Year 2 Semester 2 Portfolio
Another semester done. This one has definitely been the most trying one so far. Nonetheless I feel accomplished having done the work that I could.
Here’s downloads to everything I’ve done over this last semester:
Hit the button below for the full folio.
2nd Year Semester 2 Portfolio
Student Number: 10350995
- Structures of Composition
- Sectional piece: “Adventurer”
- Developmental piece: “Gestalt Entity”
- Performance Lab (Ecuatorial 3)
- Harmony (Music Techniques: Classical and Romantic)
- Minuet: “Minuet in A♭ major”
- Romantic Harmony Piece: “Sonata in C♯ minor”
- Sound Mixing
- Mixing assignment: “Funk Indeed”
- Recording assignment: “Strife”
- Collaboration with others: Adventures of Square soundtrack
- Speedwriting Seminar
- Recital Plans
Structures of Composition
Sectional piece: “Adventurer”
This is a piece for orchestral snare, cello, marimba, clarinet, piccolo, and choir.
The drummer is the titular protagonist, the adventurer, carrying themselves through an extensive musical landscape. The adventurer faces peril in the form of their own rhythmic challenges while the monsters (the other instrumentalists) seek to overpower the adventurer. There is a chance that the adventurer will perish if they are not careful.
The drummer (adventurer) starts centre stage, and may then physically move to one of the locations marked on the map, taking the number of denoted steps (in time with their playing) to get there. Instruments begin playing when the adventurer finishes taking number of required steps to their location and stops. Once the musical movements denoted by each location have been completed, the “creature” at that spot is defeated and the adventurer must walk back to centre stage. The conductor will then show two numbered cards with the adventurer’s remaining survival points and how many “keys” they have received. (It is preferred that these cards are printed double-sided so the audience and the performers can see the numbers.)
Encountering (and defeating) the creatures at each location will harm the adventurer, by an amount of survival points denoted by the red numbers on the map. Visiting the Church will recover all five survival points, and this location can be revisited (but not after it has just been visited). If all points are lost, the adventurer will perish and the piece will conclude with the “Funeral Dirge” choral-only movement. Players may deign to indicate their “death” however they choose – by falling limp against their instrument, by taking a bow and then removing themselves from stage, or by actually collapsing. Locations where the enemies have already perished must not be revisited by the adventurer.
In order to cross the Lake of Fire and reach Lord Kleph, the drummer must discover the three keys by visiting the Pit, the Forest and the Oracle. If the adventurer chooses to attempt to cross the lake without the keys, he will simply lose a point and be sent back to the centre.
If the battle with Kleph is won by the adventurer without the latter perishing, the piece concludes with “Glorious Victory”. If both perish, conclude with “Mutual Defeat”. Both these movements are choral-only, as is “Funeral Dirge” – as the choir are the only “characters” who consistently stand throughout the piece.
The piece was inspired by a number of other works by artists working with game theory and particularly mobile/polyvalent form. The primary inspiration behind the “choose your own adventure” aspect was Terry Riley’s “In C”, while John Zorn’s “Cobra” (for the concept of showing cards to display the game’s progress), Xenakis’s “Duel” (for the concept of separating instruments per section) and Stockhausen’s “Klavierstuck XI” (for the concept of the player being in control of the piece, though with my piece taking it into the physical domain) provided ideas for working within game theory.
There is a definite narrative to the piece. The melodies were written with the aim of getting the audience very much “on the side” of the adventurer, and opposed to the creatures. The adventurer has firm, steadfast drum patterns, mostly in familiar time signatures, even if the rhythms themselves are complex. The creatures have strange, disjointed melodies, governing the time signature of the piece and forcing the adventurer to try to keep up. The audience are kept up to date with the adventurer’s progress via the conductor’s ability to dictate it, plus the former’s physical movement throughout the space. The music intensifies over the course of the piece, reaching a peak in the Kleph battle and petering out dramatically when the choir come in, dictating the fate of the two characters.
