Total Serialism

March 12th, 2014 by Brian Bice No comments »

Total serialism is an extension of the serialist techniques developed by the Second Viennese School.  In serialism the order of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale is determined pre-compositionally.  The pitch rows are usually not repeated until the entire row has been played.  However, pitches or a group of pitches can be repeated in succession.  Total serialism extends the concept of serialism to rhythms, dynamics, tempos, meters and other non-pitch elements.

One of the principle concepts of total serialism is the avoidance of repetition at all levels and in all domains.  This avoidance prompted a need for a pre-compositional creation of “scales” to determine features not previously determined.  This was done so even if the choice made from these “scales” was not always in accordance with any serial procedure.  This type of composition is much maligned because it restricts the performers ability to interpret the piece.

One of the first pieces to incorporate elements of total serialism is Messiaen’s Mode de valeurs et d’intensities.  In this piece, from his Quarte études de rythme, Messiaen indicated specific dynamics, articulations and durations for each of the notes of the piece.  Pierre Boulez, a student of Messiaen expanded and developed the concept of total serialism.  Inspired by Messiaen’s Mode de valeurs et d’intensities, Boulez composed a series of piano pieces in which many non-pitch elements of music were controlled. One of the first was his Structures I.  Boulez serialized no only pitches, but also rhythms and dynamics.  He also used a quasi-serial technique by using a set of 12 dynamic markings and 12 indications of attack.

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Gruppen for three orchestras makes use of a “chromatic scale” of 12 tempos.  This consisted of creating a scale where these “other values” are arranged in a progression analogous to that of the equal tempered semitone scale.

Definition provided by Brian Bice

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Polytonality

March 12th, 2014 by Brian Bice No comments »

As the term itself implies, polytonality is the incorporation of two or more tonalities in the music at the same time. Polytonality often uses two or more highly disjunctive key areas so that there is a distinct difference. This technique is effective when music played by the instrument or group of instruments is diatonic to the key area. When the key areas become chromatic the effect of polytonality becomes blurred and to some extent indefinable.

Charles Ives experimented with polytonality in some of his orchestral works. Sections of his Symphony No. 4 explore different key areas at the same time. Igor Stravinsky’s Petroushka juxtaposes the key areas of f-sharp major and c major in the famous Petroushka motive. Bela Bartók incorporated polytonality in many of his chamber works. Some simple, early examples can be found in his Mikrokosmos for solo piano. Bartók used this technique often in his 44 duos for two violins, as a way to intertwine two folk melodies of contrasting harmonic centers with similar tempo and mood.

Definition provided by Brian Bice

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Octatonicism

March 12th, 2014 by Brian Bice No comments »

Octatonicism is music where the harmonic language is based around the octatonic scale.  The term octatonic scale refers to any scale that divides the octave into eight pitches.  This term is widely accepted as a designation for the scale generated through the alternation of whole tones and semitones.  There are two modes of the octatonic scale.  The first mode begins with a semitone (c – c# – d# – e – f# – g – a – a# – c).  The second begins with a whole tone (c – d – d# – f – f# – g# – a – b – c).  Since the construction of these scales are symmetrical, they can only be transposed a limited number of times before repeating the pitch collections.  Each mode of the scale can be transposed two times, for a total of three different transpositions. Messiaen has classified the octatonic scale as mode two of his modes of limited transposition.

Octatonicism was in a particular vogue in the late 19th century, particularly in France and Russia (around St. Petersburg).  Claude Debussy was especially taken with the exocitism of the octatonic scale.  In his Nuages, Debussy based the ostinato pattern on the diminished tetrachord of mode 2 of the octatonic scale.  The octatonic set is outlined in the introductory theme and is completed through the accompaniment by measure nine when the strings introduce the G#.

Stravinsky is another composer who incorporated the octatonic scale.  The famous Petroushka motive, f-sharp major and c major chords are subsets of the mode 2 octatonic scale.  Scriabin is known for his use of the octatonic scale particularly in his piano works.  He was interested in the symmetrical construction.  Also, Scriabin used this scale to generate long-term harmonic progressions in steps of thirds.  Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 9 highlights his use of the octatonic scale.  He did not compose music that is octatonic in the strictest sense.  Scriabin would often add other tones or combine the whole tone scale with the octatonic.  Through this he was able to arrive at his own musical language.

Definition provided by Brian Bice

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Metric Modulation

March 12th, 2014 by Brian Bice No comments »

Metric modulation is the process of changing tempo and meter without the use of accelerandos and ritardandos.  Elliot Carter is seen as the pioneer of this technique.  In metric modulation the composer would take a note value of one tempo and make it the now tempo of the following section.  For example, an eighth note of an eighth-note quintuplet becomes the quarter note value of the new tempo.  This process can be used to not only speed up tempos, but also to slow it down.

The philosophy behind this technique is that composers are able to suddenly change tempo in more of an organic way.  Metric modulation is not a technique that randomly picks rhythmic values to use as the new tempo.  The rhythmic value that becomes the new tempo is one that is often heard in the piece prior to the modulation.

Elliot Carter is considered the first composer to develop this principle and use it extensively.  His String Quartet no. 1 (1951) is the first piece to employ his fluctuating tempos more extensively.  Carter explores the possibilities of multiple tempos simultaneously.  This, in turn, gives each line more independence.  His use of metric modulation gives the work a feeling of constant mutation.

