Consider the binary opposition in music between such factors as the modern and the traditional, the natural and the synthetic, beauty and ugliness, satire and celebration.  Consider the opposition between contemporary and "primitive," between Western and Eastern, and between the orchestral and the electronic means of producing sound. The overall purpose of this work is to take various phrases, expressions and methods which would not otherwise easily co-exist, and to blend them together in unified polysonority.   "Wyschnegradsky compares musical polysonority with the concept of the Absolute, and equates it with  … the point where all of music's dualisms are united and annulled."  (See Edward Campbell's Boulez, Music and Philosophy, p. 65).  In Kantian or Hegelian terms (or musicologically, in the terms of Adorno), the goal is to find a "transcendental" entry point into a certain region, or domain of thought and sound.  This is a location or state of affairs which is both the result of a dialectic process and also the very assumed condition or reality which precedes it, which is outside of time and outside of space, and properly within the domain of the Absolute.  This is the evocation of what Andre Breton called the "point suprême" (or a reference to a state "de la future fusion de l'homme et de l'univers par la conquête du point suprême."). On the other hand, this fusion and rendering can be considered as a satirical exploration, or parody, in part, of the very notion of any full expression of "the Absolute" in purely aural or sonic terms; or at the very least, it may be looked upon as an exploration of the binary opposition between parody and celebration, between seriousness and satire, or between the unqualified affirmation of trans-universality and any attempt to ridicule such an idea.



In music generally, we may consider and examine the following "Binary Oppositions," which are operated upon in this particular work:


high pitch / low pitch

quick tempo/slow tempo


traditional tonality / nontraditional tonality


sudden attack/gradual approach

thick timbre/thin timbre (individual instruments)

thick orchestral texture/sparse orchestral texture

steady sustained line/fluctuating line

polyphony / monophony

unified sonority (one sound universe)/ polysonority (more than one)

clarity / confusion




electronic instrumentation/natural instrumentation

natural pitch/unnatural pitch (due to pitch correction automation)



Western musical idiom/Non-Western idiom (African, East Indian, Chinese)

Modern idiom (20th, 21st century)/Traditional idiom (earlier centuries)


common allusion (Beethoven, a folk song, anthem)/uncommon allusion

sharp (stereo) separation / unity, or monaural (no) separation



The specific content of the work consists of quotations and some additions for the sake of the unity. This is an example of poly-sonority or sound texture synthesis, a bit like Musique Concrete, but with more emphasis on the "musique" and less on the "concrete." Listeners may notice quotations from known works and composers: a symphony by Beethoven, Tyler Hughes' "Interpretations on Folk Melodies," and some quotes from more or less obscure works: electronic pieces, East Indian singing, atonal orchestral pieces, Cantonese opera, anthems, folk songs, an informal South African church hymn and so forth.


The quotations and allusions are altered by filters, changes in the pitch of parts of the audio files, changes in volume or dynamic emphases, slight tempo modifications, interaction with overlapping or accompanying audio files, changes in panning, and other "automation" parameters, sometimes as separate features, or sometimes all at once.  on Soundcloud











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  • Thank you for your comments, Susan.


    You said,


    " ' I'm not sure I get (or that anyone gets) how these can be "united and annulled." '


    I did not really explain that in much detail, but there is no word in English that conveys this notion very well.  I can summarize the issue in the following way, for the sake of convenience.  Hegel and his successors (and  2oth century philosophers of music, like Adorno) used the German term:  Aufheben.  This word simultaneously can mean, to refute, to preserve, to unite, and to annul . . . and the process that the word embodies can do all these contradictory things at the same time, presumably.  In Hegelian dialectic, this simply means you have two contradictory ideas:  a thesis and an antithesis, and eventually, the ideas (and realities) can merge to create a new synthesis, which on a higher level both cancels out and preserves the earlier contradictory ideas.   During the mid twentieth century, especially in the 50's, 60's and early 70's, there was much talk in Darmstadt, Germany and in French intellectual circles about how this could be done in music.  How much of musical tradition could or should be destroyed, to make way for something genuinely new?  How could the new music transcend, cancel out what was old in music, while still preserving something that would be carried over in the future.   Boulez, Adorno, Stockhausen, Pousseur, John Cage, Ligeti, Xenakis, Penderecki, Bruno Maderna and many others were involved in this debate/discussion about the future of music, and how many rules could or should be broken or reformulated, with regard to melodic content, rules of harmony, rhythm, tempo, timbre, orchestration, etc.


