COMPOSING TIME ____________________________________________ Aspects of temporality and timelessness in six new compositions Alexander Turley A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of Music (Composition) Sydney Conservatorium of Music The University of Sydney 2020
Figure 21: Formal map of Cloudscapes. .................................................................. 49
Figure 22: Formal map of Firefly. ........................................................................... 49
Figure 23: Formal map of Echo & Abyss. ............................................................... 52
Figure 24: Formal map of We Are Gods. ................................................................ 53
Figure 25: Formal map of where the waves break i find you. ................................... 54
Figure 26: Formal map of Biome. ........................................................................... 54
Index of Tables
Table 1: List of scenes in Echo & Abyss. ................................................................. 51
Table 2: List of Scenes in We Are Gods .................................................................. 53
Index of Audio Examples
Audio Example 1: Echo & Abyss, Scene 3. ............................................................. 25
Audio Example 2: Cloudscapes, figure A. ............................................................... 27
Audio Example 3: We Are Gods, Scene 1 (Preshow). .............................................. 30
Audio Example 4: Echo & Abyss, Scene 5. ............................................................. 30
Audio Example 5: Echo & Abyss, isolated shimmer sound from Scene 5. ............... 30
Audio Example 6: Echo & Abyss, isolated choral parts from Scene 5. ..................... 31
Audio Example 7: Echo & Abyss, Scene 8. ............................................................. 33
Audio Example 8: Biome, opening. ........................................................................ 35
Audio Example 9: Kusama’s Garden, 1:45 - 2:15. ................................................... 40
Audio Example 10: Cloudscapes, trumpet melodies. ............................................... 41
Audio Example 11: where the waves break i find you, ‘find’ motif. ......................... 43
Audio Example 12: We Are Gods, transition from Scene 1 to Scene 2. ................... 47
Audio Example 13: We Are Gods, transition from Scene 3 to Scene 4. ................... 47
Audio Example 14: Biome, 7:00. ............................................................................ 47
Audio Example 15: Cloudscapes, transition from figure A to B. ............................. 47
Olivier Messiaen once said that “as composers, we have the great power to chop up
and alter time”.1 Music, as a temporal art, unfolds by necessity over a period of time
and requires its listener to engage with their memories of the past, awareness of the
present and anticipation of the future. In spite of this, many pieces of music play on
the illusion that time itself has stopped, slowed down, sped up, or otherwise been
manipulated in some way. This is a musical trend that came into particular favour
during the twentieth century. Pierre Boulez said that music of this era had “lost its
directional impetus” in favour of existing in “time bubbles,”2 while Adorno proposed
that “in the context of modernism, a temporal art such as music has moved increasingly
toward the dimension of space and toward Stillstand, time standing still.”3
Philosophical concepts of time and temporality can be related to musical ideas
of rhythm, duration, tempo and proportion. Key developments in this area over the
twentieth century include the discontinuity and fragmentation in works such as
Debussy’s Jeux (1913) and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920), as well
as Messiaen’s isorhythmic innovations, Boulez’s smooth and striated time,
Stockhausen’s “Moment-form”, Cage’s “happenings”, Elliot Carter’s experiments with
metric modulation, Ligeti’s micropolyphony, repetition in minimal works by Reich
and Glass, the drone music of La Monte Young, and more recent ‘postminimal’
developments in the work of William Duckworth, John Luther Adams and Kyle
Gann. 4 Certain distinctive works such as Young’s Composition 1960 #7 (1960),
Xenakis’s Bohor I (1962), Feldman’s Piano and String Quartet (1985), feature such a
distinct lack of forward motion that they almost completely suspend the passing of
1 Claude Samuel, Music and Colour: Conversations with Olivier Messiaen (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1994), 34. 2 Pierre Boulez, Orientations, trans. M. Cooper (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 178. 3 Max Paddison, "Adorno, Time, and Musical Time," The Opera Quarterly 29, no. 3-4 (2014): 244. 4 Edward Campbell, Music After Deleuze (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013), 99.
Recent technological advances have gifted creators of music the tools to stretch,
condense, reverse, fragment, granulate, repeat, and otherwise alter the real-time of an
audio file beyond what was once only possible to evoke through purely acoustic means.
The temporal implications of such techniques are widespread in contemporary genres
such as electronic dance music, trance, drone, ambient music, new age and cosmic
music.5 These technologies have, in turn, led to developments in spectralist and post-
spectralist music, which takes musical inspiration in large part from spectral analysis
and often evokes the feeling of time being ‘stretched out’ from an audio sample.
The broad focus of this thesis is how I draw upon this lineage of thought in my
work as a composer. I have a particular interest in the experience of musical
‘timelessness’, the sensation of time ceasing to pass during music, and aim to create
sound worlds which give illusions of this experience. This is achieved through a variety
of acoustic and electroacoustic techniques. As part of this research project, I have
created six new compositions that serve to investigate and explore the ideas of time and
timelessness as influenced by my research in this area. Below is a brief discussion of the
background of my compositional work in general, as well as an introduction to the six
works of the portfolio.
1.1 Time in my work
My compositions have always been somewhat concerned with diverse experiences of
time. When I was sixteen, I composed a piece called Three Songs of Spring (2012) for a
local choir, a setting of three poems by 8th-century Chinese poet Du Fu. The piece was
written in a fragmented, discontinuous moment-form style reminiscent of the music I
was listening to at the time: Debussy’s Jeux (1913) and the late work of Takemitsu (a
favourite album of mine at the time was How Slow the Wind by Kioi Sinfonietta
Tokyo). As a young chorister, I was exposed to Australian choral repertoire like Stephen
Leek’s Kondalilla (1989), Michael Atherton’s Shall We Dream (1994) and Elliott
Gyger’s I am not yet born (1995), all of which feature sections where singers are
5 Brian Luke, "Music and the experience of Timelessness," in Art & Time, ed. P Campbell (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007), 325.
instructed to sing independently in their own time. I can remember being struck by
the beauty of temporal multiplicity in these works.
Between 2013 and 2016, I completed an undergraduate degree in composition
and music technology. Temporality continued to be an area of interest in works
composed during this period. An early chamber work, Serein (2013), was a palindrome.
The piece was performed alongside a tape recording of its exact reverse, moving
simultaneously forwards and backwards in time. My program notes for Efflorescence
(2014), composed for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, detail how I intended
certain sections of the music to sound as if they were “moving simultaneously very fast
but also very slow, like a sped-up video of a plant growing that one might watch in a
Subsequent works explored stasis and what I called “suspended time”. The first
movement of my Saxophone Concerto (2015) explores an embellished E-flat chord for
about eight minutes, exploring a harmonically static and textural sound world. The
third movement features rapid static percussive figures which have strong roots in
postminimalism (around the time I was listening to a lot of Julius Eastman, John
Adams and Nico Muhly). Suspended Leaves (2016), written for Adelaide’s Soundstream
Collective, features sections of linear directionality interspersed with sections featuring
nonlinearity and stasis, setting a text adapted from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In
the program notes, I wrote “A single moment is suspended in time, allowing the
listener to wander and explore. The piece develops slowly, dreamlike, ambient,
spacious.” In 2016, I was commissioned by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to
write an orchestral work, which I titled City of Ghosts. The architecture of the piece can
be mapped to a typical ‘narrative curve’, moving through various phases of exposition
in the direction of a climax and subsequent release of tension. During the work, there
are moments where directionality plateaus in favour of static, evocative soundscapes.
These are self-contained moments of gestural and harmonic stasis.
After graduating I worked freelance for a year; this period involved a number
of chamber music commissions and a composer intensive with the Tasmanian
Symphony Orchestra. Nocturnal (2016) for chamber sextet, Between the Ocean and the
Sky (2016) for oboe and piano, Kusama’s Garden (2017) for piano duo, Blue Heat
(2017) for clarinet, piano and marimba and Blackbird (2017) for orchestra all feature
long, stretched out, self-contained moments where each instrument operates in a
temporal world separate from the others. In these pieces, dramatic and complex
rhythms are created through the interaction of relatively simple superimposed layers.
1.2 The composition portfolio
Over the last two years, I have composed six works that embody aspects of temporality
influenced by my research in the area. These works are a mix of acoustic and
electroacoustic; as such, some have scores to accompany their recordings and some only
exist as audio (though I have created a few reductions for the purpose of analysis).
Together, the compositions make up just under two hours of music. The six works, in
order of date composed, are as follows:
1. Echo & Abyss (2018), electronic score for video installation. 27 minutes.
This work is ten-channel installation designed to be installed on ten screens arranged
in a circle. It is a collaboration with video and performance artist Jacobus Capone, who
shot all of the footage for the project in Sierre, Switzerland and Greenland. Jacobus
commissioned me to compose twenty-six minutes of music that evoked the places and
themes of his work. In the program notes for the piece, Jacobus writes:
The project unfolds as both a psychological and physical journey exploring the complexity of one’s unity with the ethereal in an age of disbelief, solitude, and profound anxiety. As a whole, the work is a homage of sorts to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, a monologue of coming to terms with human existence filled with symbolism of salvation.
Blending poetic fiction and reality, the project embraces notions of hopelessness in order to more wholesomely accept inevitable extinction. The desire to reconcile one’s relationship with the world around them is juxtaposed with that “world” being put at risk by humankind itself.