There are ten “movements” to the piece – a series of nonlinear substructures that are playable in a variety of orders, but this order is dictated by the rules of the “game”, and (a) cannot occur in sequential repetition (with the exception of substructure 1); (b) three of which must be played before substructure 6 can even be approached; (c) substructure 7 must be visited at least once in order for the protagonist of the narrative to succeed; (d) three of these substructures seal the fate of the protagonist and conclude the piece at this juncture.
The substructures of the piece are as follows:
- Introduction/Transitions: variable length/tempo (starts the piece in 100bpm)
- Pit of Souls: 1:19 (95bpm)
- Oracle of Fate: 0:59 (115bpm)
- Forest of Hope: 0:58 (105bpm)
- The Lake of Fire: 0:29 (130bpm)
- Lord Kleph: 2:23 (110bpm)
- The Church: 0:14 (120bpm)
- Funeral Dirge: 0:52 (100bpm)
- Glorious Victory: 0:44 (105bpm)
- Mutual Defeat: 0:32 (90bpm)
Substructure 1 is repeated often, being the 4 bars of material that the drummer plays during his transition to another location. The score dictates that the tempo from the previously played section is kept, but it is played at 100bpm at the start of the piece.
The movements are differentiated by tempo, dynamic and harmonic content, and the relationship between the melody and the percussion. “The Pit of Souls” is slow and treacherous, with the percussion exercising caution, trying not to fall into chaos. “The Oracle of Fate” at first professes wisdom with mysterious, ethereal melodies, but these quickly turn disjointed and atonal, forcing the percussionist to fight for their life. “The Forest of Hope” floats around the drummer with the mischievious song of arboreal spirits, but poke fun at them before long, urging the percussionist to find escape somewhere, somehow. “The Lake of Fire” writhes chaotically and dangerously, serving in its brevity as a short but firm warning to those who encounter it. “Lord Kleph” is an extensive, all-encompassing battle to the death, with all kinds of harmonic variety used to create a tense, tight environment wherein the percussionist and the cellist mete it out one-on-one, attacking and dodging over one another for more than 2 minutes before their fate is decided.
The choral parts accompany the possible events that unfold at the piece’s conclusion with varying harmonic qualities. “The Church” is short and sweet, granting the adventurer hope in the midst of all this confrontation, “Funeral Dirge” is slow and minor, mournful of the foolish adventurer, “Glorious Victory” is rousing and major, proclaiming eternal victory over the evil creatures, and “Mutual Defeat” conjures images of futility and lack of resolution as both parties perish.
Developmental piece: “Gestalt Entity”
This is a piece for piano. OR IS IT?!
The piece is somewhat fugal in nature, following the ternary ABA structure of the form, but with the developmental B section taking up most of its 5 minute duration, as well as being completely separate instrumentally from the A sections, which repeat the same C major phrase on just piano.
Ideas are developed early on in the piece’s B section, and then reused for later parts – as follows (see annotations for visual indications):
Bar 17 transitions the piece into the apocalyptic guitar/bass/synth/drums progfest that it actually is, with some blastbeats in 3/4. Similar blastbeats occur in bar 55, but in 4/4.
Bar 23 essentially “begins” the piece, and the rhythm is partially revisited later on in bar 121. Material from bar 27 is then recapitulated in bar 125, with the synthesizer eventually playing the same melody 2 whole tones higher simultaneously with the guitar.
Bar 35, a 7/8 passage, is repeated in bar 96, in the key of D phrygian minor, rather than C phrygian minor. It also makes a surreptitious reappearance in bar 59 – its simplistic, rhythm-centric melody allows for the synthesizer to reign for a while in F minor, though its time signature is extended to 4/4 for this reappearance.
Bar 39’s bass-centric material is the most-repeated in the piece, returning after the short octatonic break in bar 43, though with the high notes F, G♭, A♭ and B♭♭ transposed up 3 semitones to get G#, A♮, B♮ and C. It comes back in bar 67, with a variation on the guitar line that conforms closer to the whole tone scale.