    So …  (whether I succeed or not) …  my goal was to synthesize some of the oppositions that I mentioned:  for instance, the opposition between Western atonal music and Chinese traditional music as separate sound universes; the opposition between Cantonese opera and the Arabic Azan as an art (the Islamic call to prayer), and so on.   I attempt to blend and synthesize and unite very diverse elements or universes of sound, but in addition to my limited ability to succeed in doing so, there is also the problem that these cultures (Western culture, Chinese culture and Islamo-Arabic culture) are still very, very distinct and almost impossible to bring together in a comprehensive unity.   That's the problem, on the one hand, which is juxtaposed to the very insistent fact that these cultures (along with African culture, East Indian culture, so called primitive culture and so called ultra-modern mechanized culture) all live in immediate proximity, where they are right on top of each other in a fragmented ad hoc global culture which is virtually impossible to ignore.  It becomes more and more impossible to ignore, year by year.  This is what partly impels my search for a new synthesis.


    (P.S. On the books, I am happy that you are reading the McHard book, and I am not necessarily recommending the Campbell, since it may only be of interest to a small number of people.  But McHard's book is precious to me. It helped me to discover, or rediscover, or re-explore modern and contemporary music, in such a way that it inspired me more than any other single verbal influence, to launch myself into the world of composition, full of hope, appreciation and admiration for virtually all composers that have sought to be original and ground breaking, since the time of Mahler and Janacek up to the present moment.)

  • O-man, would you agree that, as a micro-cultural event,

    rock and roll for example, evolved as a synthesis of

    cultures? I doubt that the scholars and prophets of the

    day could have predicted it's birth and popularity.

    The crucible for such revolutions of synthesis and

    change, it seems, is the hearts and minds of the youth.

    It will be interesting to see just how rapidly new blends

    of music will develope now that the internet has opened

    a 'bridge' of awareness and exchange to everyone.

    ...or will the majority choose to preserve their own

      cultural and unique identity of expression?   RS

  • Hello Roger,

    You said,

    "O-man, would you agree that, as a micro-cultural event,

    rock and roll for example, evolved as a synthesis of



    In some ways, I could agree with that.  Sure.


     "I doubt that the scholars and prophets of the

    day could have predicted it's birth and popularity."


    That's true.  Boulez argued that predicting the rise of individuals who would alter the course of music was all but impossible, in spite of what anyone might say about movements and new schools or cultural currents.


    "The crucible for such revolutions of synthesis and

    change, it seems, is the hearts and minds of the youth."


    That appears to be almost axiomatic.



    "It will be interesting to see just how rapidly new blends

    of music will develop now that the internet has opened

    a 'bridge' of awareness and exchange to everyone.

    ...or will the majority choose to preserve their own

      cultural and unique identity of expression? "


    Yes, I agree.


    This will happen rapidly, and in many arenas.  I think the notion of people "preserving their own cultures" and the idea of an evolving "global culture" (a part of a "cultural synthesis") will develop together in tandem.



  • I like this piece a lot, I like how you manipulated the quotations in the way that you did. It reminds me a lot of Berio's Symphonia for 8 voices and orchestra in a good way. 

    Only critic is that I felt it was very static throughout, wish their was more contrast in the compositional process versus just the quotations used. 

  • Thanks, Tyler, for your comments.

    I don't know the Berio piece you are referring to, but I will look it up and try to listen to it.

    A question about your observation that "it was very static throughout."

    I need to think about that.  Did you mean static in terms of dynamics, texture, density, pitch values or some other factor?   More contrast in terms of the compositional process, you said.  Perhaps you could elaborate on that point just a bit, if you don't mind.

