't care what's the "in" thing. If the rise of atonality and serialism was a postmodern reaction to tonality and rationalism (leading to the abolition of functional harmony, melody, and rhythm), then I immediately look to the ground between them. So what if atonal music should sound this way and tonal music should sound that way! Who decides what each should sound like? You guessed it.

I posit that there can be a hybrid between atonality and tonality. Yes, theoretically, the two words are mutually exclusive. But the music community has added so much more to each term semantically that a composer has to virtually choose sides. Am I a "conservative" tonal composer, or am I a "progressive" atonal composer? I say be both (or neither)! Write beautiful atonal works with haunting melodies and stirring harmonies. Write edgy tonal works veiled with so much modalism they sound atonal. But don't be defined by the current paradigm.

So in short, I like being an amateur. Rant over. Lol.

There's a book I've downloaded (but haven't read) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called Creativity: the psychology of discovery and invention. I'm curious to see how human creativity is perceived by a psychologist. In any case, I agree 100% that it's not something that can be taught. Rather, it seems that it can only be "unlocked." I'm sure each of us engages in an entirely different creative process than the next and what works for one person may only hinder someone else. To me, that's the beautiful thing about our human nature: we each funnel our experiences into a creative product that's uniquely our own!

Dane Aubrun said:

Same here! And I think we can look to the greats like Beethoven to realise how little composition can be taught. Until his Eroica Symphony he had to break away from Mozart / Haydn but with the Eroica he took off. LOL - there were always 4 Beethoven periods to me: early, middle, late and Opus 135 (his last Quartet), the scoring of which is something very different. 

But enough ponderings. I agree with Jörfi about 'hybrid'. These things are only labels after all. 

.

Very astute observation, Ali!

My works on SoundCloud represent the last decade or so of my musical development, and only until very recently—within the last year or so—have I embarked into modal/atonal aspects of composition. I've been heavily influenced by Romantic and Impressionist composers, although my heart always burned within me to understand how Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Sibelius, and other early 20th century composers produced works with such unique musical language. I learned to compose like the Romantics first, then the Impressionists, and now I've discovered how much fun it is to build harmonies based on different scales. I love the haunting soundscapes they can produce!

Again, I find it interesting that your story as a composer is similar to mine, Dane's, and Liz's (among many others, I'm sure). We found our professional niche in science/mathematics, but exercise our creative "muscles" on our own free time.

Thanks for sharing!

Ali Riza SARAL said:

Hi Tillerich,

Unfortunately I could not understand what you mean by

"you can seen them suggested when you listen to this one."

Thank you for giving me the hint that Jörfi has other works on soundcloud.

Indeed, he has written some good amount.  But, having a fast look,

I cannot claim he is an "atonal composer", he has other works.  It seems

a true post-modern-romantic, maybe.

Being an amateur or 'pro' is an issue I faced when I was studying MSc at the

Istanbul Technical University.  I was accepted to the composition department

at the same time totally against the current regulations then.  I had been attending

the classes at the conservatoire for 3 years before that entrance exam (again

as an exception of the rules).  After attending the school for a while, I found out

that I did not want to become a music teacher at the school as a profession.

I wanted to keep my freedom, both financially and politically.  So, I decided

to perform my engineering as a profession and continued to the Conservatoire.

(I received my MM when ILSTU accepted my grad thesis while working in Germany,

once more an exception).

This paid well, when I worked at Air Traffic Control-EUROCONTROL at Germany.

I visited/studied many, many museums and had the chance to understand the Western

thought, including the Bible.  I remember my manager getting surprised when

I made quotations from the Bible during my positional claims in the organisation.

Being free(and individually different) is the most important thing for me.  My only sensitivity when composing

is:  It must have a meaning,  it must express something whether by words or pointing

a direction or just aesthetically.  I do not like political approaches but I do not abstain from

touching human situations that may cost me dearly in performance opportunities.

  I feel totally free to write in any style.

Tillerich said:

Ali, I found various other works of Jörfi Terríson on Soundcloud - you can seen them suggested when you listen to this one.

A lot of really good stuff, amazing, that he is "just" an enthusiastic, self-taught "amateur" composer. To me a lot would pass as a "pro"...!

Thank you again for your very kind remarks, Tillerich. You seem to have captured the essence of why I create this music. To me, it isn't enough just to stretch the boundaries—at least, not simply for stretching's sake. I could very easily devote my time to creating avant-garde works that resemble the banging of pots and pans of any good Neanderthal. Certainly those expand the boundaries of the listener's experience. But I look to transcend that into works that carry meaning, beauty. I want them to be novel and moving simultaneously.

Maybe this is too tall of an order. But I'm certainly willing to try!

Tillerich said:

Ali, here it is: https://soundcloud.com/brazealnut

Fully agree with your comment regarding the need for a meaning in the work. One could say, very simplified, that a professional is, when compared to an amateur, more often and more consistently able to convey meaning, even if they may, at the same time, also challenge and stretch the boundaries of the usual experiences of the listener. Jörfi Terríson's music resonates well with me, and I hope for him, that there will be opportunities to have his pieces played and performed life by real people.

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