(compMus2) Some thoughts about composition

in no particular order…

Interesting compositions tend to have more than one layer of activity going on at any given time. In traditional acoustic classical music we may think of this as harmony and melody, but it could also include multiple contrapuntal lines, or a slow background harmonic movement, a middle ground harmonic accompaniment. For our purposes, strive to have at least two layers of activity.

One easy way to create layers of activity that relate to each other compositionally is to use the same sounds at different rates of playback speed, and/or with different signal processes/effects. Different rates of playback speed can give you a slow background texture for one layer, along with a more foreground gestural and active layer. 

Think gesturally. Gestures have beginnings, middles, and ends. Put another way, they start, do something, and end. Think about gestures graphically, as having a shape that changes over time. This allows you to sketch out your thoughts in simple graphic terms on paper. 

Interesting musical textures and interesting musical gestures often are comprised of more than one sound combined to produce an interesting composite. The combination process can be horizontal, vertical, or both.

Interesting music tends to have a rhetorical nature. Elements (such as gestures) repeat themselves. This repetition can be with or without variation, but usually variation leads to some type of progression (forward movement) within a piece. The idea of a sonic refrain (material that returns often) with variation can be very helpful in organizing your work. 

Think about your work in four dimensions. Panning, or placement in the stereo field, is a two-dimensional operation. Adding reverberation to provide a sense of distance, or depth-of-field, provides a third dimension. Frequency content, the overall spectrum of your work, provides a fourth dimension. Moving from high to low (or reverse) frequency content sounds, in gradual or sudden terms can be an effective large scale organizer for your work. Other ways to think about this parameter is in terms of density: lots of frequencies present across a range, as opposed to frequency content that is more minimal and/or spread more diffusely across a range.


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