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Old 09-22-2008, 08:09 PM   #1
Archeo Avis
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Archeo's Composition Experiment #1

The Introduction

My method of composition would likely be considered unusual by most of you. I've never been a fan of inspiration. Instead, I like to to take a more hands on approach. Before I even begin writing I develop a clear and detailed idea in my head of the type of mood and atmosphere I want to create or communicate with a piece of music. I've gone so far as to plat graphs detailing the rise and fall of tension and other aspects of the music throughout the song. Afterward, I'll start deciding on something slightly more concrete, like the structure of the piece, or the method I'll use to develop the main theme (which I generally haven't written yet). Only once I have the entire structure of the song planned out will I add the "decorations" like melody. The structure, the key(s), the time signatures(s), the rise and fall of tension, the length, and even the title are all chosen before I even begin to write.

The reason I do this is simple: When given the option of doing anything, I tend to do nothing. Working inside of a box keeps me focused and centered on what I'm trying to achieve with a particular work. Beyond this, it allows you to strongly develop both skill as a composer, and a unique style because you're forced to develop unconventional ways of utilizing various aspects of the piece. It's not uncommon for me to force myself to use musical concepts in strange or compositionally challenging ways, such as the use of lydian for a particularly sad piece (see Steve Vai's I Know You're Here), or rapid modulation through distant keys in a way that doesn't sound jarring.

The Inspiration

Some time ago I learned of an experiment in which Jordan Rudess challenged members of his forum to provide him each with several notes. Rudess would then take all of the notes received, in order, and compose with them. The result can be seen here. Being a fan of compositional boxes, my response to this was "why not force myself into an even smaller box, only instead of a box, it's some horribly constructed, jagged, arbitrary, three dimensional object, in which, if you stare long enough, you can see your own death?". Thus began the beginning.

I petitioned various individuals in the chat forum to send me, each of them, a single note. Unfortunately, I overestimated their lack of social lives and was only graced with four notes (more like twenty, but around seventeen of them were Bb). I took matters into my own hands and assigned each face of a 12-sided die a note of the chromatic scale. Six rolls later, and I had my ten note phrase (ten was arbitrary decided). I then used that same die to select a time signature, a subdivision, as well as various other aspects of the piece. The goal was to force myself to create something tasteful out of components that don't make any Goddamn sense. And then, it came to me...

The Point

There have been a number of threads recently all centered around the question "how do I compose?". I initially thought it would be a good idea to detail my approach to this little experiment, both psychologically and theoretically. I thought it would be education to have a thread where people could ask questions and throw ideas back and forth about the composition of a particular work. I would detail my approach to each section, and anyone with any questions or ideas could come forward with them, and they could be discussed as a group. But then I had a much more unbelievably awesome idea...

The Challenge

I challenge anyone interested to put themselves in an identical horribly constructed, jagged, arbitrary, three dimensional object, in which, if you stare long enough, you can see your own death. The purpose? To see how others approach composing within the same, limiting criteria. I honestly don't think that there is anyone on this forum that can't learn something from this.

The challenge is simple: I have constructed (in either a random or arbitrary fashion) a very rigid skeleton of a piece of music. This skeleton describes melody, meter, structure, and many other elements. Your task is simple: Compose, and detail the way you approached every little aspect of that composition. Through a combination of stream of consciousness ranting and standard notation (or tab, it really doesn't matter), explain why you did what you did, and ask others why they did what they did. There is no time limit, nor are you even required to complete the work. You can take part for as long (or as briefly) as you like. All I ask is that you abide my the criteria, and explain how you approached the composition.

The Rules

I had initially created guideline pertaining to every small detail of the work; after some thought, I decided to relax my standards and instead present you with a more general diagram, as well as a few more "abstract" suggestions. So, here is the box...

Form

The work will be in a mutation of ternary form: ABA. Generally, this consists of two very nearly identical sections separated by a contrasting one. We'll be doing something a little different. The work will consist of two sections (A and B) in contrasting styles. How these styles contrast is entirely up to you. If you want two heavy metal epics broken up by a ballad, go for it. If you want two stately classical symphonies broken up by meticulously composed baroque counterpoint, that is perfectly fine. How you want to separate the sections is also up you, whether you want to compose them as separate movements entirely, or as contrasting sections of the same piece. The rules I do have are as follows:

The main theme, which will be discussed next, must be introduced and developed in the first section. How you do this is entirely up to you. I was initially going to specify a key, but I soon became interested in seeing how each of you would treat such a highly chromatic melody. As such, should your music be tonal, I leave the key up to you.

The second section, in a contrasting style, has few guidelines. If you music is tonal, it must be in a key different than the first movement. If it is modal, it must be in a different mode. If it is atonal, it must utilize a different permutation of the theme. However, as this is not a suite, but rather one singular work, a sense of unity must be maintained through this and all movements. This is to be done by reintroducing the main theme in some new form. As to what this new form is, I leave that up to you.

