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I want to ask the question that was suggested in another thread because I think it's important. The question is: How should an inexperienced composer who wants to write dissonant and rhythmically complex music learn how to do that?

I've been writing and playing music a long time but I'm basically a beginner at 'classical' composition. I can read score at an intermediate level. I know basic theory and have some experience with extended harmony and odd time signatures and syncopation. I can write four part harmony and I have a basic understanding of counterpoint. I haven't spent much time on orchestration. I do spend time studying scores and listening to a variety of composers. I can write basic pieces that mimic (poorly) composers of the baroque and classical period.

So my question is: What else should I be doing, what is the next step? I don't post music here because lately I haven't much time to write anything; and to be honest, the level of bickering and personal attacks on this site in the past at least makes me think that it is a waste of time.

But I'd like to hear any thoughts or suggestions.

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Nick I listened to 'Tanto Meglio' and I liked it. It had some complex harmonies and some dissonance but the phrasing and structure were pleasing and accessible.  I read the 'Newtonality; Thomes and Phases' article that you linked to and while I don't pretend to completely understand it seems to be a sort of process similar to set theory and I found it interesting.

My original question for this thread, "How can I learn to write atonal music?", was not so much me trying to learn the form and practice of atonality as me trying to stimulate a good discussion on this forum; and I feel it was quite successful as there were many thoughtful and interesting viewpoints presented. 

I enjoy some 'atonal' music and a lot of what we loosely term 'modern' music but to be honest I am not a fan of the process of serial composition or set theory.  I respect the study and practice of those approaches and I often enjoy the music that is produced but I don't enjoy the process itself.  And I think this is because I believe what you said in your original comment, " . . just write it from the heart . . " so when I write I usually seem to abandon any preset goals or processes and follow the whims of the moment which is not a good way to get much accomplished; but I enjoy it.

I do study and try to learn new things so if you have other material I will gladly look at it as I have time.

Nick Capocci said:

Thank you, Ingo. I omitted to mention my own technique of Thomes and Phases. More complicated than pure atonal techniques, but with the "advantage" of employing tonal structures. I tried to explain it here a few years ago, but met largely consternation!!... I'd be happy to expand if you're interested. Anyway, here's a link.   ( hope it works, as I'm pretty crap at modern technology).  http://www.nickcapocci.co.uk/thomes-phases/

Ingo Lee said:

Hi Nick, thank you for responding to this thread.  'From the heart' is always the best compositional approach I think but I wouldn't normally associate it with atonality and that is a mistake. Artists with skill and experience can usually 'fake it' pretty well but for art to really resonate it has to, on some level, be 'from the heart' I believe, and there's no reason atonal music should be any different.

I see you've been a forum member for a while and are getting back into it.  There have been some changes you'll see, so welcome back!

Nick Capocci said:

Once I asked my teacher, Humphrey Searle, how to write atonal music of real character. He said" just write it from the heart, as you would any other music". 

Anyway, technically the best place to start is with serial technique. It's relatively uncomplicated!


Hi Ingo. Many thanks for listening and reading my thesis. It's important to understand that Thomes and Phases is very different from set theory, serialism - and, for that matter, the theories of Paul Hindemith, with which it has also been compared. There are indeed some similarities, but they are superficial. Thomes and Phases is formed on what I have termed the "Newtonal" principle; that atonality can function ONLY in relation to tonality, in the same way that dissonance can only function in relation to consonance in the older tonal systems. This principle - as far as I have been able to ascertain thus far anyway! - is unique to Thomes and phases. Also, "newtonality" must be thought of independantly from Thomes and phases. The newtonality idea was developed after Thomes and phases was up and running as a compositional technique, and dealt with broader, more general way of looking back over the history of composition and the origin of atonality. This last point led to some confusion when I first introduced Thomes and phases and the Newtonal idea to the forum some years ago.

Out of interest, I have a direct link with Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. My teacher at college was Humphrey Searle, who studied in Vienna with Anton Webern.

From comments you have made, I would guess Thomes and phases in its original manifestation (the form in which you heard in Tanto Meglio) would suit your composing needs perfectly! I say this not from any egotism, but simply because I know from years of practical experience what an incredibly powerful method of composition it is and how it so easily adapts to the style of the individual composer.

Set theory etc...... Because of my background and interests I have studied at some time most modern methods and theories. Set theory is just about the most dull, over-intellectualised technique ever devised. Cold, clinical, devoid of any interest to anyone with a modicum of musical passion or imagination. Of course composition is a technical skill! But!!!... It MUST originate from the soul, from the heart, not from the intellect. Thomes and phases is not the source of musical material, but a technique that is applied to musical material that has already been created, often by improvisation. The music that results comes therefore from the heart, from the soul. That is why music composed in this way can, and often does, sound as powerful and natural as anything conceived in a purely tonal idiom. That is what distinguishes Thomes and phases from other techniques. With Thomes and phases, the heart always powers the ship. The intellect simply supplies the compass and charts, nothing more.

Please feel free to share any of these comments with others. I hope in the near future to find a young composer who would be willing to carry this material forwards, as I have only scratched the surface. Be assured , I am always happy to discuss any of this with anyone who is genuinely interested.



Ingo Lee said:

Nick I listened to 'Tanto Meglio' and I liked it. It had some complex harmonies and some dissonance but the phrasing and structure were pleasing and accessible.  I read the 'Newtonality; Thomes and Phases' article that you linked to and while I don't pretend to completely understand it seems to be a sort of process similar to set theory and I found it interesting.

My original question for this thread, "How can I learn to write atonal music?", was not so much me trying to learn the form and practice of atonality as me trying to stimulate a good discussion on this forum; and I feel it was quite successful as there were many thoughtful and interesting viewpoints presented. 

