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Here is my first piece I ever wrote for the piano: https://musescore.com/user/29980381/scores/5964287

I kept it very simple (although I composed it according to my own serialist technique). Please let me know if it is enjoyable. Since my musical background is mainly theoretical and I don't play any instrument on a professional level, I'm trying to learn how to develop my sense of what is fitting for diverse instruments. I find the piano particularly difficult because of the pedal functions, which I left out here and which don't seem to have audible effects in Musescore. All kinds of replies are welcome. 

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Hi Geert,

Serial music is a totally unknown domain for me. I followed your score entirely and listened carefully. Two things were striking: 

  • it's not atonal at all
  • the music sounds pretty mechanical to me (partly by the recording, partly due to its construction). Maybe that was your intention.

Anyway, I'm glad I've learnt about a kind of music that is so far away from my usual doings. During my musical education, the serial music and dodecaphony were only mentioned as a different approach, but without any further insight.

So thanks for sharing this,

Jos

Thanks for your comment. Perhaps I should explain my use of the term serialist indicates that I work with some fixed pattern of notes (and sometimes: tone durations), but mostly not in a dodecaphonic way. I'm primarily occupied with keeping intact the interval relations between the basic element(s) of a musical construction. So when I use a tone row it can happen to be completely diatonic. But I always avoid tonal transpositions because they falsify the internal interval relations (for example by exchanging a minor second for a major, &c). This is my technique of letting these internal tonal relations of a theme or row prevail over their broader tonal context(s). So in my way of thinking, tonality (of whatever nature, including all kinds of modality, &c) is the result of the way the tone rows are used and exploited in their interval-relations. Not the other way round. In typical classical music these internal interval-relations are more or less "sacrificed" to the over-all tonal framework. My over-all framework, however, is the structural constancy of these internal interval relations of the basic compository elements. This working method creates a freer perspective on tonality, without giving up on it.

So dodecaphony in my mind is just an extreme (and in my opinion not the best) way of serialist thinking. 

The "mechanical" predicate causes me some concern. I guess you are right. Perhaps I should add some slight tempo variations at some moments in order to make the piece more lively. This is really one of the aspects of electronic reproduction of music which often spoil it. 

Jos Wylin said:

Hi Geert,

Serial music is a totally unknown domain for me. I followed your score entirely and listened carefully. Two things were striking: 

  • it's not atonal at all
  • the music sounds pretty mechanical to me (partly by the recording, partly due to its construction). Maybe that was your intention.

Anyway, I'm glad I've learnt about a kind of music that is so far away from my usual doings. During my musical education, the serial music and dodecaphony were only mentioned as a different approach, but without any further insight.

So thanks for sharing this,

Jos

Thanks for sharing Geert. Is you approach philosophical, mathematical or both?

If I understand correctly, in your own imposed construct you seek to keep exact intervals at all times? To my thinking all of music is about intervals that are generally more flexible. I could make a song out of say only 5ths or only thirds. I think this is where the mechanical element comes in as the other person mentioned. In fact, this would pair really well with a video showing a clock shop or a a watch maker at work. I would use words like predictable and mechanical, though some of this might have been the way the player in Musescore plays music. My western ears kept wanting a resolution of some kind and a divergence second.

It is interesting to me that you are choosing this construct as your beginning entry into composition since I feel it might potentially be a limiting factor. It would be like me going into a library and saying I only want the red books and I only want book with less than 100 pages. If this is what you enjoy who am I to try and ever discourage you in it? This goes to show that a composer can do a lot using a small set of paints. For that I admire.

Hello Tim,

No, it is not about keeping exact the same intervals at all times in the sense of your example of making a song out of only fifts or thirds. It is about having a kind of compositional core in the form of an ordered tone row — or some other thing, for instance a harmonic constellation — which functions as the fundamental building block of the composition.

Take for example the simple row: A, C, D, E, F, G. In typical historical classical music such a row, or a melody made of it, can be "diatonically transposed", as it is called, into: C, E, F, G, A, B by simply putting it two steps higher on the diatonic scale. However, doing so inevitably changes the internal interval relations of these tones. The note A is changed into C (which is the distance of a minor third) and F is changed into A (which is the distance of a major third). This procedure thus essentially falsifies the entire constellation of the internal tonal relations between the constituent elements of the melody, and thereby it changes the character of this melody. If one wants to keep intact the internal tonal relations of the elements of this melody the transposition should result in: C, E♭, F, G, A♭, B♭. 

Traditional theory reacts to this by saying that by this last transposition conflicts with the overal tonal framework of the original melody (which, let us suppose, is C major in this case). To this I say: So what? Why should the character of a melody be falsified or changed in order to keep it within the framework of a fixed tonality? Why should it be more important to keep a fixed tonal centre than to keep intact the internal order of the intervals of a melody or melodic phrase? At best we can say that these two demands are both important in a way. 