A series of site-specific performances inform the work, which foreground the limitations of the human condition and puts forth a fractured consciousness seeking an impossible unification with a greater whole. By working site-specifically, the physiognomy of
landscape becomes the principle language shaping the project, as both a medium and mediator of possible reunification.
I performed all of the audio material for this work myself, with the exception of some
of the ‘whispering’ sounds for which I enlisted the help of a German-speaking friend.
The work is divided into fourteen scenes, each of which fades gradually in and out
from either total black or total white. The installation required ten channels of audio,
however, I have mixed a stereo version for this portfolio.
2. Firefly (2015, rev. 2018) for solo trumpet and electronics. 9 minutes.
First composed as a solo acoustic work in 2015, I have substantially reworked this
composition to feature an interactive electronic counterpart which expands the sound
world of the piece. The electronics feature six dynamic delays of varying volume, length
and position, which are manipulated at various points in the piece and performed live.
There is also a tape component which features samples that were recorded ahead of
time. The work was revised for Fletcher Cox, who premiered it at the Australian
National Academy of Music, 29 May 2018.
3. Biome (2018) for 10 players. 10 minutes.
This piece was commissioned by Melbourne-based chamber ensemble Forest
Collective, with whom I was composer-in-residence in 2018. It is scored for alto flute,
cello and double bass. The work is in two sections; the first is entirely unconducted,
with each instrument operating in their own time, with cues for their material taken
from timecodes. This section has no score, as each instrument is entirely independent.
The second half is scored, and requires that the intruments play together in chorale-
like homophony, with the idea that this would ‘release’ the rhythmic tension of the
previous section. Biome was performed at Forest Collective Gala, held at the Australian
Institute of Music in Melbourne, 15 November 2018.
4. We Are Gods (2018), electronic score for theatre work. 30 minutes.
This work is a collaboration with Riley Spadaro, a Master of Directing student at
NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art), who asked me to compose music and
design sound for his ensemble-devised final production. It was presented at NIDA
between the 12th and 15th of December, 2018. The program notes, written by Riley,
He sits staring at a white wall trying to make it blue. He hasn’t been sleeping well. He’s been having dreams about legs in pink stockings again. Boy’s legs. In pink stockings. Again. WE ARE GODS is part love story, part homoerotic fever dream.
The tone of the play shifts between dreamy, ethereal and uneasy, menacing and
frightening, as the tableaux-like story details a young man going through conversion
therapy in a cold, unfriendly facility. It is unclear to the audience how much of the
play takes place inside the central character’s head. Scenes of his happy memories of
love are initially dreamlike and fanciful, growing more distant and sinister as his
therapy takes its course and culminating in the boy physically harming himself. I
composed a constant underscore for the play, meaning that sound played throughout,
including in the pre- and post-show. As this was an electronic soundtrack, there is no
score. I have instead provided nine audio tracks to match the nine scenes of the play.
It is important to note that it was not these tracks used in the actual performance; in
actuality, I programmed a QLab session for the stage manager to have control over the
timing of certain musical events and important structural markers to match the action
on stage. I have recorded the tracks in this portfolio from that QLab file using only
approximate timings of each scene.
5. Cloudscapes (2018) for brass quintet. 8 minutes.
Commissioned by Golden Gate Brass for performance at St Pauls Church in
Melbourne, 20 December. The quintet asked for a piece that would allow each of them
to exhibit their solo playing, and to differ aesthetically from what might traditionally
be heard from a brass ensemble. In response, I aimed to create a work that was soft and
lyrical, layering melodies atop one another to create a blurred effect. The piece can be
divided into a number of self-contained sections, each of which features a different
instrument or pair of instruments in the foreground.
6. where the waves break i find you (2019) for solo cello and electronics. 19
Written for cellist Nikki Edgar, this is a ‘multi-track’ work for cello created by
overlaying and manipulating different samples of audio. In the process of creating this
work, I met with Nikki several times and recorded her playing a mix of notated music
and quasi-improvised sound effects. The work is broken into seven short movements,
each corresponding to one word from the title. The entire work is made up solely of
manipulated cello samples.
The six works of this portfolio demonstrate an approach to temporality that is
rooted in a stretched-out, slow and directionless sense of time. The following chapters
of this document seek to investigate the philosophy that underpins much of my
thought in this area, as well as outlining the specific musical techniques employed.
Chapter 2 places my approach within the surrounding literature, discussing the
scholarly work of Jonathan Kramer, Barney Childs, Thomas Clifton and Stockhausen,
alongside the music of Debussy, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Messiaen, Pärt and Reich.
The remaining three chapters contain a detailed analysis of the specific techniques
employed in each of the six works in relation to time and timelessness. Chapter 3
discusses instances of nonlinearity and stasis in my music, investigating how musical
elements are constrained so that they appear to lack direction and forward motion
through time. Chapter 4 discusses the layering of multiple temporalities at once,
rhythmic techniques and symmetry. Chapter 5 looks more broadly at proportion,
transitions and formal structures and how they relate to the experience of time in my
Figure 1: Still from Echo & Abyss.
Figure 2: Still from We Are Gods.
…music, in thus reducing the passage of time to an irrelevance, gives an analogy or foretaste of the experience of eternity.
Basil de Selincourt6
And the seasons, they go round and round And the painted ponies go up and down We’re captive on the carousel of time We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came And go round and round and round in the circle game
2.1 Music and time
Music, as a temporal art, requires duration in order to exist.8 As Michael Rofe puts it,
“it takes time to hear music, and it takes interactions between the temporal domains
of past, present and future to detect patterns in, and ascribe significance to, music.”9
In other words, the perception of music involves not only an awareness of the activity
of the present moment, but also the memory of what has been heard previously and
the anticipation of what might come next. Music is a form of art that must be perceived
as a succession of moments that unfold over time, and listeners only have access to
these moments in the order that has been prescribed by the music’s creator. As Rofe
observes, this quality is shared with other temporal art forms such as film:
…consider the score as functioning like a roll of film used for cinematic projection: the complete set of images on the film exists in its entirety despite the fact that only one image is brought into view at any given
6 Basil de Selincourt, "Music and Duration," Music & Letters 1, no. 4 (1920): 287. 7 Joni Mitchell, "The Circle Game," in Ladies of the Canyon (Reprise, Warner Bros., 1970), compact disc. 8 Barney Childs, "Time and Music: A Composer’s View," Perspectives of New Music 15, no. 2 (1977): 195. 9 Michael Rofe, "Dualisms of Time," Contemporary Music Review 33, no. 4 (2014): 342.
moment. And yet when watching that film, the viewer only ever has access to a single image at a time.10
In the case of non-temporal art forms, for example a painting, the entire artwork is
available to the viewer at all times. They may choose to focus on specific details of the
painting, casting their eyes around the canvas in a way that allows them to piece
together an understanding of the artwork over time, but this activity is self-directed.
In temporal art, different parts of the whole are shown to the viewer in a particular
order by the creator. The time it takes to experience the whole work of art is
predetermined. A viewer may choose to look at a painting for a minute or an hour, but
it will always take exactly forty six minutes to listen to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
Jonathan Kramer says that just as music unfolds in time, “time unfolds in
music.”12 Kramer’s point is that the actual content of music will affect its listener’s
perception of the flow of time, in other words giving “an audible shape to time’s
flow.”13 There is a difference, as Thomas Clifton writes, between “the time a piece
takes” and “the time a piece presents or evokes.”14 This idea raises the point that time as
perceived by humans is vastly different to time as measured by clocks. Different
durations may feel faster or slower depending on their content—as anyone who has
watched and waited for their kettle to boil will know.
Henri Bergson’s theory of durée distinguishes between “mathematical” time,
divisible into even, discrete units (seconds, hours, days etc) and “pure” time, the lived
experience of human consciousness. Bergson argues that any mathematical quantities
we use to measure duration are merely arbitrary constructions. Instead, real duration
is a “spatiotemporal continuum” which is indivisible and known only through
intuition.17 In Bergsonian time, memory and perception are “part of a continuous,
10 Ibid., 343. 12 Jonathan Kramer, The Time of Music (New York: Schirmer Books, 1988), 1. 13 J. T. Fraser, "The Art of the Audible “Now”," Music Theory Spectrum 7 (1985): 181. 14 Thomas Clifton, Music as heard: A study in applied phenomenology (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 81. 17 Anawat Bunnag, "The concept of time in philosophy: A comparative study between Theravada Buddhist and Henri Bergson’s concept of time from Thai philosophers’ perspectives," Kasetsart Journal of Social Sciences 30 (2017): 2.
interpenetrating process in which the activities of the past and the present cannot easily
be distinguished.”18 Barney Childs elaborates that
Regarding the past as linear, with one’s self at a kind of advancing cutting edge at the now and the past extending ever more dimly behind, can be a misapprehension: a more viable metaphor might involve the analogy in which one is inside a sphere of his total experience, each component of which is the same distance from him, and as easily obtained, as every other component, and instantly cross-relatable and synthesizable with any other.19
What Bergson and Childs agree on is the idea that time must be discussed from the
perspective of how it is perceived through human intuition, and not as a rigid system
to be imposed. The implications of this discussion reach into the disciplines of
sociology, psychology, physics, perception, consciousness and philosophy. Hegel
argued that science “cannot cope with the unrest of temporality” and is therefore forced
to use a “paralyzed form” (the numerical unit) which “reduces what is self-moving to
mere material, so as to process in it an indifferent, external, lifeless content”.20 Marx
contended that the Western clock was a denial of a person’s subjective freedom to
“create their own temporality”, rendering them “timeless [and] unable to realize
Kramer suggests that listeners may simultaneously experience the sense of time
evoked by music and the ordinary time as measured by the clock. Listeners are generally
aware of roughly how much time has passed when listening to a piece of music, and it
is through this sense that they may understand the proportions of a musical work. It is
only through deep listening, by “giving [them]selves totally to a performance,” that
they may experience the peculiarities of musical time; time that is suspended, warped,
repeated, reversed, static, nonlinear, discontinuous, accelerated, decelerated, and even
stopped completely. In the outside world, the clock still ticks at exactly the same rate,
but within the perception of music, time has changed.
