This page is dedicated to thoughts, research and insights into my practice as a composer. This way of reflecting and recording the way/why/how and when I create is very new to me, but it is something that I am really enjoying.
Music is Site: Integrating Elements of Site-Specificity into Composition
Well after almost four years it is complete! My PhD research is done and dusted and published on the worldwide web for all to see. Music in Site: Integrating Elements of Site-Specificity into Composition can be accessed HERE at ECU Research Online. Video of my three compositions Stairwell to Fifteen, From Traffic Rises and Tunnel Listen are able to be viewed on YouTube. Below is my abstract to get a taste before you commit. Please get in contact if you have any comments, suggestions or questions. Thank you!
Architectural spaces and their acoustic characteristics offer unique musical material for the compositional process. Acoustic and physical design features of unorthodox performance spaces can become part of works and their performances. This thesis examines ways to integrate acoustic characteristics of an architectural space into the compositional process, and discusses how different levels of site-specificity may be engaged in this process.
This research grew from an interest in composing music for the acoustic problems of performance spaces rather than trying to resist them, after a jazz ensemble performance in a large reverberant space. This led to exploring built environments that offered an acoustic characteristic which could be used to initiate musical material which is directly linked to the site.
Three sites were chosen as starting points for composition according to their varying acoustic characteristics; a stairwell, a tunnel and a bridge. Each site presented unique acoustic and physical characteristics as well as challenges which required creating a pre-compositional testing and work-shopping methodology. The processes and experiments engaged led to three varying compositions which are discussed in part two of this exegesis.
The research also draws inspiration from secondary literature in theatre, dance and choreography that interrogates the way works can be linked to their particular site. British academic Fiona Wilkie developed a scale of site-specificity for theatre that provides a useful tool to gauge the level and type of site interaction each composition maintains and forms a frame for the different approaches used. In addition, dance choreographer and theorist, Victoria Hunter’s methodology for testing the possibilities of a site for an artwork has been employed. The three creative works at the centre of this project, Stairwell to Fifteen (four brass musicians, cimbalom and found percussive sounds in a stairwell), From Traffic Rises (eight acoustic musicians, electronics and four speakers) and Tunnel Listen (two clarinets, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, two trumpets, two trombones and tuba) explore a range of approaches to site-specificity and embodiment as compositional devices.
The outcome of this research has not only been the creation of these three new works, but also the exploration of an alternative compositional process which begins and is informed by a physical space as a musical starting point.
Titled Bob Brookmeyer: Composer, Performer, Pedagogue, the thesis looks at Brookmeyer’s 1999 Celebration Suite as well as an exegesis into my own compositions based on what I learnt from this analysis and time spent with the man himself in the European summer of 2004.
The appendix contains a lengthy interview about his approach to composition and running a big band as well as an extensive discography, which was last updated in 2005.
Although acknowledged as one of the pivotal figures in twentieth-century jazz, the career and the music of Bob Brookmeyer has received scant attention in secondary literature. This dissertation seeks to rectify this imbalance.
Based on a recorded conversation between Brookmeyer and myself (Appendix A), his efforts as a composer and pedagogue are examined. From this conversation, many of Brookmeyer’s musical concepts on composition are illuminated: his ideas on risk taking; harmony; colour, and ways of developing material, are discussed alongside his pitch-module and white-note concepts. I show that the latter two techniques in fact step outside the jazz tradition and can be seen as new and fresh compositional approaches.
A discography and bibliography of all relevant recordings and literature is presented as Appendix B
In addition, Celebration Jig, from Brookmeyer’s 1994 Celebration Suite, is analysed using a synthesis of two important jazz composition texts– Inside The Score (1982) by Rayburn Wright and Changes Over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging (1995) by Fred Sturm. This analysis, in fact, re-enforces much of Brookmeyers’s concepts from the recorded conversation. Two methodologies, new to the jazz idiom, are introduced. Through these, adapted from two 20th Century Western Classical analytical methodologies – those of Jean-Jacques Nattiez and Heinrich Schenker – I will explore alternative ways in which jazz can be theorized.