Bar 43’s octatonic ascending scale is revisited in bar 53. Both these two-bar breaks have the synth playing the same as the guitar/bass, but transposed up 6 semitones (or four steps in the octatonic scale).
The blastbeats that enter at bar 55 follow a 4/4 melody in an abnormal C scale, using a cluster of low notes – C, D♭, E♭, E♮, and two higher notes, A♭ and B♭♭. These notes are then transformed for bar 63 during a guitar solo segment. The two lowest notes, C and D♭, are transposed further down 4 semitones to another A♭ and B♭♭, which puts the entire melody in a phrygian (dominant) minor scale of A♭, allowing for the guitar to perform within this key.
The most interesting (in my opinion) reshuffling of developed material comes in at bar 71, when the guitar plays a complex two-bar 4/4 passage in A♭ minor, which is actually a condensed version of what plays within bars 75-78 – a passage of 5/8-6/8 which misses out the first bar of 6/8 in order to fit within a 16/8 (or 8/4, or two bars of 4/4) format. The synthesizer remains playing the material from bar 63 (the guitar solo), which provides a kind of counterpoint, then joins in the guitar at bar 75.
Between bars 88 and 95, the synth plays in another unusual C scale, and the melody then modulates up three semitones with each two bars. Once again the synth plays polytonally when bar 92 enters, playing in the keys of G♭ and A♮ simultaneously, and then A♮ and C in bar 94.
Bar 142 begins the finale of the development section, in the key of A phrygian dominant, reusing the alternating 5/8-6/8 scheme from bars 75-78. A section of arpeggiated chords played on the guitar and then the synth carries the chord sequence ♭V-I-IV-V for four repeated bars which ascend by a tone each time, before the sequence finalizes on an E suspension to bring it back to A phrygian dominant. The material from bar 142 is then repeated in bar 159 with the guitars and bass playing an octave higher to differently highlight the harmony present.
Inspiration came from the pieces “Sane No More” by Circus Maximus, “Shleep” by Umpfel, “Crystallized” by Haken, “Welcome to Mercy Falls” by Seventh Wonder, “Dawn of the Machine” by Bad Salad, and “The Dance of Eternity” by Dream Theater.
Performance Lab (Ecuatorial 3)
The piece played at Spectrum Week 2015.2 by myself, Jonathan and Lila was entitled “Circulorum”.
Jono and I played keyboards and Lila sang. The sounds generated were routed through three interfaces into one another, creating a “circular” (or perhaps more triangular) feedback loop, through which effects were applied through the receiving interface’s owner’s AudioMulch project file. I created a basic project for us all to use and then tailor to our own preference, which included a bitcrusher (DigiGrunge), a granular filter (Nebuliser), a phaser and a flanger.
I believe Jono chose to use the audio output direct from his keyboard, while I collected a bunch of oldschool synthesizer emulating VSTs, including an ARP2600, a “Minimogue”, an “Oatmeal” synthesizer loaded with a theremin-esque sound, and an “FMMF” frequency-modulation synthesizer. These VSTs were layered on top of one another so I was playing them all simultaneously. Stereo gain objects were used to mix the synthesizers together, and an AKAI control interface was used so I could easily balance all four layers of sound.
The performance went well, though perhaps I/we could have been more careful with mixing – it may have turned into a “wall of sound” quite early on with all the sounds going on, though this would be an inevitability with a constant feedback loop of effects processing.
Harmony (Music Techniques: Classical and Romantic)
Minuet piece: “Minuet in A♭ major”
A pleasant piano piece, written for my first Harmony assignment. I received some small critiques from Stewart Smith upon getting the marked score back – my developmental section was long and unusual, and I needed to have modulated to the dominant key of E♭ major, before the final section wherein I return to the home key of A♭ major – and in this final section, the melodic content itself should have been a recapitulation. Perhaps my love of complexity in music is my downfall when it comes to writing pieces intended to be in the confines of older harmony. I still ended up with a 90% mark for the minuet, however, so I am pleased with the result and the criticism I got.