18 Jessie Fillerup, "Eternity in each moment: temporal strategies in Ravel’s “Le Gibet”," Music Theory Online 19 (2013): 2. 19 Childs, "Time and Music: A Composer’s View," 200. 20 Robert Adlington, "Musical temporality: perspectives from Adorno and de Man," repercussions 6 (1997): 11. 21 Ibid.
One theory as to how our experience of time may be altered by music is that
the rate of time we experience is determined by the amount of new material we must
process within a given duration. As Childs says, if space and silence follow a musical
event then “the attention stays with that event, allowing itself perhaps to wander from
it, to ruminate about it…“time” might be said to move “faster” or “slower”.23 This is
elaborated by Stockhausen:
Experiential time is in a state of flux, constantly and unexpectedly altering. An apparent paradox is immediately explained: the greater the temporal density of unexpected alterations—the information content—the more time we need to grasp events, and the less time we have for reflection, the quicker time passes; the lower the effective density of alteration (not reduced by recollection or the fact that the alterations coincide with our expectations), the less time the senses need to react, so that greater intervals of experiential time lie between the processes, and the slower time passes.24
Similarly, Grisey notes that the amount of predictability (or “preaudibility”) that he
writes into music allows him to “compose musical time directly – that is to say
perceptible time, as opposed Chronometric [clock] time". 25 Theoretically, our
experience of time may be slowed down if we are not required to process anything new
or unpredictable over a given duration.
The experience of time in a piece of music happens not only in the immediate
moment, but also how it is remembered after the fact. Flaherty noted the sense of
“temporal compression”26 that occurs after a piece of music has finished and all that
remains are the listener’s memories, an experience that was also described by David
Maslanka as “the fine residual liquor” of “an entire piece of Bach or
Beethoven…recalled in a flash” that exists beyond the “elapsed-time experience.”27
After a piece of music has finished, we may feel as if it were far shorter (or longer) than
the clock indicates. Richard Andrew Lee expands:
23 Childs, "Time and Music: A Composer’s View," 206. 24 Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Structure and experiential time," Die Reihe 2 (1958): 64., quoted in Rofe, "Dualisms of Time," 347. 25 Gerard Grisey, "Tempus ex Machina: A composer's reflections on musical time," ibid.2, no. 1 (1987): 258. 26 Richard Andrew Lee, "The interaction of linear and vertical time in minimalist and postminimalist piano music" (DMA. diss. University of Missouri-Kansas City, 2010), 36. 27 Childs, "Time and Music: A Composer’s View," 204.
Anytime you make an evaluation of how much time has passed, it requires a recollection of the past, not an experience of the present. It is not surprising, given the reduced activity within the large time span of a minimalist composition, that it feels as though little time has actually elapsed when evaluated afterwards, even when the experience of the present during the piece felt elongated.28
This idea is again related to the perception of time being affected by the amount of
new material that a listener is required to process. It follows that music with large
amounts of complexity and changes of direction will make time seem to run faster,
while music with hardly any new material will make time seem to run slower, and
afterwards feel as though less time had passed than the clock indicates.
2.2 Forward motion and Western teleology
No matter the rate at which time seems to pass, it is generally undisputed that time
still progresses, however quickly, forwards. The idea of forward motion is reflected, as
Robert Adlington notes, in the language that we commonly use to describe music, such
as “‘this music leads us to’ or ‘heads towards’, ‘the music unfolds’ or ‘drives onwards’,
and in references to musical ‘journeys’ or ‘flow.’”29 Language such as this links the
passage of time with “path-like” motion. David Epstein says that “time is only
experienced, and thus understood, through motion.” 30 This motion-based
understanding of time is merely a metaphorical construct, “the product of an urge to
endow something intangible (change) with physical characteristics.”31
The idea of progression over time has deep historical roots in Western culture,
which emphasizes teleology and goal-orientation. Western music has traditionally
featured the development of ideas (themes, motifs, etc) over time, and on moving
towards a climax and resolution. Kramer has argued that the tonal system is the
“quintessential expression of linearity”, as it is always moving through various states of
tension in the direction of tonic resolution.32 Similarly, Janna Saslaw challenges us to
28 Lee, "The interaction of linear and vertical time in minimalist and postminimalist piano music," 36. 29 Robert Adlington, "Moving beyond motion: Metaphors for Changing Sound," Journal of the Royal Musical Association 128, no. 2 (2003): 298. 30 David Epstein, Shaping Time: Music, the Brain, and Performance (New York: Schirmer Books, 1995), 8., quoted in Adlington, "Moving beyond motion: Metaphors for Changing Sound," 299. 31 Adlington, "Moving beyond motion: Metaphors for Changing Sound," 305. 32 Jonathan Kramer, "New temporalities in music," Critical Inquiry 7, no. 3 (1981): 540.
“try to imagine talking about progressions or modulations without speaking of going
and returning.”33 Benedict Taylor’s observations are particularly insightful:
This very idea of development, so highly prized in the music of the Austro-German symphonic tradition, is in fact premised upon a particular conception of time. To see something as developmental is to see future events as to some extent determined by and growing from the present, to view the future as being amenable to change. Put another way, the underlying conception of time here is essentially linear, teleological, and progressive. This premise may seem natural and self-evident to us since it is a belief about time that is found particularly strongly in the last four centuries of Western thought, but, as scholars such as Jonathan Kramer and Karol Berger have pointed out, this conception is in fact neither universal nor absolute. Rather, it is a belief underpinned by the rise of modernity, scientific thinking, and the Enlightenment in western Europe, and sustained after 1800 particularly in German philosophy and aesthetics.34
The orientation towards goals, Taylor argues, is not so much a universal characteristic
of existence but a particularly Western construct which pervades our (particularly
temporal) art. This can be clearly observed in the archetypal ‘narrative curve’ that forms
the basis of a large majority of Western temporal art. Narrative works most often
feature an introduction (involving some question or tension), a statement, a
development (possibly of relationships increasing irregularity in complexity and
intensity), a climax, a resolution and a concluding gesture.35 As Virginia Anderson
notes, the curve has significant undertones of “(male) sexual tumescence, climax, and
relaxation”.36 Narrative works, be they prose, film, theatre or music, are always heading
from one point in the curve to the next, always oriented towards the fulfilment of
archetypal goals. In music, narrative has traditionally been evoked through the
transformation of themes and motifs, particularly in later Classical and Romantic
works. Childs argues that one explanation for why this archetypal narrative curve is so
33 Janna Saslaw, "Forces, containers, and paths: the role of body-derived image schemas in the conceptualization of music," Journal of Music Theory 40, no. 2 (1996): 229. 34 Benedict Taylor, "Temporality in Nineteenth-Century Russian Music and the Notion of Development," Music & Letters 94, no. 1 (2013): 81. 35 Jann Pasler, "Narrative and Narrativity in Music," in Time and Mind: Interdisciplinary Issues, ed. J. T. Fraser (Madison, Connecticut: International Universities Press, 1989), 239. 36 Virginia Anderson, "(Re)marking time in the audiation of experimental music," Performance Research 15, no. 3 (2010): 30.
ubiquitous in time-based art is that it is “a stylized reflection of how the tradition views
The perceiver says, “I’ll pay attention to your special chunk of time if what I see and hear happening gratifies me in some fashion,” and the artist, “Pay attention and I will gratify your expectations in some fashion.” As long as a model of living seems natural to us, even “real” and “right” to us, we will approach perception of, and making of, works of time art in terms of this model.37
2.3 Stasis and the specious present
If forward motion in time-based art is culturally and historically situated, then there
must be alternative approaches available, the most discernible of which might be the
concept of stasis. In her discussion of narrative and music, Jann Pasler links a rise in
preference for stasis in twentieth century music with the shift away from musical
narratives towards “visual and other analogies between the arts not based on or
supported by stories,” citing Debussy’s Jeux (1913) and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of
Wind Instruments (1920) as early examples of antinarratives with their continuous
‘frustration’ of narrative expectations through discontinuity. Pasler says “a narrative
must go somewhere. Circularity as well as stasis is disturbing to its dynamic nature.” 38
Julian Johnson criticises static music as existing “only in the present; it has no
memory and no history. It demands no real attention and no thought.... it caricatures
the dream of the perpetual present,”39 while Kramer’s more optimistic description is of
a “single present stretched out into an enormous duration, a potentially infinite “now’
that nonetheless feels like an instant.”40 Both scholars emphasise the idea of a somehow
extended present moment, an idea that can be linked to John Cage's "hearing in the
present tense,” Stefan Wolpe's "unfoldment of nows,"41 and Stockhausen’s moment
form, which the composer described as exploring the “eternity present in every
37 Childs, "Time and Music: A Composer’s View," 198. 38 Pasler, "Narrative and Narrativity in Music," 240. 39Julian Johnson, "The Subjects of Music: A Theoretical and Analytical Enquiry into the Construction of Subjectivity in the Musical Structuring of Time" (PhD. diss. University of Sussex, 1993), 223., quoted in Adlington, "Musical temporality: perspectives from Adorno and de Man," 54. 40 Kramer, "New temporalities in music," 549. 41 Jeff Pressing, "Relations between musical and scientific properties of time," Contemporary Music Review 7, no. 2 (1993): 109.
moment.”42 The works of these composers draw their listener’s attention only to that
which is immediately available in the present, without concern for what, if anything,
has changed or will change over time.