In my opinion the traditional theory deals with this problem in an dissatisfying and distractive manner, by suggesting the solution of keeping the rhythmic structure of the melody intact. Doing so somehow conveys the message that we are still dealing with essentially the same melody when we diatonically transpose it, and adapt its intervals to the requirements of the different steps of the diatonic scale. By the way, that's why melodic and motivic varations in classical music are so often made by changing the tones of a melody or motive. while keeping intact the rhythmic structure. 

My own position is that the internal interval relations — and thus the internal tonal relations — within a melody primarily define that melody, and that keeping these relations intact is more important than keeping intact the external tonal framework. This external tonal framework has thus to becomes more flexible if we accept the principle of keeping the internal interval relations intact in transpositions of a tone row or melody. At the same time this principle gives us the opportunity of introducing more flexibility in the rhythmic structure. Making melodic variations now becomes the art of rhythmically varying a fixed melos instead of the other way round. 

There's a lot more to it, but, obviously, I cannot deal with all the aspects here in the context of a forum discussion. 

Last but not least, the easiest way to explain how my piano piece (Jollity) should be played is to say: in a similar manner as Glenn Gould playes Bach. I do not mean to say that my piece is of the level of Bach, but only that the traditional baroque techniques of articulation and phrasing should be applied to it. I don't know whether these can be reproduced by in any electronic composition program (like Musescore or Finale) at all. At least this seems highly improbable to me. The danger of these electronic devices is that we become inclined to rely on them as adequate music performers, which they obviously are not. They lack the elasticity and nuance which is essential to performing.

Take e.g. the begining of my piece. Its repetitive structure doesn't coincide with the lenght of a measure, but falls short a half beat, and thus shifts more and more away from the metric accents of the four-four meter time, until it catches up with it again. Yet it is clear that the metric accents should be according to this four-four meter time. But the electronic device doesn't produce these accents. And thus it causes the listener to adapt himself to the shorter time of the repetitive structure, as if this were a measure, and thus makes the performance mechanical. In listening to these devices we should always be aware of these shortcomings and actively use our musical imagination as a necessary additional factor in gaining the best impression of a work. 



Timothy Smith said:

Thanks for sharing Geert. Is you approach philosophical, mathematical or both?

If I understand correctly, in your own imposed construct you seek to keep exact intervals at all times? To my thinking all of music is about intervals that are generally more flexible. I could make a song out of say only 5ths or only thirds. I think this is where the mechanical element comes in as the other person mentioned. In fact, this would pair really well with a video showing a clock shop or a a watch maker at work. I would use words like predictable and mechanical, though some of this might have been the way the player in Musescore plays music. My western ears kept wanting a resolution of some kind and a divergence second.

It is interesting to me that you are choosing this construct as your beginning entry into composition since I feel it might potentially be a limiting factor. It would be like me going into a library and saying I only want the red books and I only want book with less than 100 pages. If this is what you enjoy who am I to try and ever discourage you in it? This goes to show that a composer can do a lot using a small set of paints. For that I admire.

Hi Geert,

I am certainly not yet understanding this which is certainly no fault of yours. I intend to re read it again and hopefully digest it so that I  can at the least have a better grasp of your objectives. In the beginning I can only comment on my first impressions which seem to deviate greatly from the intended goal.

Thank you for such a complete explanation of your intent.

Hi Geert,

 I  read this again to get a better idea of your intentions in Jollity. I now believe I see what you are doing with this. 

I often make music transpositions when I play piano for a group. This is mainly because the keys some of the music is written in do not agree with the vocal ranges of the average person either too low or too high, so I transpose the music, even if it's an old hymn commonly sung in a key that has always been a bad key for the music in my opinion. One other reason I might do this is because it can be difficult for an intermediate guitarist to play music in Gb, so I try to find a place where the music is both easier to sing from a vocalist standpoint and easier to play for some instruments.

When I transpose, if I moved the music in the ways you mention no one would recognize it as the same tune. This would be because instead of following the rules set forth in the circle of 5ths I am only looking at following this other rule. So I don't see this as practical in the sense that one could make a transposition or move to another key. I do see it as being useful in experimentation in order to resolve what might be seen as tonal disputes. 

The present system was made as the result of tone being more important than the methods used to get there. From the beginning tones are nothing but vibrations. It was determined that some tones and vibrations were sympathetic to one another. In order to maintain this pleasing distance what seems to be incorrect increments were made. I think this is what I hear you saying about this. We have the modal system that bases scales off of different rules and which are the foundation to the music made in that mode. This is all not as complex as it seems. If one takes the C scale and begins on a D. This moves us from Ionian to Dorian mode. Beginning that scale on an E takes us to Phrygian mode and so forth all the way up through the modes. The same can be done in minor scales. In jazz you can take the 5th note of any scale playing that triad or a triad and 7th and it will ring very sympathetically with the original chord.

The above is mostly the western system, but we can see many variations in other culture music structures. In all of these cases I think the music came first and the ways to define it came later. Then after that possibly more complex systems were made using that data as a basis. 

I have heard music composed using the colors of the rainbow and their associated music colors which I have always thought was quite ingenious. So I guess there are many approaches to achieving a method that derives some musical satisfaction to the listener. Maintaining an exact mathematical equidistance concerning note relationships can no doubt have some interesting outcomes!

