I'm interested in the process of serialising elements of music other than pitch, like rhythm, articulation, meter or tempo, and how this was accomplished by post-WWII composers like Pierre Boulez. Is there a standard process for writing an integral serialist piece, or is it down to the composer? Are all the different elements of the piece related somehow, or are they all serialised separately?
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inb4 Erc says dumb shit about something.

The questions your asking are good questions and they're the same questions that post-WWII serialists asked themselves. How to serialize more elements than just notes, which elements to serialize and how to, or if they should, relate them with the rest of the piece.

I'll throw out some examples (which I admittedly had to check out from my book).
1) Babbit - Three Compositions for Piano
This is an example of a really simple version where basically all he does is relate each row form (P R I RI) with a different dynamic level. For rhythm he used a number series that adds to 12 (5 1 4 2) as a rhythmic series. He transformed it in the normal row transformations (he inverted by subtracting each number from 6) and used it either by grouping notes by rhythmic or volume accent or using a base rhythmic value. Barely integral serialism, but it still is.

2) Boulez - Structures 1a
You'll have to look this up yourself cause there's no way I'm writing it all out. This is really the prime example of full-on European integral serialism. Everything is serialized (pitch, rhythm, dynamics, articulation and even row choice).

3) Luigi Nono - Il Canto Sospeso
Here he has a rhythmic row of twelve numbers and four "strands." Each strand uses the same rhythmic row, but a different base rhythmic value. The rhythmic row is:
``1 2 3 5 8 13 13 8 5 3 2 1``

And the strands use 8th, triplet 8th, sixteenth, quintuplet sixteenth. He starts all the strands simultaneously, but runs all of them through the same rhythmic row. That means that the first four durations which are started in four different voices simultaneously are 1/8th, 2 eighth triplets tied, 3 sixteenths tied and 5 quintuplet sixteenths tied (1 2 3 5 with each number being part of a different strand).

4) I can't remember who did this, it might've been Babbit, but it's called the time point series. Basically you take the integer row, say 0 3 11 4 1 2 8 10 5 9 7 for example, and each number represents the nth x note of the bar. So if you uses 8ths, the 0 would be on the zeroth eighth note, the 3 would be on the 3rd and so on and you'd build your rhythm that way. The other common way to deal with rhythm we've already seen, use each number as the number of base rhythmic values grouped together.

I hope that shed some light on the possibilities. There's a million different degrees and directions to integral serialism ,it's just about where and how far you want to go.
I don't know what music theory is.

inb4 Erc says dumb shit about something.

Whatever. I'm pretty sure it is all serialized separately which is against my musical philosophy (if the work of art is to have meaning, then it must be complete in its conception.). The method by which serialism is achieved tends to be unique to the composer if it is to be any good or if it is to acquire uniqueness. The Boulez method jazz_rock_feel mentioned however is pretty good as far as serialism is concerned so good luck. Just please, if you write serialistic music, please avoid the 'random factor' in the creation of your tone rows... good music is to have meaning and randomness tends to destroy that.

EDIT --> The creation of good serialism usually relies on the music being almost puzzle like, or mathematical, in nature (the fun in listening to it is in figuring out the cogs of the machine which has been developed, so to speak.)
Last edited by Erc at Jul 7, 2013,
Quote by jazz_rock_feel

2) Boulez - Structures 1a
You'll have to look this up yourself cause there's no way I'm writing it all out. This is really the prime example of full-on European integral serialism. Everything is serialized (pitch, rhythm, dynamics, articulation and even row choice).

I think I remember my tutor saying this piece was the first truly serial piece, fairly certain.
Thanks for the response JRF, very interesting stuff.

Erc, I'm not really interested at the moment what makes 'good' serial music, that discussion doesn't seem like it would be a particularly fruitful one. I'm interested in the techniques used.
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Quote by griffRG7321
I think I remember my tutor saying this piece was the first truly serial piece, fairly certain.

It's super serial.