This sense of the present moment—what Boulez called a “time-bubble” —has
been described by various scholars as a ‘specious present’. This term refers to an interval
of duration in which all events are considered as belonging together as one whole
unchanging entity. Within a specious present, no new beginnings are encountered, and
every element is “simultaneously available.”43 Portions of stasis in music serve the
purpose of creating this experience: if musical material remains constant over a segment
of duration—that is, simultaneously available at every moment within that segment—
then it may be experienced as a specious present.
Thomas Clifton has said that
a static succession will tend to obliterate not only the distinction but the very idea of rhythmic levels. Instead, what is offered is a simple “presence”, a state of sound which does not seem to move but which is rather passively content to be replaced by another sonority. “Static” should probably be interpreted as a limit case, since even a simple sustained sound does not behave analogously to the colour of a wall, but is always in a state of becoming. Perhaps you can think of static succession as a time experience lying somewhere between duration and rhythm.44
Perhaps the most succinct example of Clifton’s ‘limit case’ of sustained sound in
practice is La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #7, in which two notes are simply
“held for a long time”. A performance of this piece could last for an hour or a year. We
might walk in during the middle, stay for a few minutes, and then leave, or we might
listen for its entire duration, but in either case, we would have heard all the musical
material we were ever going to hear. Rather than moving towards or away from
something—a climax or resolution, for example—it simply exists, still and
unchanging. Stockhausen has pointed out that music that uses time in this way does
42 Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Momentform," in Texte zur elektronischen und instrumentalen Musik (Cologne: DuMont, 1963), 199., quoted in Kramer, The Time of Music, 201. 43 Gordon Dale Fitzell, "Time-consciousness and form in nonlinear music" (PhD. diss. The University of British Colombia, 2004), 9. 44 Thomas Clifton, "Some Comparisons between Intuitive and Scientific Descriptions of Music," Journal of Music Theory 19, no. 1 (1975): 99-100., quoted in Childs, "Time and Music: A Composer’s View," 215-16.
not begin, but simply starts; it does not end, but stops. In this manner, he argues, pieces
in his “moment time” are “infinite” even though their performances are limited in
duration for practical reasons.45 Kramer describes such pieces as existing in “vertical
time,” citing as examples Xenakis’ Bohor I (1962) and Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in
Curved Air (1969):
A vertical piece does not exhibit cumulative closure: it does not begin but merely starts, does not build to a climax, does not purposefully set up internal expectations, does not seek to fulfil any expectations that might arise accidentally, does not build or release tension, and does not end but simply ceases. It defines its bounded sound world early in its performance, and it stays within the limits it chooses.46
As Clifton has said, all sound must undergo at least some degree of change, however
insignificant, as it progresses through time. Thus applying the term ‘stasis’ to music is
not so much a physical description as it is a metaphorical one, descriptive of what the
listener perceives. Kramer’s use of stasis to describe “segments of musical time that are
stationary and have no implication to move ahead…the freezing of several parameters
into miniature eternities”47 is useful, pointing us towards considering instances where
the possible range of what might be heard within a segment of duration is limited and
invariable. The threshold of what musical elements may be considered to belong
together to create a lack of change is contextual, as in any given musical context what
may be considered stasis depends on the events that have surrounded it, and the
amount of new information per unit time that is unveiled.48
Aside from limit cases like the La Monte Young example, we might look again
to more nuanced instances of stasis in Western music. Wagner’s prelude to Das
Rheingold notably consists of a single, stretched out Eb-major triad, used as a backdrop
for textural development over several minutes. Much Russian music of the late
romantic period is particularly concerned with “static, repetitive, cyclical, and non-
progressive elements,” which manifests in opera by “a lack of dramatic interest and
45 Stockhausen, "Momentform," 207., quoted in Kramer, The Time of Music, 203. 46 Kramer, "New temporalities in music," 549. 47 Kramer, The Time of Music, 44. 48 Ibid., 210.
predilection for static, tableaux-like plots.” 49 The Finale of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth
Symphony, for example, was criticised by Donald Tovey as “running faster and faster
while remaining rooted to the spot.”50 That Russian music is less concerned with
developing ideas through thematic transformation than Austro-Germanic music is
identified by Benedict Taylor as a potential reason why it is so popular with modern
audiences, as it “depends upon attractive themes¾good tunes¾and colourful,
inventive orchestration. This emphasis on theme goes hand-in-hand with a
downplaying of connective, ‘athematic’ transitional passages or melodically less
strongly characterized developmental passages of melodic fragmentation and working-
Stasis is also integral to many Minimalist pieces. Works such as Reich’s Piano
Phase (1967), Drumming (1971), Clapping Music (1972), Six Pianos (1973), Rzewski’s
Les Moutons de Panurge (1969) and Glass’s Music in Twelve Parts (1974) involve
constant, repetitive, rapid motion with underlying and overwhelming consistency.
There is a sense in these pieces of ‘going nowhere fast’, that the motion is “so consistent
that we lose any point of reference, any contact with faster or slower motion that might
keep us aware of the music’s directionality. The experience is static despite the constant
motion in the music.”52 Jeff Pressing notes that “systematic repetition of patterns can
dull time perception, stretch or even eliminate the apparent time, eliminate the effects
of transitions, beginnings, and endings, or force attention to focus on certain temporal
details or scales.”53
Somewhat paradoxically, these static works may still involve a global
directionality: Reich in particular often employs long, drawn-out processes that
gradually unfold over the course of a work. Piano Phase, for example, is in a continuous
state of evolution, every moment ever so slightly different from the last as the two
instruments slide further out of time with one another in accordance with the fixed
rules of the process. These rules never change, and all that we experience is “so totally
49 Taylor, "Temporality in Nineteenth-Century Russian Music and the Notion of Development," 80-82. 50 Ibid., 97. 51 Ibid., 88. 52 Kramer, The Time of Music, 57. 53 Pressing, "Relations between musical and scientific properties of time," 109.
linear that predictability reigns.”54 As in all process music, “we soon understand the
very narrow limitations of its sound world and we stop expecting change beyond those
limits. There is motion, but it somehow does not matter - it is not perceived as
change.”55 In other words, the transformation experienced is little other than the
gradual unfolding of an objective process.56
Arvo Pärt’s use of musical stasis has been described as “a rejection of musical,
cultural, and historical progress narratives…[in a] 1970s Soviet milieu.”57 Cantus in
Memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977) involves a process of temporally layered
descending scales. The descent feels constantly in motion towards a resolution which
is only fulfilled at the very end; despite this, the temporal elements of this piece outline
a ‘frozen eternity’ as it is, at the semantic level, unchanging.
Kramer discusses the binary of stasis and forward motion by linking these
concepts with the philosophical states of being and becoming:
Throughout history, time has been regarded as being and/or becoming by various philosophers and cultures. The arts have reflected these concerns. In music, the strongest representative of becoming is tonal progression, though any movement through time, whether goal-directed or not, exemplifies becoming. I identify becoming with temporal linearity. Nonlinearity is more like being. Nonlinearity is a concept, a compositional attitude, and a listening strategy that concerns itself with the permanence of music: with aspects of a piece that do not change, and, in extreme cases, with compositions that do not change.58
Much pre-industrial and Eastern thought places emphasis on states of being. Kramer
notes Balinese music in particular as, “like Balinese life,…not oriented toward
climax,”59 while certain Japanese art is “nondramatic,” emphasising “every object and
every moment of time rather than an entire structure.”60 The philosophy of being bears
great similarity to the forms of static music discussed previously in this chapter,
54 Kramer, "New temporalities in music," 555. 55 Jonathan Kramer, "Moment form in twentieth-century music," Musical Quarterly 64, no. 2 (1978): 183. 56 Pasler, "Narrative and Narrativity in Music," 246. 57 Maria Cizmic, "Transcending the Icon: Spirituality and Postmodernism in Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa and Spiegel im Spiegel," twentieth-century music 5, no. 1 (2008): 74. 58 Kramer, The Time of Music, 19. 59 Ibid., 23. 60 Ibid., 202.
suggesting that these forms of music rose to prominence in the twentieth century as
composers searched for alternatives to the Western-influenced concepts of forward
motion and teleology.