Romantic Harmony piece: “Sonata in C♯ minor”
This is a piece for piano and violin, written for my second Harmony assignment. It is a piece which uses romantic harmony, resulting in a series of unusual chord progressions which are recapitulated throughout the piece. It also features a middle section which encapsulates my compulsion to write complex melodic passages.
I have yet to receive official critique on the piece, but I am aware of a few things – I neglected to score bowing technique for the violin, and there are no extended techniques to speak of, simply arco and pizzicato. Nevertheless I believe I am improving my familiarity with Sibelius, and I am attempting to use it more often and more extensively to push my compositions to more unusual levels, as I did for the two Structures pieces.
Mixing assignment: “Funk Indeed”
A track I mixed for the first of Lee Buddle’s assignments. I attempted to give each instrument its own specific place in the recording, through the use of panning and EQ to ensure each sat in its own sonic space – the two guitars, for instance, occupy opposite spaces equidistant from the centre (no instruments are panned hard left or right). I applied effects like reverb and delay very conservatively, opting not to drown the instruments, which for the most part were very well-captured, in a mire of processing that would lessen their human quality.
The double-bass is heavily EQ’d and compressed through use of a digital 4-band compressor created in ProTools. This was to reduce the more glaring moments when the plucked string hit the body of the instrument very loudly. I attempted to retain the “growly” nature of the instrument, however, and I believe I did not go overboard with this processing.
I used the John Scofield instrumental song “Boozer” from his “A Go Go” album as a reference track.
Recording assignment: “Strife”
This is a composition of my own. Written for lead distorted guitar, electric bass guitar and drums, plus room for keyboard parts and vocals – and with Jonathan Maltman and Ben Fillingham’s band “Redgate” assisting me with the recording process. A heavy metal song with an opening verse-chorus section in straight 6/4, and a solo section towards the end in a shuffled 4/4. I used the Alter Bridge song “Waters Rising” from their “Fortress” album as a reference track when mixing (though this album is very professionally mixed and mastered, I regrettably couldn’t get very close to what I wanted for it).
The intro begins with a sitar, tabla and a string/choir, all created using the Yamaha S90 ES provided by the WAAPA recording studio.
It came to me during recording this song with the band’s bassist that my melodies during the final section were very difficult to play. I was willing to make creative compromises so that the melody would be simpler to play, but I do not feel it is the ideal route to take as a composer, and certainly this must not happen every time I wish for a piece of my own to be played by session musicians. Instead, I need to familiarize myself with what the various sorts of musicians I will be dealing with are actually capable of, and then ensure to write my melodies carefully, rather than over-embellishing them with unusual notes or fancy rolls to make them stand out uniquely or “dazzle”. I believe now that true virtuosity comes from knowing the exact limits you are working within, wherever they lie (and they will be different for different players), and find creative ways to work without breaking them.
Similarly, I learned that it pays to have a backup plan early on when the band’s guitarist failed to deliver guitar stems for me. I went to my father and did what I could given the time I had to help him record the lead guitar parts, although he couldn’t quite cover all the parts.
Collaboration with others: Adventures of Square soundtrack
I presented my game-in-progress The Adventures of Square in Composition Workshop, to a warm reception and a range of interesting questions. I was able to play the game and present five of the pieces in their intended in-game context – all of which have been written by myself, with some being in collaboration with the other musicians on my team (these are Gus Knezevich in Melbourne, Jerry Mickle in London, and Xaser Acheron in Texas). The entire soundtrack is written in General MIDI, with actual MIDI files being played during gameplay, in order to cement an old-school first-person-shooter feel like the 1993 game Doom – an advanced port of this game’s engine is what we are using to create The Adventures of Square.
The pieces were, in order of presentation:
- [Cubular!] – Opening credits track – a kind of “overture” with many motivic nods to other musical pieces in the game. Xaser wrote the main melody on the square wave synth.