This dissertation should be read in conjunction with the materials I presented for the jazz composition recital (JAZ4106). To this end, the final part of the dissertation describes how I have come under the influence of Bob Brookmeyer’s teaching and his music. I analyse several of my own works and demonstrate the ways in which my music has been influenced by that of Brookmeyer. In addition, by way of completing the picture, I document my personal contact with Brookmeyer in Vienna in the summer of 2004.
DRAWN FROM SOUND
My graphic score of my composition “From Traffic Rises” is featured in a new book about Australian graphic scores.
Drawn From Sound brings together a variety of Australian graphic music scores in the first survey of its kind to be held in Western Australia. A practice developed in the 1950s, the creation of graphic scores came about as more traditional notations were no longer adequate for music that required elements of improvisation, extended techniques, a foregrounding of texture over melody or harmony and different performance formats.
Drawn From Sound is curated by Perth composer and sound artist Cat Hope, and will showcase Australian contemporary graphic notation practice in a variety of possible forms – as objects, videos and films, websites, interactive programs or images. Supported by a program of performances and artist talks, Drawn From Sound celebrates the graphic score not only as a valid form of musical notation, but also as a unique source of visual expression.
The artists include Lyndon Blue (WA), Philip Brophy (VIC), Warren Burt (VIC), Chris Cobilis (WA), Chris DeGroot (WA), Mace Francis (WA), Samuel Gillies (WA), Percy Grainger (VIC), Lee Harrop (WA), Anita Hustas (VIC), David Kim-Boyle (NSW), Ron Nagorka (VIC), Joe Stawarz (WA), Amanda Stewart (NSW), Nathan Thompson (NSW), David Young (VIC), Lindsay Vickery (WA) and Freya Zinovieff (NSW).
You can purchase the book HERE.
A copy of the .dsz file to use this score on the Decibel ScorePlayer can obtained be emailing me via the contact page.
A REVIEW OF FOUR MUSICAL WORKS THAT INTERGRATES SITE INTO SOUND
This paper was written in response to researching various musical works that use site-specificity to some degree in their creation. The four works chosen are outside of the western art music tradition and are by composers that are still alive – Paul Horn, Alive Lucier, Meredith Monk and Oscar Edelstein. The four works are positioned into degrees of site-specificity as developed by British academic Fiona Wilkie. Below is the abstract – the full paper is available here. The article is published in Sound Scripts Vol4 2012.
Unorthodox performance sites offer the opportunity to provide unique creative input into music composition and performances. Rather than resist the acoustic and design features of performance spaces, these features can become part of compositions and their performance making them site specific. Is it then possible to successfully integrate the acoustic characteristics of a specific performance site into the early compositional process, and can the performance site be just as integral to the ensemble as musicians are considered to be?
Composing music this way proposes a very different creative process to what composers generally follow when creating music for traditional performance sites. This paper will review four musical works that explore site-specificity and the performance site as integral to the compositional process. It will also examine the way these works are linked to their particular performance site through a scale of specificity developed by British academic Fiona Wilkie.
DUET FOR CIMBALOM & STAIRWELL
Part of my current research is composing site-specific work integrating the aural and/or acoustic characteristics of the performance site into the compositional process. I am really liking the idea of using a mundane everyday space and then using it as performance space. My most recent endeavour has been using a stairwell at Edith Cowan University (Mt Lawley) in building 15. This 3 level stairwell has the most amazing reverb in it which to the people who work in this building is a constant source of annoyance. You can not really hear what the person next to you is saying as the sound bounces around so much. Every single sound you make is sustained.
This stairwell also contains hand railings that produce definite pitches which led me to this that this would be a great space to compose for. As I promised to compose a piece for Josh Webster and his Cimbalom it made sense to combine the two projects. Duet for Cimbalom & Stairwell is a piece that musically uses the reverb and physical architecture of the space in a duet with the Cimbalom. Listen below
Our first performance was at the CREATEC Research Colloquium which luckily was in Building 15. The best audience responses were;
“It felt like I was inside an instrument”;
“I use this stairwell everyday at work and I will never think of it the same way again”.