It follows from the previous discussion that nonteleological music may not simply alter
listeners’ perceptions of time, but instead may exist outside of time, creating an
experience of timelessness. To experience this phenomenon is to, in a sense, escape
time altogether.61 Subjective as it is, timelessness is not so much a literal characteristic
of any music but rather a phenomenon that is encouraged by features of music such as
changelessness, directionlessness, nonlinearity and stasis. Thus the attention and focus
of the listener are important to their experience of time. “The more deeply we listen to
music in vertical time,” says Kramer, “the more thoroughly we enter the timeless now
of the extended present”.62
Australian composer Ross Edwards has spoken about his intention to evoke the
sounds of the Australian bush, with a particular focus on the sound patterns made by
insects, which “if you listen [to] long enough, can lead you into a timeless domain
where the concerns of self and society are temporarily suspended”.63 It is not so much
the musical content of these insect sounds, rather their nonlinear distribution in time,
that creates this effect. Edwards’ use of music to represent the bush can be linked to
Ligeti’s “spatialization of the flow of time,” in which the time continuum of a piece of
music is thought of in spatial terms. The composer used this phrase to explain ‘non-
developmental’ forms of music, presumably using space as an alternative to the
assumed forward motion of time.64 By subordinating time onto space, each moment is
seen as not successive to the last but rather as an environment to be experienced without
any inherent direction or change. This idea is somewhat reminiscent of Takemitsu’s
‘garden’ metaphor, the composer likening the unfolding of his music over time to the
61 Luke, "Music and the experience of Timelessness," 330. 62 Kramer, The Time of Music, 376. 63 Ross Edwards, "Symphony Da Pacem Domine," in Sydney Symphony Orchestra Meet the Music 4, ed. Susanne James (Sydney: ABC, 1992), 33., quoted in Paul Stanhope, "The music of Ross Edwards: aspects of ritual" (MA (Hons) diss. University of Wollongong, 1994), 55. 64 Christopher Hasty, "On the problem of succession and continuity in twentieth-century music," Music Theory Spectrum 8 (1986): 59.
experience of strolling through a Japanese garden. 65 Kramer elaborates on spatial
conceptions of musical time:
Listening to vertical musical time, then, can be like looking at a piece of sculpture. When we view sculpture, we determine for ourselves the pacing of our experience: we are free to walk around the piece, view it from many angles, concentrate on some details, see other details in relationship to each other, step back and view the whole, see the relationship between the piece and the space in which we see it, leave the room when we wish, close our eyes and remember, and return for further viewings.66
Edwards maintains that his evocations of insects and the bush are a part of his attempt
to make music which is ‘functional’ and not merely pleasant to listen to. 67 The
composer’s use of timelessness provides a means for listeners to escape the concerns of
their daily lives. Similarly, Kramer asserts that timelessness “makes contact with a
deeply human time sense that is often denied in daily living (at least in Western
cultures). The significance of [forms of music that foreground timelessness], and of
many modernist artworks, is that they give voice to a fundamental human experience
that is largely unavailable in traditional Western music.”68 Aside from music, this
sensation can also be created through “meditation, dreams, hypnosis, psychedelic
drugs, and sensory deprivation”.69 The benefits of such a state are elaborated on by
When one is not concerned with time, one is likely to see oneself as happy-timelessness or the sense of eternity being identified with the condition of ecstasy…The essence of [this] mystical experience…is in its complete freedom from any sensual or aggressive wish, the freedom from internal pressure and perception of the surrounding world as devoid of any exciting elements, threatening or promising possibilities.70
65 Toru Takemitsu, "Mirror and Egg," in Confronting Silence: Selected Writings, ed. Yoshiko Kakudo and Glen Glasow (Berkeley, CA: Fallen Leaf Press, 1995), 95. 66 Kramer, "New temporalities in music," 551. 67 Stanhope, "The music of Ross Edwards: aspects of ritual," 55. 68 Kramer, The Time of Music, 394. 69 Ibid., 376. 70 Peter Hartocollis, "On the experience of time and its dynamics, with special reference to affects," Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 24, 2 (1976).
To quote Wittgenstein, “if we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration,
but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present”.71 The
relationship of timelessness to eternity is, in my view, somewhat metaphorical;
timelessness evokes in listeners a sense of eternity without literally representing it.
Messiaen, whose compositions are well documented as dealing with time, asserted that
“to name eternity is to affirm the existence of God.”72 For him, timelessness and
eternity were conditions of religious transcendence. Such theological considerations are
outside the realm of this thesis¾and indeed my compositions¾however, I am
sympathetic to Messiaen’s objective of using musical timelessness to achieve a
meaningful transcendence. This sense of spirituality is echoed by Edwards:
I think the Dreaming (Alchera) of [Australian] Aboriginal peoples is like our Eternity, where time is omnipresent rather than linear…I also believe that those rituals capable of suspending our self-consciousness and promoting awareness of the mystery of the here and now are essential to the wellbeing of both individuals and society.73
In my music, timelessness occurs within bounded moments, allowing the listener
relatively brief glimpses into eternal worlds which are periodically shuffled and cycled.
The remaining chapters of this document closely examine the musical features of these
compositions and provide theories as to how they might affect a listener’s experience
71 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-philosophicus, trans. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness (London: Routledge, 1999)., quoted in Sixto J. Castro, "Art, Eternity, Aevum, Time," in Art & Time, ed. P Campbell (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007), 31. 72 Olivier Messiaen, Traité de rythme, de couleur, et d'ornithologie, vol 1 (Paris: Alphonse Leduc, 1996), 7., quoted in Aaron Allen Hayes, "Discourses on Time in the European Avant-garde" (PhD diss. Stony Brook University, 2016), 166. 73 Ross Edwards, "Program Note: Mass of the Dreaming: Missa Alchera," Australian Music Centre (2009). https://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/workversion/edwards-ross-mass-of-the-dreaming/24674.
3. STASIS AND NONLINEARITY
Linear time has been defined as the “temporal continuum created by a succession of
events in which earlier events imply later ones and later ones are consequences of earlier
ones”.74 It is this form of time that underpins most Western music, which is governed
by a “complex web of constantly changing implications (in the music) and expectations
(of the listener)”. 75 Nonlinearity exists when the idea of hierarchical succession
between events is somehow broken. In the early twentieth century, composers such as
Mahler, Ives, Debussy and Stravinsky approached nonlinearity by experimenting with
or by composing ‘by ear’ in such a way as to deliberately frustrate linear expectation.
Within the given duration, all musical events must be perceived as belonging together,
74 Kramer, The Time of Music, 20. 75 Ibid. 76 Lindsay Vickery, "The Evaluation of Nonlinear Musical Structures," Sound Scripts: Proceedings of the 2009 Totally Huge New Music Conference 3 (2011): 74. 77 Kramer, The Time of Music, 20. 78 Fitzell, "Time-consciousness and form in nonlinear music," 9.
and I have aimed to achieve this by composing within fixed parameters. In this manner
I have borrowed from Stockhausen’s moment form:
When certain characteristics remain constant for a while-in musical terms, when sounds occupy a particular region, a certain register, or stay within a particular dynamic, or maintain a certain average speed-then a moment is going on: these constant characteristics determine the moment.79
Following Stockhausen, I use the term ‘moment’ throughout this thesis to refer to
nonlinear, ‘timeless’ sections of my compositions (though one would be hard-pressed
to find many other similarities between our work). During a moment, musical
behaviours remain consistent, and there is no implication that the music will move
outside of these boundaries. Instances of change, renewal and discontinuity may still
occur within these boundaries, but the compositional goal is to ensure that this change
is unlikely to be experienced as forward progression through time. This idea can be
linked to Boulez’s “bubble” metaphor:
Events contained in a bubble, no matter how disparate, integrate to form a perceptual unit by virtue of being surrounded by the bubble's boundary, which separates them from events in the external environment. Within the bubble, no new beginnings are perceived. Instead each succeeding event contributes to its becoming (i.e., its expanding). When a listener experiences a present awareness as being within such a perceptual unit, the present may seem directionless.80
With this in mind, the idea of stasis may be viewed as a heightened form of
nonlinearity. If a musical parameter is static, it experiences no change, and any sense
of forward motion is replaced by overarching consistency. There is no implication that
the next moment will be any different to the current moment, for instance. In this
manner, instances of stasis can form “frozen eternities” in which the lack of change
causes time to cease to flow forwards.81 Stasis and nonlinearity, as I use them, are thus
interrelated concepts. One is a form of the other, and vice versa. In my work, these are
79 Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Moment-forming and Momente," in Stockhausen on music: lectures and interviews, ed. Robin Maconie (London: M. Boyars, 1989), 63. 80 Fitzell, "Time-consciousness and form in nonlinear music," 7. 81 Kramer, The Time of Music, 44.
the primary tools through which I aim to suspend the passage of time and evoke
3.1 Continuity and renewal
One of my compositional goals is to ensure that, within a timeless context, musical
elements are in a continuous state of renewal. Colour and texture are always shifting
to reveal new angles of static musical objects, while phrases and melodies are written
so that they feature constantly unheard permutations of set melodic fragments. There
is thus a very curious tension that underpins much of my work, between those elements
of music that undergo change and those that do not. Although there is lots of motion
within these timeless worlds (my compositions are almost never totally still), this
motion is grounded by stasis and nonlinearity, and never moves outside the boundaries
of the sound world. I am careful to ensure that any sense of linearity, though not totally
absent in my work, is disguised. One of my goals is to create sound worlds that feel at
once to be continuously moving yet also rooted to the spot.