    Thanks for your opinion, which I greatly value.

  • ---

    Hello Susan.

    Thank you for your continued interest in the composition.

    What does one listen for, in a piece such as this?  I will offer a few specifics first, and then a generality, describing the activity of emotional and intellectual faculties.


    You will notice the piece starts with a very simple South African song based on a Biblical verse (sung in the Xhosa language, which was Nelson Mandela's native tongue).  There is a quiet underlying cello vibrato along with a violin tremolo.  A few Western percussion instruments sound:  cymbals, snare drum, triangle.  The song itself is filtered through a kind of resonance chamber.


    At about 0:38:   you'll hear some electronic music, which creates the first strong dialectical tension, between the "simple" African melody and a "complex" modern electronic Western musical idiom, which appears, disappears, and reappears throughout.  This is, of course, something disruptive to simplicity, and somewhat disturbing; however, there is an immediate counter to this in the arrival of a vibrant and lively Chinese violin melody (at 0:47).   Several new tensions arise almost immediately after that.  One is an East Indian classical music singer, presenting very stable, long lasting deliberately sustained notes.  (0:56).  Then one hears the Internationale sung in German, accompanied by radio static.   These melodies provide something of a grounding effect.


    The Indian song, the Internationale and the Chinese violin melody can all be heard at the same time, each with its distinct musical features like polyphonic lines in a Bach prelude or fugue, though we would designate this "polysonority" rather than polyphony, since the sound sources, harmonic devices and interactions are all very distinct and distant from one another, although unified.  There are usually no more than three or four distinct sound sources playing at once.


    At 1:26, the East Indian voice is artificially raised to an impossibly high pitch, and accompanied by an atonal Western orchestral musical flourish.


    So we have seen in the first minute and a half of the work allusions, quotations from several widely divergent cultures, to hint at the possible synthesis implied by Hegel's philosophy, and metaphysicians of musicology, such as Theodore Adorno and Rene Leibowitz.     


    What does one listen for?  The listening activity during the piece is (partly) one where one enters into a possible state of emotional receptivity, where the juxtaposition of divergent elements seems natural or possible, or even necessary in our globalized culture; and the listening activity is also partly intellectual, in that one simply recognizes or identifies the various strains and observes how they flow into and away from one another, as the musical lines of a partita or any polyphonic piece of music.  I don't know if the effect is as I intended, but the effect I propose is possible, at least in theory.   Synthesis occurs only in the mind of the listener, perhaps, as a chosen attitude, or maybe synthesis is rejected as impossible—depending on the feelings and attitudes of the listeners to the specific content and the way the material is combined.  Some of the combinations are deliberately humorous, or satirical of the whole notion being proposed, since it is somewhat beyond the ken of any modern philosophy of culture to expect a whole and unified aesthetic totality can be achieved in this way.








  • Thank you Susan, for listening again.   I am glad my notes were somewhat helpful.


    " … my listening included both the emotional and intellectual elements you mentioned, it's just the synthesis aspect that eludes me."


    I think the actual and successful synthesis I am contemplating may be impossible during our time.  


    "I don't think it's impossible to achieve, or that you didn't achieve it, but other than identifying the separate lines, noting the humor and satire, and enjoying the various juxtapositions, I didn't experience a unified aesthetic."


    It probably cannot be totally unified, because the cultural and tonal elements are simply too diverse. (Aside from the fact of my own limited abilities to achieve it).  I am thinking, Bach managed, either naturally or very deliberately to synthesize Italian and Germanic elements and approaches to musical sound that were not so unified prior to his era, and helped lay the basis for what we normally consider to be "Western Classical Music."


    I think Russian composers, like Glazunov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky synthesized Russian modes of thinking and expression with Western orchestral techniques, to create a partial synthesis of East and West.  Ippolitov-Ivanov and Khachaturian created the orchestral synthesis of Central Asian and West European symphonic sound. More modern composers have sought to go beyond that, with relative degrees of success. Messiaen, Scelsi, Stockhausen, Takemitsu, Cage and many other moderns have attempted in various ways from various angles to synthesize Western and Indian, Western and Tibetan, Western and Sino-Japanese modes of expression.   Julio Estrada tries to bring together Aztec and Nahuatl Indian musical elements into a blend with ultra-avant-garde sound based composition techniques. 