- [Canoe Not?] – Third level track – was moved to the first level slot so I could load the game and instantly have a track of my own playing.
- [Crapchute] – Second level track
- [Hello Submarine] – Tenth level track
- [Space Hopper] – Currently the fourth level track in the second episode – this one written in collaboration with Xaser
Due to this semester’s demands I’ve not had as much time to work on this project quite as much as before, but I have not stopped composing music for it.
- [Udder Terror] – Currently slated to be the final boss track
- [Calculus] – Currently slated for second episode – written in collaboration with Xaser
Over the last few months I have been continuing my tradition of writing new music in as little time as I feasibly can, again using General MIDI. On 6th October, I released my third installment of 30 “speedMIDIs” via my BandCamp page.
While the overall quality of this release is in my opinion the highest one yet of my three “speedMIDI” releases, it took longer for me to write every track and I spent a great amount of time refining them afterwards, perhaps somewhat defeating the purpose of them being tracks “written in 30 minutes”. Certainly the tracks were composed and all finished to some standard within a half-hour timeframe, but my strive for high-quality compelled me to ensure these pieces were all the best they could possibly be. Weaker tracks were almost completely re-written, and the unsalvageable ones discarded. I do not believe that the 30 minute time limit should be the be-all and end-all of a track – the idea is very much working at a high concentration within that time in order to get a stream of good ideas realized.
In the time since 30in30-3’s release, my other MIDI-composing associates Gus Knezevich and Jerry Mickle have released packs of speedwritten MIDIs of their own, these being with roughly 50 apiece. It is a fun thing to do even if the output is not as high quality as expected.
These three tracks were in fact written as part of my speedwriting seminar, three sessions of which I hosted in the latter half of this semester.
- [Adirgio] – Prompt: “Angry funeral dirge”
- [Hot Dog God] – Prompt: “Music to eat messily to”
- [Drunken Jesus] – Prompt: “Jesus ECU Tavern”
Two of these MIDIs were actually written during my “speedwriting seminar”, three sessions of which I held here at WAAPA, inviting first-year composers to come to a 2-hour workshop and bring laptops and/or whichever musical equipment they use to write their pieces. The concept behind these seminars is that a group of composers turn up ready to compose. Ideas are written on scraps of paper and then placed into a hat, then randomly redistributed, one per person – the ideas received are then the prompts that the composers must use, in however loose a way, to create their pieces in the ensuing half hour. A composer may end up with a prompt they wrote themselves. Group collaboration in the sessions is permitted. The half-hour composing session then begins, with reminders of the time left given every 10 minutes. At the end of the session, all the pieces are presented, however complete or incomplete they are – with the composers detailing why and how it was written the way it was.
Importantly, the prompts or ideas that are given at the beginning of the session are conceptual, rather than being technical, time-based, or physical restraints placed on the composer – there are no ideas like “only use two chords” or “only Max For Live patches” or “only use your left hand”. Instead, ideas like “jazz apocalypse” and “Hugh Jackman goes to the store” – ideas that place an image in the composer’s mind, or give them a reason to be composing their pieces – are used. In other words, less “how”, more “why”. The wackier the ideas the better, as these workshops are intended to stimulate the creative side the brain as much as possible to fuel the creative output.
I have created a Facebook group for the event, permitting the upload of finished pieces (finalized or not) to the page, and I hoping to get the seminar itself championed and popularized come next semester. The workshops are a lot of fun, particularly when listening to what other people do with the ideas distributed.
I have big plans for my recitals. I am hoping to rope as many musicians in as I possibly can and I’ll be doing my damnedest to put my musical work out there for others to play, with my end-of-year recital for next year hopefully involving percussion ensembles, choral ensembles and perhaps even a heavy rock/metal group. I have a large catalogue of previous works to draw from, so my primary plan is to revisit some old works of mine and rewrite them for proper ensembles. My Sonata from this semester, and my song “Strife” are pieces I am considering performing.