A common technique of my work is to keep harmony static while other
parameters (rhythm, texture, dynamic) continue to undergo subtle change over time
within defined boundaries. The following example, from Scene 3 of Echo & Abyss,
demonstrates this principle:
Audio Example 1: Echo & Abyss, Scene 3.
This excerpt is underpinned by a B-flat drone, with multiple voices in the ‘choir’
outlining a single chord which slowly evolves in texture as time passes:
Figure 3: Harmony in Echo & Abyss, Scene 3.
Each note of the chord swells up and down in volume and intensity at a rate different
to the others. If scored for a choir, it might look something like this, with each singer
instructed to perform crescendo and diminuendo in their own time:
Figure 4: Choral parts extracted from Echo & Abyss, Scene 3.
The centring of a B-flat drone continues throughout the entire 26-minute work—
though it does fall by about thirty cents over this duration—never establishing another
key and only briefly implying other chords.
While the harmony is static, the texture in a continuous state of renewal. This
particular section of music also features a gentle wind noise, the soft rumbling swells
of a bass drum, and the rising and falling of overtones from the voices. That every
element of the music is essentially swelling up and down at a different rate means the
sound world is continuously shifting and evolving. However, the relative subtlety of
these changes and their context within a harmonically static sound world means that
this change is unlikely to be felt as forward progression through time. Moreover, the
textural events in this section are distributed in a nonlinear fashion, as the result of
temporally layered processes and cycles. While the music swells up and down there is
no implication that it will move outside its defined boundaries. It is these features of
the music that evoke timelessness.
I use similar techniques throughout Cloudscapes to create drone-like textures:
Figure 5: Cloudscapes, figure A.
Audio Example 2: Cloudscapes, figure A.
Ignoring the horn melody, for now, the ensemble essentially outlines a perfect fifth—
Figure 6: Reduction of accompaninment parts in Cloudscapes, figure A.
—but does so in a way that sustains textural interest over time. Each instrument moves
briefly away from the chord at some point—the first trumpet to a G and C, for
example—but for the majority of the duration of this section the D open fifth retains
an extremely strong presence.
While pure stasis would involve a constant, unmoving drone on these notes, I
aim for a more nuanced and sculpted effect by enriching the texture with swells, passing
notes, fluttertongue and stuttering rhythms. These events are distributed in a nonlinear
fashion, as they are all derived from the layering of four separate parts in cycles. As each
player performs their cycle independently of the others, there is no perceptible linear
order in which the musical events occur. In a similar fashion to the excerpt from Echo
& Abyss, there is an element of perceptual unpredictability to these textural changes.
The sense of change is grounded by harmonic stasis, ensuring that any change is
experienced as nothing more than the gradual unfolding of a static process.
In the following example, taken from Biome, a very similar effect is created by
the alto flute, clarinet, bass recorder and alto saxophone. This example occurs at
approximately the 8-minute mark:
Figure 7: Biome, 8:00, a.fl., cl, b.rec., a.sax. parts (note the transposing parts).
Here, the instruments begin their loops at different times, but unlike the previous
example from Cloudscapes, play in the same tempo. As each loop is a different length,
the same exact combination of events won’t be heard twice for over an hour. Though
the harmonic range of this segment is narrow, shown below in figure 8, it is constantly
shifting in balance as a result of the many thousands of permutations of the conditions
of the music.
Figure 8: Biome, 8:00, reduction.
During this section, it is unlikely that the whole chord will be fully realised in its
entirety for more than a brief moment, instead mostly shuffling through its various 3-
note, 2-note and, very rarely, 1-note subsets. If the instruments were to begin their
cycles at the same time, this would be the harmonic result of the first 17 seconds:
Figure 9: Biome, 8:00, reduction.
Despite the fact that the notes are changing, it would be incorrect to think of this as
harmonic motion, as every note is derived from a narrow range of pitches and the
aleatoric nature of their continuous shuffling resists the formation of a linear hierarchy.
Furthermore, the orchestration as well as harmony is continuously shifting: the texture
is vastly different with the saxophone on the highest pitch than it is with the flute on
the highest pitch, for example, and this adds another element of potential change. This
material functions much like a drone, remaining still, while the other instrumental
parts not shown here move around it.
In this excerpt, as in the examples discussed above, there is a sense of constantly
evolving sound within a narrow range of harmonic possibility. Static harmony is
enriched with changes of texture, dynamic and colour. Any change that does occur is
distributed somewhat randomly, through temporally layered cycles and aleatoric
processes. This means that change is very unlikely to be perceived as linear.
3.2 Bounded worlds
While instances of stasis are the most straightforward to closely analyse, there are other
sections of my music that create nonlinear time without any static parameters. Instead,
elements of music occupy ‘bounded worlds,’ that is, segments of duration which
feature a defined range of events that may happen, which are distributed in a nonlinear
fashion. Instead of moving forward through time by consequence and succession, the
order of events is determined by processes, cycles and randomization. Change may be
experienced, but never outside the defined boundaries of the world.
The score of We Are Gods features many examples of bounded worlds. Scenes
1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 of the soundtrack are entirely nondirectional, using asynchronous loops
and cyclical processes to achieve nonlinear time, and having the theoretical potential
to continue outlining their sound worlds forever. In the theatre, this is less an aesthetic
ideology and more a practical necessity, as the soundtrack needs to be adaptable to
however long a scene happens to play out in real-time. Scene 1 underscores the preshow
period, as the audience files into the theatre:
Audio Example 3: We Are Gods, Scene 1 (Preshow).
The boundaries of this sound world are simple. At any given moment, we may hear a
combination of the following: low rumbling (which is not so much ‘heard’ as ‘felt’ in
the space), a solitary marimba note or chord derived from a small number of
possibilities, the sound of wings flapping, a fly buzzing, and other various insect noises.
The marimba chords move in a cycle in which no event is meant to be interpreted as
a consequence of another. All the sound material that we will ever hear is laid out early
on in the moment. The order of these events bears no meaning: they are nonlinear. In
this way, no forward motion is experienced, and the resulting timeless sound world can
function as an extension of the physical space.
Scene 5 of Echo & abyss features a high choral texture and a shimmering sound
effect. For clarity, I have extracted the shimmering sound to be heard in isolation in
Audio example 5.
Audio Example 4: Echo & Abyss, Scene 5.
Audio Example 5: Echo & Abyss, isolated shimmer sound from Scene 5.
The shimmering sound is a feature of this scene, continuously recurring and
occasionally forming small melodic fragments. Both the physical location of this sound
and its dynamic level have been randomised through a delay designer, so that it comes
from a different place at a different volume each time it is heard (an effect which is
intensified in the ten-channel version). The score might look something like this, with
spacing meant to imply rhythm (note that this is not an exact transcription):
Figure 10: Echo & Abyss, Scene 5, 'shimmer' sound reduction.
This is a bounded world which never strays from a circumscribed possible set of events
over this segment of duration. The timbre is consistent, the pitch is constricted to a
narrow range of possibilities, the length of silence between events is roughly between
0.2 and 5 seconds, volume is subtly shifting in a random fashion (though the sound
always remains present enough to occupy the foreground), and events may occur at
any random location over the sound field. These events are distributed in a nonlinear
fashion and resist forming a unified directionality; there is never any implication that
a new note will be introduced to the melody. It is unlikely that, while listening to this
section, listeners will expect any change beyond these parameters. This concept is
mirrored in the choral parts heard concurrently:
Audio Example 6: Echo & Abyss, isolated choral parts from Scene 5.
The choral texture, formed with sixteen independently moving lines, is continuously
in motion, with voices rising and falling as they drop in and out, and regular
descending melodies that occasionally move to the foreground and back out again.
Each line is on a repeating loop of a different length than the others, ensuring that the
balance of harmony is continuously shifting. The events that occur in this music resist
a global directionality.
3.3 Phrases and melody
In the early stages of composing Cloudscapes, I sought the feedback of a composition
lecturer, and was told that I might want to consider rewriting the melodies as they
“didn’t really go anywhere”. Though perhaps unattractive from a traditional
standpoint, this was exactly the effect I had been aiming for. An example of such a
melody occurs at figure A, in the horn:
Figure 11: Cloudscapes, figure A, horn melody.
This melody more or less explores the different permutations of a set of recurring
melodic cells, marked here with slurs:
Figure 12: Cloudscapes, melodic cells extracted from horn melody.
This reduction clearly outlines a gradual ascent. However, in context, the melodic cells
are shuffled into a different order which disguises this directionality. The melody has
a meandering quality, moving back and forth between the available notes with little
sense of overall direction, generally hovering around the note B. The only overarching
movement that may be perceptible is that it moves slightly higher in pitch towards the
middle (the high G may be experienced as a point of arrival), but this movement is
grounded and limited in the almost immediate return of the initial melodic material.
Another of Kramer’s descriptions applies to my aim in this passage, “the reason that
this piece is heard in vertical time is that its phrases refuse to form a hierarchy and are
therefore heard to some extent as arbitrary. Every cadence is of approximately equal
weight”82 The lack of overall direction in the melody creates a bounded moment in the
Similar use of melody can be found in Echo & Abyss. The eighth scene of the
work features a whistling melody, which I have roughly transcribed here:
Figure 13: Echo & Abyss, Scene 8, whistling melody.