You could make an argument it wasn't the first because Messiaen and Babbit were doing similar things before him, and Stockhausen and other Darmstadt peeps were dabbling in it earlier. But in terms of complete and utter serialization of everything, it's definitely one of the earliest examples.
I don't know what music theory is.

Erc, I'm not really interested at the moment what makes 'good' serial music, that discussion doesn't seem like it would be a particularly fruitful one. I'm interested in the techniques used.

Well, rolling a d12 and wearing a wizardy hat isn't a bad idea =) (jk). In all seriousness, "modulations" (i use the term loosely here.) up a #5 can be very common in good serialism. Also, assigning pitches to colors and then looking at a picture can be a good means by which you can make a good tone row (but follow your intuition when you assign the pitches, you still want to avoid randomness).
I know how twelve tone music works, basically. The question is about the serialisation of other elements of music. And as far as I know Schoenberg usually uses the transposition of the row up six semitones as the 'dominant' form of the row (If you look at the Prelude to the op. 25 Piano Suite, it starts off with a statement of the row in the right hand with E as the start note, and then about half a measure the left hand comes in with the row transposed to B flat), which is the equivalent of a diminished fifth or an augmented fourth, not an augmented fifth (These functional names don't really work with twelve tone music but you know what I mean).

Also basing the notes of the row on the colours in a picture seems as arbitrary as rolling a dice to work out the order of notes. There's no definitive way of producing a tone row which is effective as a means of generating musical material, but usually there's some kind of musical thinking behind the constitution of the row, whether it's just that the row is constituted of a trichord/tetrachord/hexachord and it's inversion, retrograde or retrograde inversion, or that the row contains a quote, like the beginning of the Bach Chorale melody at the end of the row in Berg's Violin Sonata, or the BACH motif (Bb-A-C-B) which can be derived from the inversion of the last tetrachord in Schoenberg's piano suite.
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Last edited by Nietsche at Jul 7, 2013,
Quote by Erc
Well, rolling a d12 and wearing a wizardy hat isn't a bad idea =) (jk). In all seriousness, "modulations" (i use the term loosely here.) up a #5 can be very common in good serialism. Also, assigning pitches to colors and then looking at a picture can be a good means by which you can make a good tone row (but follow your intuition when you assign the pitches, you still want to avoid randomness).

Why are you stuck on the idea of randomness? Very few composers sought randomness in their music and very few used randomness as a compositional tool. The serialists, whether pre- or post-WWII were some of the most, if not the most, structural and formal thinkers in music history. They're about as far from randomness as you can get.
I don't know what music theory is.

I find that when dealing with serialism, it's much easier to fall into randomness then when composing in more traditional idioms. In fact, serialism is the only musical idiom I know where randomness can actually be accepted as artistically valid.
You personally find it's easier to fall into randomness, or in general? Because all I can say is I've analyzed a quite a few serial piece from various composers and I've never encountered any level of randomness that I can recall. I've also never heard anyone say that a) serialist composers used chance with any frequency or b) that chance isn't artistically valid.
I don't know what music theory is.

serialism is no more random than counterpoint. it's a series of combinations based on a set number of restrictions that solidify its composition as a legitimate technique of artistic expression and academic exploration.

i don't understand why you're afraid of everything you can't comprehend. i lament the mention of atonality just as much as modes or whatever else grinds my gears when it comes to fundamental education, but if someone like nietsche (who has a demonstable grasp of theory and is studying it at university) was to ask 'hey what else can i do with this obscure technique' i'm not gonna say 'don't waste your time' because i don't find personal value in that form of understanding or expression through that understanding, especially if i'm not well-versed on the subject myself.

it's not an ego thing. it's not an excuse to purport the illegitimacy of a form of art. it's a simple question, and it's remarkable that a thread wherein the second post tells you to humble yourself is the medium by which you choose to live up to the reputation you're trying to refute

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You personally find it's easier to fall into randomness, or in general? Because all I can say is I've analyzed a quite a few serial piece from various composers and I've never encountered any level of randomness that I can recall. I've also never heard anyone say that a) serialist composers used chance with any frequency or b) that chance isn't artistically valid.