I'm afraid I also have to say that it sounded very robotic to me.  In a way, some Bach also sounds robotic, but he still brings a human element to it.  I'm quite a technical person myself (I'm a programmer and fan of maths), and am interested in music theory, but ultimately what I've decided is that music theory is mostly only useful for analysing music after the fact.  I find it better to go with whatever feels right, not whatever "is" right according to theory.  I think using certain techniques are useful, like the ones you use here, such as repeating a cycle that's a different length from the natural cycle of the piece, but they are useful as starting points for inspiration.  In your case I would give the listener a break here and there.  Repeating odd-length cycles is common in popular music too, but generally it only repeats 2 or 3 times, and with easier-to-grasp ratios.  The listener has a chance to get back in sync.  With your piece I never really found anything to latch onto, and the beat was too relentless maybe.  Notes keep coming and somehow I couldn't really find my place in it.

I'm actually all in favour of musical experimentation and trying weird timing etc, so keep at it!  Maybe find a way to take it as a starting point, but not adhere to it strictly, allowing instinct to break the pattern.  I think it was Beethoven who said (or was said to have said) something like "I want to know all the rules, so that I may break them".

Thanks for your reply. The main problem with the robotic sound as I get it is the impossibility of adding the kind of articulation and phrasing demanded by the piece, which should be much in line with traditional baroque techniques. Listen for example to Glenn Gould's interpretation of Bach's second prelude of Wohltemperiertes Klavier Part I. The prelude begins at 4:38 at the following Youtube link: https://youtu.be/IrJjPYi_vhM  In this interpretation one hears all the minuscule accents and stretches which are necessary for a lively performance, but which cannot be added in Musescore. I could add some of the dynamic differences, though, but the big issue is the different lenghts of the sixteenth notes, which are so finely distributed that the length of the measures nevertheless remains intact and time is always kept. 

By the way, what do you mean by odd-length cycles?

Disconnectica said:

I'm afraid I also have to say that it sounded very robotic to me.  In a way, some Bach also sounds robotic, but he still brings a human element to it.  I'm quite a technical person myself (I'm a programmer and fan of maths), and am interested in music theory, but ultimately what I've decided is that music theory is mostly only useful for analysing music after the fact.  I find it better to go with whatever feels right, not whatever "is" right according to theory.  I think using certain techniques are useful, like the ones you use here, such as repeating a cycle that's a different length from the natural cycle of the piece, but they are useful as starting points for inspiration.  In your case I would give the listener a break here and there.  Repeating odd-length cycles is common in popular music too, but generally it only repeats 2 or 3 times, and with easier-to-grasp ratios.  The listener has a chance to get back in sync.  With your piece I never really found anything to latch onto, and the beat was too relentless maybe.  Notes keep coming and somehow I couldn't really find my place in it.

I'm actually all in favour of musical experimentation and trying weird timing etc, so keep at it!  Maybe find a way to take it as a starting point, but not adhere to it strictly, allowing instinct to break the pattern.  I think it was Beethoven who said (or was said to have said) something like "I want to know all the rules, so that I may break them".

By odd cycles I was just trying to think of a short way to describe what you said here: "Its repetitive structure doesn't coincide with the lenght of a measure, but falls short a half beat, and thus shifts more and more away from the metric accents of the four-four meter time"

Sure, part of it is using MuseScore, which is intended more for printing sheet music than playing music.  You might want to get yourself a DAW to have more control over all aspects.  Can you add accents in MuseScore though?  You could probably at least emphasise relevant notes that way.

But I don't think it's entirely down to MuseScore.  Aside from sounding robotic, it also sounds a bit directionless somehow. The chords don't really feel like they're leading anywhere or telling a story as compared with the Bach piece.  Bach also has interesting timing alignments between the two (or more) parts.  I searched for "Wohltemperiertes Klavier" on MuseScore and found this:

https://musescore.com/user/408291/scores/5881419

Even though it's using MuseScore and sounds very rigid, it still sounds interesting, and gives the mind something to latch onto and to keep the mind intrigued.

I'm a fan of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman, so I don't mind some repetition. I think interesting chord progressions and varied timing have a lot to do with it (although Glass gets away without much of the latter!)

Geert ter Horst said:

Thanks for your reply. The main problem with the robotic sound as I get it is the impossibility of adding the kind of articulation and phrasing demanded by the piece, which should be much in line with traditional baroque techniques. Listen for example to Glenn Gould's interpretation of Bach's second prelude of Wohltemperiertes Klavier Part I. The prelude begins at 4:38 at the following Youtube link: https://youtu.be/IrJjPYi_vhM  In this interpretation one hears all the minuscule accents and stretches which are necessary for a lively performance, but which cannot be added in Musescore. I could add some of the dynamic differences, though, but the big issue is the different lenghts of the sixteenth notes, which are so finely distributed that the length of the measures nevertheless remains intact and time is always kept. 

By the way, what do you mean by odd-length cycles?

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