This melody is more or less an exploration of these recurring cells:
Figure 14: Echo & Abyss, melodic cells from whistling melody.
The melody is presented in canon with itself, with a second voice trailing around ten
seconds behind. With this technique, I aimed to create a somewhat ‘blurred’ effect, to
make it difficult to distinguish the melody clearly in its entirety:
Audio Example 7: Echo & Abyss, Scene 8.
It is not so much a long melody with an end goal as it is a series of looping fragments
that are interconnected. Phrases exist, and are of roughly the same length as each other,
but are not linked together in a linear hierarchy. Instead, this melody shares its
‘meandering’ quality with the example from Cloudscapes discussed above. It is also
82 Ibid., 55.
relevant to note the octatonic influence on the harmony used; though it is not purely
octatonic it uses two overlapping octatonic pentachords, shown here with square
The use of the octatonic scale is notable. As a mode of limited transposition,
harmonically it “gives the impression of moving without actually getting anywhere.”83
This is a result of its intervalically repetitive structure. Octatonic scales feature
prominently in other melodies from Echo & Abyss for this reason, as well as in Firefly:
Figure 16: Firefly, excerpt.
Figure 17 shows all of the pitches of the above excerpt, arranged from highest to lowest.
The notes in brackets fill in the octatonic scale.
Figure 17: Octatonic scale extracted from Firefly.
83 Martin Boykan, Silence and Slow Time: Studies in Musical Narrative (Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press, 2004), 163.
This scale features prominently in many of my earlier works, such as Saxophone
Concerto (2015), I am Sleepless (2015), City of Ghosts (2016) and Blue Heat (2017).
The appeal to me is precisely what composer Martin Boykan describes: that the scale
itself can be perceived as a static object.84 As its interval structure is so highly repetitive,
notes don’t have very much power to be established as tonal centres through traditional
means. It is interesting to note that this scale features prominently in the work of
Messiaen, as well as Takemitsu, both composers with an interest in time. Perhaps the
scale was attractive to these composers at it allows for a great deal of internal motion
without implying linear progression.
3.4 Global directionality
Biome is a different type of bounded world, in that unlike the pieces discussed above,
the parameters of its world expand over time. The piece features an indisputable sense
of global directionality, as the first seven minutes feature a long, drawn out crescendo
to a climax. This first half was an experiment in extreme consistency (so much so that
during rehearsals, the conductor remarked that he was so engaged with the time world
of the piece that it became very difficult to gauge how much time had passed). At the
beginning of the piece, the parameters are at their most narrow:
Audio Example 8: Biome, opening.
All that can be heard in these first 40 seconds are the notes C4 and D4, only at a
dynamic between ppp and pp, only in small gestures that last at a maximum a few
seconds, from a limited set of five instruments (alto flute, clarinet, bass recorder, violin
and cello). As the piece progresses, the parameters are widened. New pitches are
gradually introduced, the dynamic range increases, other instruments join the texture,
and phrases lengthen to include ascending scalic motion. These changes happen in
stages that last approximately 45 seconds to 1 minute, and each instrument’s entry into
every successive phase is staggered. However, the piece retains its nonlinear character,
as at any given moment the events that occur are a result of asynchronous layered
cycles. As well as this, the parameters expand in the same direction and at a rate that is
more or less consistent (one new dynamic level is introduced approximately every
minute, for example). One is reminded of global directionality in process works such
as Reich’s continuously evolving Piano Phase (1967), in which the consistent rate of
global change renders the experience static.
This analysis foregrounds a relevant tension between directionality and non-
directionality in Biome. On one hand, my assumption is that quite early on in the piece
listeners will understand the implications of the nonlinear sound world that
periodically expands its parameters, and once this expectation is set there is no variation
from it (that is, until the 7 minute mark). There are no cadence points, no points of
rest, nothing in the music to indicate consequence or succession. Conversely, the piece
feels at once in a continuous state of expansion, of moving towards a climax that is,
eventually, realised. This sensation is linear. Scenes 5, 7, 8 and 9 from We Are Gods
share this tension. These scenes also feature events derived from a set of limited
parameters and distributed nonlinearly. The parameters themselves, however,
transform over time, usually widening to incorporate busier, louder and more
dissonant elements as tension builds throughout each scene (the exception being Scene
7, which loses intensity as it progresses).
Even in the event of global linear directionality, these sections of music can still
be thought of as occupying bounded sound worlds. Every event is derived from the
overarching parameters of the world and laid out in a nonlinear fashion. Even as these
parameters gradually widen or shrink, the internal nonlinearity remains consistent.
Kramer’s description of vertical time is applicable here, in which he addresses the
question of how static pieces may still involve global directionality: “a large part of the
answer has to do with the absence of phrases, of alterations of density, or of rhythmic
events that might appear cadential.”85 Timelessness pervades as elements are always
drawn from their bounded worlds.
The examples in this chapter have demonstrated different compositional
techniques that I have applied in the composition portfolio to create bounded
moments of timelessness: static harmony with evolving textures, drones, nonlinear
85 Kramer, "Moment form in twentieth-century music," 183.
distribution of elements and melodic fragmentation. These techniques serve the
purpose of eschewing forward motion while still featuring a continuous evolution of
sound. The examples from Biome and We Are Gods demonstrate a compositional
tension between slowly expanding linearity and its concurrent property of the
nonlinear coherence of musical gestures, through which I aim to create a sense of slowly
4. TEMPORAL MULTIPLICITY
The notion of the multiplicity of musical time—that music can enable listeners to experience different senses of directionality, different temporal narratives, and/or different rates of motion, all simultaneously-is indeed postmodern.
The works of this composition portfolio frequently feature instances in which multiple
layers of music, often in separate tempi, are superimposed. In my concert works, players
are frequently instructed to play independently of one another, and my electroacoustic
works often incorporate multiple rhythmically distinct layers. Homogenous motion is
very much the exception rather than the rule. This creates an effect, to borrow from
Kramer, of ‘multiple time’.87 In the context of my work, I use this term to refer to
instances where more than one sense of time (tempo, meter, pulse) may be perceived
by the listener at once. On the topic of multiplicity, Thomas Clifton writes that
It seems not unreasonable that we can have spans within spans, horizons within horizons, and that we can speak, with perfect intelligibility, about certain time spans interrupting others, or being interpolated between others, or of alternating with others.88
Here, Clifton implies that listeners may be able to perceive multiple senses of time at
once. In my work, I intend to use such temporal multiplicity as a defining feature, to
create tension and interest between competing parts and an overall temporality that is
fluid and organic. In this area, I am particularly influenced by the polytempic
innovations of composers such as Charles Ives, Henry Cowell and Conlon Nancarrow.
86 Jonathan Kramer, "Postmodern concepts of musical time," Indiana theory review 17, no. 2 (1996): 22. 87 Ibid. 88 Clifton, Music as heard: A study in applied phenomenology, 58-59.
Chapter 3 briefly explored the ways that superimposed loops are employed in
my work to create a nonlinear order of events and continuous renewal of musical
material. In this chapter I will look in greater detail at such loops, exploring how these
superimposed layers interact with each other to create rhythmic diversity and affect the
global experience of time. I will also investigate the idea of symmetry, a term which I
use to describe the layering of two or more parts which share a similarity of melody,
harmony, pitch or internal rhythm. I use this technique to draw specific attention to
the multiplicity of time in these moments.
4.1 Superimposed layers
As previously discussed, Biome features the layering of ten instruments acting
independently of one another, each operating in their own time. Each part is given the
tempo indication of “crotchet ≈ 60, fluid and organic.” With this instruction, I
intended for the instruments to move fluidly within the approximate region of 50-70
BPM. Similarly, in Cloudscapes, players are frequently instructed to play various
repeated passages in their own time, with the tempo instruction ‘independent tempo
rubato’. In these instances, the listener may perceive a multiplicity of musical time. If
a listener were to listen to the isolated part of only one player, it is likely that they
would perceive a pulse and meter (though I often compose to intentionally avoid
regular beats). When two or more parts are layered and move independently of one
another, this sense of pulse and meter becomes obscured. Though a listener may keep
track of multiple tempi at once, it is more likely that the resulting effect is that of a
rhythmically complex sound world with no perceptible meter, especially given that
meter is already deliberately obscured in each part. Each part interferes with the
rhythms of the other. I consider one of my earlier works, Kusama’s Garden (2017) to
be quite a landmark work in my exploration of this phenomenon, a succinct example
of which is shown in figure 18. I include this example of my earlier work as I feel it
substantially informs the works of my composition portfolio.
Figure 18: Kusama's Garden, 1:45 - 2:15.
Audio Example 9: Kusama’s Garden, 1:45 - 2:15.