I enjoy some 'atonal' music and a lot of what we loosely term 'modern' music but to be honest I am not a fan of the process of serial composition or set theory.  I respect the study and practice of those approaches and I often enjoy the music that is produced but I don't enjoy the process itself.  And I think this is because I believe what you said in your original comment, " . . just write it from the heart . . " so when I write I usually seem to abandon any preset goals or processes and follow the whims of the moment which is not a good way to get much accomplished; but I enjoy it.

I do study and try to learn new things so if you have other material I will gladly look at it as I have time.

Nick Capocci said:

Thank you, Ingo. I omitted to mention my own technique of Thomes and Phases. More complicated than pure atonal techniques, but with the "advantage" of employing tonal structures. I tried to explain it here a few years ago, but met largely consternation!!... I'd be happy to expand if you're interested. Anyway, here's a link.   ( hope it works, as I'm pretty crap at modern technology).  http://www.nickcapocci.co.uk/thomes-phases/

Ingo Lee said:

Hi Nick, thank you for responding to this thread.  'From the heart' is always the best compositional approach I think but I wouldn't normally associate it with atonality and that is a mistake. Artists with skill and experience can usually 'fake it' pretty well but for art to really resonate it has to, on some level, be 'from the heart' I believe, and there's no reason atonal music should be any different.

I see you've been a forum member for a while and are getting back into it.  There have been some changes you'll see, so welcome back!

Nick Capocci said:

Once I asked my teacher, Humphrey Searle, how to write atonal music of real character. He said" just write it from the heart, as you would any other music". 

Anyway, technically the best place to start is with serial technique. It's relatively uncomplicated!

Hi Julie. I found you on Ingo's thread . I would really appreciate your comments, opinion etc. on my own meagre efforts in this area. Due to commitments over the years I've never been able to follow through with these ideas as I would have wished. From your comments on this thread it's obvious you know what you're talking about! I have to be careful when sharing this thesis and the pieces which use this technique, as, in the past, it has met with varying degrees of incomprehension which I then have had to try and deal with. So now I tend to choose individuals such as yourself on a one-to-one basis to get feedback etc..

Tanto Meglio was written in 1979 and was the first piece to employ the Thomes & Phases method of composition.

http://www.nickcapocci.co.uk/thomes-phases/

There's no hurry to reply - should you choose to, that is!

With all good wishes, Nick c



Ingo Lee said:

Great composition idea and execution Julie, wonderful source for musical ideas.  I missed the lullabies the first time around! Thanks for posting that.

Julie Harris said:

I wonder if any of you would like a less cerebral approach to so-called "atonal" music? 

I would like to suggest that music that has no tonal center and does not use functional harmony is a lot less complex than the previous discussions have implied.  I actually believe that it's a lot easier and more enjoyable to write than the rule-bound tonal music.  Some of my youngest students (the under 9 crowd) are writing appealing music that our competition judges called "atonal" and yet audiences liked it as well.  It's just what they hear naturally before they get too trained and too educated  ;-)   I have three brothers with perfect pitch and exceptional curiosity - one loves tonal, one loves what he calls dissonance, and one is gradually finding his preferences.  I'm letting each follow his impulses and teaching them what I consider to be the basics of composition, even more so than melody and harmony.  Contour and shape, contrast and continuity, moving toward something and then arriving, building tension and releasing it - all these things and many more apply equally well to the different categories of music, and have parallels in daily life. 

I used to use "in the head" constructs and abstract rules for my music, similar to what Mike is describing.  I loved that stuff thirty or more years ago, but I'm afraid the resulting music didn't satisfy my humanity.  Now I like to think more like a child, like an innocent hearing the world around me. In more recent years, I have turned more and more to nature or poetry or pictures or stories to "hear" what I want to write down.  I find so-called atonal music to be a natural form of expression.  The sounds I hear around me - birdsong, rhythms and contours of the wind or rain, the exciting sounds of a new house being built -  are not arranged in 4/4 or 3/4 or anything/4 nor do they use functional harmony.  I find that if I really listen and pay attention, the resulting music appeals to audiences and satisfies my humanity, even though it may be called "atonal".  I prefer to just call it music.

Here's an example of a piece that was performed and recorded by the late pianist Greg McCallum.  The entire Suite, "American Triptych" is a three-movement piano virtuoso solo based on American folk tunes.  The middle movement, "Hush-A-Bye" is based on night sounds and two American lullabies.  My "study" for this involved going outside every night and listening.  It was spring and there was a little pond next door where various families of frogs congregated.  The frogs, the night crickets, the repetitive call of one bird - these took the place of tone rows, intervallic structures, hexads and suchlike.  I had a wonderful time writing this piece, and will never forget the magic of those nights of listening.

The structure I wanted was simple - the night sounds gradually hint at and finally culminate in quotes from the two lullabies, which soon drift back into the songs of the frogs, crickets and birds.  Pretty simple stuff, really.  Audiences in the US, England and Scotland seem to resonate to this piece, and I'm happy with it as well.  These sounds are universal, even if you don't know the particular lullabies.

Hush-A-Bye audio file
Hush-A-ByeScore.pdf

For those who prefer nature and stories and poetry and pictures to complex rules, there is plenty of source material all around you.  Listen, absorb and write, without trying to force it into Western rules of either tonal or atonal origin.  You might be pleasantly surprised! 

Hi Nick and FYI, Julie is on hiatus right now, so it might be a while before you get an answer - best

Gav

Many thanks! Nick c

Gav Brown said:

Hi Nick and FYI, Julie is on hiatus right now, so it might be a while before you get an answer - best

Gav

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