The final movement should mirror the first and should be the ultimate result of the development you've been doing over the rest of the work. The main theme should return in similar form to the first movement, fully developed. I won't say anything more about it.

Theme

The main theme of the work must consist of the notes...

A
A#
B
D
G#
A
C
G#
F#
F

... in that order. In the process of developing the theme, however, it is entirely permissible to utilize other permutations of this "tone row" of sorts (permutation, inversion, etc). A Wikipedia search of "Schoenberg" or "tone row" should tell you all you need to know about this concept. As for how you treat these notes: I leave that up to you. You may base it on any key you wish, or no key at all. You may treat some of the notes as passing tones, or take a much more chromatic approach. Keep in mind that those notes dictate the melody. You may approach the underlying harmony in any way you see fit.

Hint: Before choosing a key, pay close attention to the chromatic tones you are creating. Those spare notes may be flat fifths in one key and major sevenths in another. Carefully consider the sound you are looking for.

Various miscellaneous

These are, as the title suggests, various miscellaneous points that you may approach in whatever way you see fit.

- If the work is tonal, it must make use of both major and minor keys. If it is modal, it must make use of both a major and a minor mode. If it is atonal, it must make use of at least one other permutation of the main theme.
- It must make use of both simple and compound time signatures.
- Regarding instrumentation: There is no requirement.
- Regarding genre: There is no requirement

You could conceivably switch to a compound meter for a bar and then spend the rest of the piece in 4/4, or open in a minor key and then spend the rest of the work in major, or something similar. There is no grading, and I can't stop you from writing, so feel free to do this if you must, but I would really consider it cheating yourself. The purpose of this is, after all, to challenge yourself as a composer.

<Continued>
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmac72187
Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.

Last edited by Archeo Avis : 12-09-2008 at 05:47 AM.
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Old 09-22-2008, 08:10 PM   #2
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The Abstract

I'm not going to try to tell you what to convey with this piece, since that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. I am, however, going to share some of my more abstract thought processes during the writing process. A composition, for me, very often begins with a title, or a mental image. These are usually selected long before the writing process itself begins. I'm in the process (and have been for a number of years now) of composing a piece that I've affectionately called "Lost on a Train of Thought". The story behind this is a boring one: A good number of years ago, when I was only beginning to study music theory, I started a practice of forcing myself to apply every new I learned in a musical concept. In this instance, I was becoming familiar with chord construction and forced myself to come up with an interesting melody composed entirely of various arpeggios. I managed to come up with something vaguely interesting, and I wrote it down and forgot about it.

A long while later, I was creating title for various hypothetical works and came up with "Train of Thought". It was, like all of my titles, chosen strictly for the aesthetic quality of the words. Rather than thinking "What does this title mean?" I tend to think "When I am pronouncing these words, what does their sound suggest, independent of their meaning?". I very quickly decided on the overall mood of the piece. In considering the structure, and this runs contrary to most of my other work, I actually did develop something that was appropriate considering the title (this was coincidental). I decided on a very long piece in a non-repeating form, in which a series of themes, only vaguely related, would appear, one after another, before a peaceful and anticlimactic finish. The structure would, in a sense, resemble a "train of thought". Making this work in a way that allowed the song to progress without become tedious and boring is another subject entirely. The principal theme of this work, and the one that sets the tone for every other theme to follow, was, in fact, taken verbatim from my earlier arpeggio exercise. This melody became not only the basis of my theme, by one of the pieces many underlying chord progressions as well.

In creating that progression from that melody, I was forced to expand the concept and create a number of new themes that both extended logically from that progression and blended smoothly with it, even when modulating to distantly related modes and keys. The nature of the work did not allow me the liberty of simply introducing new material. I was forced to take a short and simple theme and expand it in a was both capable of filling over ten minutes of music, and musically interesting. The work is still not complete (though I do have it planned out in its entirety), but sitting down and working on it is still, by far, the most difficult compositional task I've ever had, and every time I do, I'm forced to apply concepts that should have long since become boring in the work in new and, frankly, strange ways. That is the entire point of this exercise.

I'm going to leave you with something vague and abstract to consider when writing. This is something completely subjective and unenforceable, so it can't be classified as a "rule". It's merely something you might want to think about.

In planning out how I was going to approach this work, I found myself attempting to summarize the atmosphere I was attempting to create with a single word (again, with their aesthetic quality, not literal meaning). I came up with the following...

Movement 1: Hall
Movement 2: Orion
Movement 3: Castlevania (you heard me)

I encourage you to try doing the same. If not with words, than with some other abstraction. It's something to keep in mind and keep you on track.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmac72187
Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.