Well, if you watched the video he posted not too long ago in that thread about serialism, you can notice that she builds a tone row by pulling cards out of a hat. Since he's watched that and since she passes it off as a legitimate method of composition, I just feel so inclined to tell neitsche over here some good advice... avoid it. I'm not against serialism, I do compose a little in the idiom, but a tone row and a work of art should be complete in its conception; it should be less methodical, because it will sound methodical, and more complete because it will sound complete (and therefore cohesive). Also, I talk abstractly about it just because, if you are going to go compose serialisticlly and use non traditional means of composition (for example, i'm telling a story, i'm feeling a feeling, or i'm conveying an emotion, or even I'm conveying an idea) you might as well come up with your own means of the development of tone rows and 12-tone rows.

it's not an ego thing. it's not an excuse to purport the illegitimacy of a form of art. it's a simple question, and it's remarkable that a thread wherein the second post tells you to humble yourself is the medium by which you choose to live up to the reputation you're trying to refute

I'm not against serialism entirely... i'm mostly against atonality. I think of serialism as being a method of composition. Furthermore, music is mostly, if not always, arbitrary which is always devoid of randomness. To help see where I'm coming from... I also have as much of a problem with fugues as I do poorly serialised music. It tends to be too methodical.

Also... i kind of wanted to derail the thread thanks to jazz_rock_feel >_< (immature, I know, but why the hell not? i love arguing the philosophy of good music)

EDIT --> Also, it is worth noting that serialism is cool because most serialists escape the bounds of traditional form... something I feel should have been derailed many moons ago. (sonatas are cool...but come on, scriabin's vers la flamme beats every piece i've ever heard)
Last edited by Erc at Jul 8, 2013,
Quote by Erc
i'm mostly against atonality.

I just don't find genuinely atonal music to be as aesthetically pleasing as tonal music.
Isn't the whole idea of serialism as a means of unshackling the boundaries of music an oxymoron with its prescribed rules? If anything goes in music, then a composer should feel free to create it with zero bounds. There is innate tendency for people to prefer rhythm and balance and musical proportion (the pentatonic scale is ubiquitous in other cultures) music can never be pure atonal but a timeless work of music involving pitch sets, in my opinion tells a story, illicts emotions, and has multiple shades of grey area in tonality and a logical framework behind it.
Quote by sweetdude3000
Isn't the whole idea of serialism as a means of unshackling the boundaries of music an oxymoron with its prescribed rules? If anything goes in music, then a composer should feel free to create it with zero bounds.

It's not an oxymoron at all. Composition of any kind is really about paring down possibilities until you get the expression you want. Composers create rules for themselves every time they sit down to write, it's just that serialism has been codified more than other types of compositional practice because it was so popular to use. The idea of composing with zero bounds is insane and no one has ever done that. I mean, tonality unarguably has more rules to observe than serialism, it's just that people have been taught that those rules are "natural."

Beyond that, serialism wasn't about unshackling the boundaries of music. It was about finding a way to create structure in atonal music. Atonal music was, in turn, about unshackling music from the preconceptions of consonnance and dissonance as well as exploring more timbral and formal elements. Schoenberg basically got tired of creating new rules every time he composed a piece and developed a system he could use over and over again with different results. I think a lot of people think of serialism like composing every piece with the same chord progression, but it's more analagous to composing tonally. It's a skeletal framework of rules that can be applied in a lot of different ways.
Quote by sweetdude3000
There is innate tendency for people to prefer rhythm and balance and musical proportion (the pentatonic scale is ubiquitous in other cultures)

Innate is a tough word for me to swallow, but that's really getting into anthropology more than music. I would disagree that there's an innate tendency to what essentially amounts to tonal music. I think it becomes comfortable because of years of listening to it, not any inborn or natural tendency towards it.
Quote by sweetdude3000
music can never be pure atonal but a timeless work of music involving pitch sets, in my opinion tells a story, illicts emotions, and has multiple shades of grey area in tonality and a logical framework behind it.

I don't know what this is about.
I don't know what music theory is.