    Miqi'Nahual (double-bass) - Julio Estrada – Ehecaquiahuitl


    I don't discount the promise that such an approach offers, though I think many people here don't like the result.  A total synthesis of Sub-Saharan, Arabic, Modern Western, Classical, Electronic, East Indian, Chinese vocal and instrumental music is perhaps premature at this point in cultural history, except possibly as a pastiche or sound collage, which is less than I would wish for.


    "It's probably because I have a pre-conceived notion of what that might sound like. Not that I can describe it, just that I'm guessing it is there and has to do with my Western sensibilities, and my limited knowledge of modern music."


    Those of us who are "Westerners" (by birth, ancestry and life experience) are bound to think in this way, for the most part.  I find that through composing I am partially able to alter my own perceptions of what "Western-ness" and Eastern-ness are.  That's why this past week, I wished people a "Happy Easter," a "Happy Wester," and "Happy Norther," and a "Happy Souther," just to avoid geographical ethnocentrism.   Everything "outside of ourselves" came in at some point, including "Western" sound sensations and associated perceptions.  The more we work with and try to internalize various sounds and types of music, the more they become a part of "us."  I believe that's what human history in general, and cultural history in particular—most especially musical history—is largely about.

  • I loved the idea, and have been thinking of similar concepts (although, more "musical" and unified than what you went for) for a while now. 

    Although the execution was at least adequate (and at some points, pretty damn good), I think it could be better. The contrast wasn't always evident, and the techniques used could be further explored and developed. 

  • Thanks for your comments, Spiros.


    I appreciate both your positive comments and your critique.


    Yes, there is much here that could have been improved.


    It's an experiment, and with an experiment, one is always learning.


    I hope to continue to learn.


    'I loved the idea, and have been thinking of similar concepts (although, more "musical" and unified than what you went for) for a while now.'



    I look forward to hearing your project.



  • Thank you, Bob Porter, for your very kind and generous remarks about this particular piece (even though I know it is not exactly your "cup of tea.")


    I appreciate all your remarks, and they give me some insight.  Whether every aspect of the piece is "by design," I am not sure.   The ebb and flow, as you call it, is something I strove to create, to give the piece variety, and the textures and tonal frameworks were deliberately put at variance.  The "pounding" was very often a function of the chosen material, though perhaps I could have varied the tempo more. (Some of the better "pounding" came from quotations of Tyler Hugh's own piece, for piano and saxophone, on "Folk Melodies," part 3, one of his nicest works.  He has a superb sense of rhythm and melody. I was happy that when I asked him, he consented to allow me to use  bits of that work to create one the sound textures.)   


    This piece, all things taken together, has a sort of life of its own, that I practically could not control (in certain ways), and the tempo was basically designed to begin slow, speed up noticeably, and then slow down towards the end.   For technical reasons (given the way I used the tempo automation settings), that aspect was difficult to alter in individual areas.  (I did discover, quite oddly, that high and low in pitch, are actually suggestive of fast and slow in tempo, even when speed is not altered—so that high pitched melodies appear to sound faster than low pitched melodies, even when played at the same speed; and that moving from high tone note sequences to lower tone note sequences SOUNDS LIKE slowing down, even when technically or in reality the speed does not change at all.  Maybe that's just common sense and obvious to many people, but for me it was something I learned here).


    I have not considered how this could be made into a "video project" yet; though I take your suggestion very seriously, and I usually do try to create visual accompaniment.  If you have any ideas (or if any visual images came to your mind while you listened), I would be very eager to hear what they were, since it might inspire me to turn the whole thing into a video, before I post it on youtube.


    Your comments on such specifics, the structure of music and the relationship between concept and execution (and between sound and image) are always useful and very welcome.


    Thanks.  I greatly appreciate what you have said.

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