Last edited by Archeo Avis : 09-23-2008 at 03:52 AM.
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Old 09-22-2008, 08:11 PM   #3
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I'm going to detail my own thought process in this post. It will be updated as I see fit. If there are any questions at all, feel free to ask.

<Entry I> I've decided that a good place to begin is with the notes I've been given. I've made a lead sheet with Sibelius consisting of the sequence of notes, in order, as well as various permutations and inversions. I'll upload this later today for anyone who may find it useful. There are two things you should know about transcriptions of my work: One, I very rarely use key signatures. Two, notes are meant to be played as written. I do not (or not always, and not in this case) use natural signs to cancel out earlier accidentals. If a note is meant to be played sharp, it will be labeled as sharp. If it isn't, it won't.

Working with the notes was difficult at first, and hearing them without context was nothing short of unpleasant, but after developing the skeleton of a progression and hearing them in a rough context, I've stumbled upon an interpretation that not only sounds acceptable, but borders on pleasant. I'm having some difficulty dealing with the two final notes, the F# and F, but I think I've thought of a way to make my quirky time signature work to my advantage by using both those notes and the beat as a sort of "transition" back to the beginning of the theme. As for the "process", there's not much to be said. At this early stage, all I've really done is improvised with the melody. Once my recording gear is up and running, I'll post a soundclip.
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Originally Posted by jmac72187
Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.

Last edited by Archeo Avis : 09-23-2008 at 09:16 PM.
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Old 09-22-2008, 08:27 PM   #4
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this looks higly interesting... I might try it, but I doubt if I'll get very far
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Old 09-22-2008, 08:31 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The4thHorsemen
this looks higly interesting... I might try it, but I doubt if I'll get very far


It's not a competition (despite my explicitly describing it as a competition). The purpose is just to force people to approach songwriting a different way and maybe help people on the way to composing their own work. You're not obligated to see it through to the end, nor will you be "graded" if you do. I encourage even the people who don't participate to keep track of what everyone is doing and ask questions.
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Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.
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Old 09-22-2008, 08:46 PM   #6
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Applause!

I was just browsing UG for some new information, Jordan Rudess'ess compositional technique does indeed look interesting, if you make any changes, or definatley additions, you couldent PM me so I dont miss out on anything?

However, if you dont mind me being a bit of an ass (you are after all )

You might want to correct this sentance "Instead, I like to to take a more hands on"

and

"I've gone so far as to plat graphs"

In the inrtoduction, other than that, I see absolutley no grammatical errors.

Im not a grammar nazi, just caught my eye.

I would definatley like to participate (is that an option?) Ive only just got the information, and will read it in class

I (for one) am definatley looking forward to your analysis.

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Old 09-22-2008, 08:50 PM   #7
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I'll be interested in reading it, but won't be participating - I'm working on other songs at the moment. I could write some stuff about them if it's got a place in this thread
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Old 09-22-2008, 08:53 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by ∆nimus Prime
I could write some stuff about them if it's got a place in this thread


Couldn't hurt. Just make sure to mention that the songs are unrelated to my horribly constructed, jagged, arbitrary, three dimensional object, in which, if you stare long enough, you can see your own death.
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Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.
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Old 09-22-2008, 08:56 PM   #9
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Fantastic! Highly interesting. I'll be checking in here often. Good luck.
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Old 09-22-2008, 08:57 PM   #10
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So, Im a little puzzled.

The challange is to compose a peice, based on your idea.

Taking random notes from random people, choosing the order at random, using something un-predictable to decide the meter, key, ect.

And force yourself to create inside a box, so it gets you used to working with that you have, than post it here?

You could definatley do a a lot of things concerning numbers.

Clocks, Phone Numbers, I.P adresses, Die (as you stated), Coin Flip, ect
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Old 09-22-2008, 09:01 PM   #11
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Everyone uses the same criteria. The notes are...

A
A#
B
D
G#
A
C
G#
F#
F

...in that order. I will post the rules in-depth later tonight.
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Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.
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Old 09-22-2008, 10:02 PM   #12
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I'll give it a go sounds interesting and challenging. I've already started playing around with making the notes work together. Can't wait for the rest of the rules. hopefully they're not too restricting.
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Old 09-22-2008, 10:05 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by 20Tigers
Can't wait for the rest of the rules. hopefully they're not too restricting.


To give you a taste, the main theme of the work must utilize those notes, in that order, in 10/4 time, subdivided as 4+3+3. I'm considering dropping the subdivision requirement, though. I've set up extremely rigid requirements for myself, but I'll probably make some slightly less insane for everyone else. The rest of you can set up whatever framework you see fit beyond what I give you. I'll have the definitive rules up later tonight.
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Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.