Alban Berg used a form of metric modulation in some of his earlier works.  In his Lyric Suite (1926) Berg used a large-scale temporal organization where the metronome markings of the different movements share a common numerical basis, such as 23 or 10.  These interlinked tempos allow easier movement from one metronome marking to another.

The preface for Harrison Birtwistle’s Silbury Air (1971) includes a pulse labyrinth that controls the meter and tempo.  The reason for such a device is to help ensure smooth metric modulation and focusing attention on pulse as a foreground feature.

Definition provided by Brian Bice

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Klangfarbenmelodie

March 11th, 2014 by Brian Bice No comments »

Klangfarbenmelodie is a technique first explored by Arnold Schoenberg in the early-20th century.  This term refers to the possibility of a succession of tone colors related to one another in a way that is analogous to pitches in a melody.  Klangfarbenmelodie can be used to create forward motion through changes in timbre while pitch content remains the same.  Schoenberg began exploring this technique before he developed serialist methods. Schoenberg’s most famous example ofKlangfarbenmelodie is in the third movement of his Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 16.  This movement is built around a referential chord, consisting of the notes C, G-sharp, B, E and A, that is heard through out the piece.  The harmonic language of this movement is relatively static.  While it does progress, the language will not venture too far away from the referential chord.   Schoenberg utilizes Klangfarbenmelodie to generate motion.

Schoenberg never fully realized the theory of Klangfarbenmelodie.  Other composers have adopted some of the basic principles (i.e. timbral manipulation).  One such composer was Anton Webern, who was a student of Schoenberg.  Webern used this technique in his Concerto for Nine Instruments, op. 24.  Webern often divided the melody amongst instruments of varying timbres.  This adaptation of Klangfarbenmelodie creates a secondary form of motion within the melody.

Karlheinz Stockhausen saw potential for the use of Klangfarbenmelodie in electronic music.  In his piece Gesang der Jungelinge, Stockhausen took recorded samples of children singing and manipulated the recordings to create different timbral effects.  These manipulated recordings were combined with the instrumental ensemble creating a variety of timbres.

Definition provided by Brian Bice

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Resources Page being updated

March 11th, 2014 by Brian Bice No comments »

I am in the process of revamping the Resources Page. I will also be adding a lot more content to the Musician’s Toolbox. The current sub-pages of the with definitions of compositional techniques will be going away. The info will instead the info will be written up as posts and linked to a glossary that will be on the Compositional Techniques sub-page.

This update will be taking place over the next 2-3 days. New terms will be added every Wednesday starting March 12, 2014.

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Call for Scores: 12th Annual FCM

March 5th, 2014 by Brian Bice No comments »

New Music Forum would like to invite composers to submit works for consideration for the 12th Annual Festival of Contemporary Music.  The Festival will take place on June 21, July 26 and August 30, 2014 in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Composers may submit up to two (2) pieces for the Festival.

Saturday, June 21, 2014 – Trinity Chapel, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, July 26, 2014 – Community Music Center, San Francisco, CA
Saturday, August 30, 2014 – Center for New Music, San Francisco, CA

Attendance at the concert in which your piece is being performed is highly encouraged.  However while it is not mandatory, preference will be given to composers who can attend the Festival.

Submission of pieces for the Festival of Contemporary Music is an online process.  The process is outlined below. Please visit the website for complete details.

  1. Fill out the registration form on www.newmusicforum.com . Link is here.
  2. Send files for the submission packet to the email address listed after the registration form has been filled out.

The submission packet should include score, recording (if available), short bio and brief program notes. The preferred file formats are PDF for the score and documents and MP3 for the recording.

We request that you use a service such as hightail.com to send your submissions to the email address below.  Please do not email the score and recordings directly to us.  Links to scores and recordings on your website are an acceptable form of submission.  These links must contain downloadable files and in your email to us you still need to include the information requested above. Incomplete submissions will not be considered.

Composers must provide performers for their work if selected.   The FCM staff can provide names and contact information of performers; however, it will be the composer’s responsibility to make all necessary arrangements for performance and compensation.  The FCM staff will not be responsible for arranging performers.

Composers selected to participate in the Festival will be required to pay a registration fee of $25. This registration fee helps to offset costs incurred in producing the Festival.  For more details about the three concerts or the online submission process please visit www.newmusicforum.com or send an email to the address below.

Submission Deadline: March 31, 2014, 11:59 p.m.
Selected composers will be notified around April 21, 2014 via email.

Please send any questions to:  fcm.submission@gmail.com

Festival of Contemporary Music Artistic Staff:
Brian Bice, John Bilotta and Davide Verotta

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The 12th Annual Festival of Contemporary Music – Info Coming Soon

January 24th, 2014 by Brian Bice No comments »

COMING SOON!

The Call for Scores, Calendar of Events and Venue Information for the 12th Annual Festival of Contemporary Music.

STAY TUNED!

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Venue for the first concert

June 29th, 2013 by Brian Bice No comments »

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Loper Chapel, Berkeley, CA

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FCM 11 begins tonight

June 29th, 2013 by Brian Bice No comments »

Tonight marks the beginning of the 11th installment of the Festival of Contemporary Music. Planning this year’s Festival has proved to be challenging, yet in the end it will be worth it.

Our first concert of the season will take place at the First Congregational Church located at 2345 Channing in Berkeley. This concert will feature five diverse piece that represent a cross section of current musical styles.

For a complete concert listing please visit New Music Forum. Tickets are available at the door and cost $15 general and $10 seniors and students with a valid ID.

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