Last edited by Archeo Avis : 09-22-2008 at 10:12 PM.
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Old 09-22-2008, 11:10 PM   #14
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Notes: A A# B D G# A C G# F# F
Time Signature: 10/4
Sub-Dividing: 4 + 3 + 3

Hmm, can I ask how you decided the order.

Im not trying to be an arse or anything, quite the opposite, but what IS there to be learned in doing this, Im not trying to suggest that there isnt anything, but I cant particularly see any musican skill to be gained here, other than trial and error.
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Old 09-23-2008, 12:42 AM   #15
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This should be awesome. When you write the graphs detailing the emotion of the piece and the titles of the sections, do you usually think of these in a story sense with maybe a basic story line?

If I were to compose like that I would find it difficult to relate and draw inspiration from if there was no narrative or story line. I find that it's tough to relate to an emotional piece if there is nothing behind it.
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Old 09-23-2008, 12:48 AM   #16
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I guess I wonder how creative we can really get, considering were all using the same notes, in the same order, with the same meter, with the same phrase of meter.

Obviously we wont come out with the same song (yeah right) but how creative can we get the only things that can be varied are

- The Phrasing and Rhythm

- The Harmonies we put with the Melodic aspects of the line

- The other istruments

- Instrumentation

- Polyrhythm

Just a side note to you Archeo: When you compose, do you know exactally how it will sound, before you play it, put it into GP whatever.

How do you know what it will sound like, can you melodically sing all intervals you write? Can you simply hear it in your head.

How much of a detailed story line do you write to a composition?

I would really appreciate it if you could write a detailed analysis of what you do & how you do it when composing, in hopes that by doing it myself, I could gain more satisfaction with my compositions.
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Old 09-23-2008, 12:51 AM   #17
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ok, unless someone can explain 10/4 time sig in a way I can get it in my head, I'm demoting myself to spectator.

also, what does subdivided mean?
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Old 09-23-2008, 01:04 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by The4thHorsemen
ok, unless someone can explain 10/4 time sig in a way I can get it in my head, I'm demoting myself to spectator.
I think thats the same same as 5/4?

So your whole bar would count like this: One Two One Two Three One Two One Two Three. Stressed beats at all the ones, so somehow arrange your notes so that the most consonant notes to your accompaniment land on the ones.

I'm also demoting myself to a spectator. I dont believe in this box. But I also dont believe in musical freedom and I dont believe you can write effective melodies/time signatures from a pair of dice. I do believe I can learn something from this though.
In a week of so I'll write a lesson/article on writing single melodic lines which will explain why.

To give you a taste, that melody lacks a strong resolution. Semitonal movement down is quite weak compared to semitonal movement upwards or tonal movement down, but stronger than a disjunt movement. Melodies need movement, purpose, resolution, intelligence, repetitve without sounding obnoxious and they need to be meticulous.

Carry on though. I'm very interested in these proceedings and I am willing to help anyone that asks for help.
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Old 09-23-2008, 01:14 AM   #19
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Galvanise, I guess either join in or wait and see what happens - you're kind of on a negative vibe man.

The4thHorsemnan, Ten Four time is ten quarter notes to the measure. It's pretty long so is subdivided so that it is easier to count. In this case it is subdivided to 4+3+3. This means for each measure you would count I assume with the accents falling on the first fifth and eighth quarter notes of the measure. So you would count...
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 1 + 2 + 3 +

I have no experience writing or playing in ten four time. I have pretty much only written in four four, six eight, and three four time to date but I'm up for a challenge.

I have done the same thing when writing - plotting graphs on how I want the song to build in tension. When I read Archeo say he did that I was like "haha I haven't done that in ages!". I don't know how archeo does it but I never used a story per se. It is more of an expression of feeling, a story that can't be put into words. I got the idea by listening Pink Floyd and Radiohead loud with the lights off while I was high and loved the way they would make the music swell, build intensity, and really take you on a journey with the song. I wanted to do this and started drawing visual representations of how a song could progress - a kind of time line. I haven't done this in ages and at the time I did was a very poor musician so didn't have the skills to bring my ideas to reality. I think I will have to dig out my old notebooks and revisit my old ideas.
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Old 09-23-2008, 01:42 AM   #20
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After some thought, I've decided to relax the guidelines slightly. The notes are non-negotiable, since that was the whole point of the experiment in the first place, but I'm going to be less anal about things like the subdivision of the time signatures, which is, admittedly, absurd. I'm writing up the guidelines right now, and I think most will agree that it affords more than enough room for creative interpretation. I, myself, will remain inside my tiny little box, since the the origin of this experiment was a desire to challenge myself in the most extreme way possible.
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Someones knowledge of guitar companies spelling determines what amps you can own. Really smart people can own things like Framus because they sound like they might be spelled with a "y" but they aren't.
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