In this instance, each piano operates in its own discrete meter. Perceptually, my goal is
that each part interferes with the rhythm of the other, creating an overall rhythmic
complexity. What is perceived is not simply two tempi at once, but a new sense of time
that is complex and difficult to measure. The use of controlled aleatory in this instance
is particularly reminiscent of Lutosławski, who used similar techniques to achieve
rhythmic and textural complexity. This form of rhythmic indeterminacy can achieve a
similar result as the difficult and dense rhythms of the New Complexity movement.89
Each of the works in the composition portfolio features superimposed layers in
different temporalities. In these instances, I will very often have all layers share aspects
89 Scott Ean McIntyre, "The simplification of complex notation presented in aleatoric forms" (PhD. diss. University of Tasmania, 2013), 8.
of pitch, harmony and texture. Often parts will also share aspects of rhythm (that is,
within their own independent time world). My goal is to set two or more similar
musical lines in motion atop one another, in order to draw specific attention to their
temporal differences. In this way, by keeping most other parameters constrained, I aim
to draw specific attention to the experience of time. One particular piece that I take
inspiration from is Kate Moore’s Sensitive Spot (2005), in which a live piano
performance is overlaid with several recordings of the same performer playing the same
piece, all of which were recorded without the use of a metronome or click track. The
subtle shifts in tempo between each recording and the live performance create a
blurred, somewhat chaotic effect and what the composer describes as a “tapestry of
interwoven rhythmic patterns”90. This approach can be thought of as building on the
phase works of Steve Reich.
A succinct example of symmetry in my work can be found in the opening of
Figure 19: Cloudscapes, trumpet melodies.
Audio Example 10: Cloudscapes, trumpet melodies.
In this example, two trumpets are given the same melody. The second trumpet is
instructed to echo the first trumpet, trailing behind in a “similar tempo.” By using the
slightly colloquial “crotchet = 60-ish,” I have given each player the freedom to move
90 Kate Moore, "Program Note: Sensitive Spot," Australian Music Centre (2014). https://www.australianmusiccentre.com.au/workversion/moore-kate-sensitive-spot/24021.
occasionally slightly faster and occasionally slightly slower than the other. This is,
essentially, a canon in two parts, though traditionally a canon would set the two parts
in the same tempo. In this example, the similarity between the material of each
instrument serves to draw particular attention to the fact that they are in separate
tempi. If, for example, they were playing different melodies, their difference in
temporality would be less of a conceptual feature. At the premiere performance of this
work, the trumpeters stood to the far left and far right of the stage. This led to a
heightened spatial effect: phrases would originate on the left side of the stage and be
echoed moments later on the right.
I also use symmetry to build textures, particularly in my electroacoustic work.
The six delays of firefly take one solo melody from the trumpet and transform it into a
complex and multifaceted sound world. Due to the nature of a delay, the live electronic
part features six exact replications of what has been heard live, at varying volumes and
spatialised to varying degrees to the left or right of the performer. Musical material can
be heard in the electronic part up to fifteen seconds after it was first played. The
overlapping melodies work together to create an intricate texture with an internal logic
and congruence. Each recurrence of the delay creates a new interference with the
rhythm of the live part, resulting in a complex temporality.
The texture of Biome is also marked by symmetry between multiple
In the example below, from where the waves break i find you, a repeated melodic motif
is spread across sixteen different parts. Each part contains a different recording of the
motif, some of which have been stretched, looped or reversed.
Audio Example 11: where the waves break i find you, ‘find’ motif.
In this instance, the superimposition of many fragments that share a similar melodic
and timbral quality creates a texture reminiscent of the micropolyphony of composers
such as Ligeti and Lutosławski. Within the texture, the directionality of each internal
part ceases to matter very much, each coalescing into one complex musical event. I am
particularly influenced by Dennis Smalley’s description of texture in electroacoustic
Texture…is concerned with internal behaviour patterning, energy directed inwards or reinjected, self-propagating; once instigated it is seeming left to its own devices; instead of being provoked it merely continues behaving…Where gesture is occupied with growth and progress, texture is rapt in contemplation91
This quote is particularly relevant as it refers not only to the nature of texture as being
comprised of several moving parts but also to its directionlessness, pertinent in the
context of the previous discussion around nonlinearity and stasis in Chapter 3. In these
sections of music which feature multiple moving parts, each with its own internal logic
and directionality, the overall effect is a global directionlessness, which in turn
foregrounds the experience of timelessness.
91 Smalley quoted in Julio D’Escrivan, "Reflections on the poetics of time in electroacoustic music," Contemporary Music Review 3, no. 1 (1989): 199.
5. PROPORTION AND FORM
The previous two chapters have examined the techniques that I employ to alter the
perception of time in my works, drawing on relatively short, self-contained moments
in which I intend to foreground the sensation of timelessness. In my compositions,
these moments are situated within larger formal structures that remain influenced by
linear concepts such as the narrative curve, climaxes, beginnings and endings. Rather
than considering my works timeless from beginning to end, like Kramer’s vertical
pieces, I have a preference for ‘moments’ of timelessness within larger, more traditional,
compositional structures. In this final chapter, I will investigate when these moments
occur in the context of formal structure, in order to make broader observations about
my compositions as whole entities.
Each composition in the portfolio follows the same approximate trajectory.
Each begins softly and slowly, the aim of which is to gently draw the listener into the
sound world. There is a harmonic similarity between the beginnings of pieces, each
opening with a softly held note or dyad. Both Firefly and Echo & Abyss begin with a
solitary drone, while Biome begins with a major second, where the waves break i find
you with a minor second and Cloudscapes with an open fifth. We Are Gods doesn’t
feature a beginning as such, as the preshow music plays while the listeners enter the
theatre. The main content of each piece is of multiple bounded sections of timelessness,
each of which lasts only a few minutes. The transitions between these sections are a
combination of stark cuts and gentle fades depending on the context of the music. At
some point, a form of maximum or climax is reached; Biome reaches its climax at 7:00,
Echo & Abyss at 23:20, Cloudscapes at figure F, We Are Gods at Scene 9. These climaxes
are defined by maximums of pitch and dynamic intensity. Firefly has no intended
climax as such but does reach a pitch maximum just before cue 6. All six of the
compositions feature a slow fade out to silence.
This discussion foregrounds a curious feature of my compositions that I see as
particularly relevant to my treatment of time. Often, diverse temporal experiences and
moments of timelessness are situated within more traditional structures. Unlike those
‘vertical’ works of the late twentieth century discussed in Chapter 2, my works do
feature beginnings and endings. This is an important part of my approach which I see
as setting my work apart from that of my influences. The works of this composition
portfolio are all comprised of a series of ‘moments’, within which a listener’s perception
of time may be altered. Some of these moments are very brief, while some last for
several minutes. Within these moments, I employ the techniques discussed in Chapters
3 and 4. By writing in this way, I am able to explore a range of different musical
techniques in each piece, and explore a number of varied moods and atmospheres.
Thus, when considered on a macro scale, it would be remiss to simply say that time
does not exist in my works. Rather, it is constantly being manipulated.
On the topic of transitions within moment form, Stockhausen said that “when these
characteristics [of a moment] all of a sudden change, a new moment begins. If they
change very slowly, the new moment comes into existence while the present moment
is still continuing”92 Essentially, there are two ways to transition from one moment to
the next: an immediate cut, or a slow fade. My work features a mixture of the two,
somewhat distributed according to genre: I use immediate cuts much more in theatre
works, and slower fades predominantly in concert works.
In the instance of a cut, one moment will end very suddenly and another will
immediately begin, with zero overlap. I find these interesting to use because they
demand attention. If, hypothetically, a listener found their attention drifting away, my
aim is to recapture their focus with a jolting discontinuity. Quick cuts and transitions
are found throughout the score of We Are Gods, a directorial decision that also applied
to the language of the set and lighting changes (the director referred to these cuts as
‘shoomps’). In most of these transitions, I also employed a sound effect that I referred
to as a ‘whoosh’ to reinforce the dramatic effect of an immediate jump between scenes.
The ‘whoosh’ anticipates the cut by a few seconds, heightening the tension
immediately before it occurs.
92 Stockhausen, "Moment-forming and Momente," 64.
Audio Example 12: We Are Gods, transition from Scene 1 to Scene 2.
Audio Example 13: We Are Gods, transition from Scene 3 to Scene 4.
There is only one instance of a dramatic, stark cut between moments in the concert
works of this portfolio. At 7:00 in Biome, the instruments immediately transition from
their absolute maximum loudness and activity to their absolute minimum, with the
direction ‘suddenly calm’. This transition is marked by a crescendo in the tam-tam,
which covers the transition in much the same way as the ‘whoosh’ sound effects from
We Are Gods:
Audio Example 14: Biome, 7:00.
There are many instances of moments ending and beginning within a few seconds of
each other. The effect I intend with these transitions is one of gently moving from one
directionless sound world to another, reinforcing their status as self-contained worlds,
without sounding overly harsh or dramatic. Transitions in Cloudscapes demonstrate
this principle well:
Audio Example 15: Cloudscapes, transition from figure A to B.
It was my intention to be as gentle and fluid with this transition as possible while
closing off one sound world and moving on to the next. The transition is marked by a
dynamic swell in all instruments and a change in orchestration¾the texture of all five
is replaced by that of only the two trumpets. From here, the next moment is built up
in stages, adding the melody in tuba and trombone and more texture in the horn. This
transition is executed over approximately 5 seconds: longer than an immediate cut yet
still brief in the context of the work. Leading up to the transition, there is no
preparation in the music to imply that the moment occurring is about to come to a
close; it is my intention that it is somewhat hard to anticipate. I would like the
moment’s directionlessness to evoke the sense that it could easily have gone on for
much longer. Similar transitions are found throughout the piece, each only lasting for
a few seconds.
Echo & Abyss features much longer transitions, with each moment blending
into the next over a period of between thirty seconds to a minute. The video
component features fourteen scenes, which I am faithful to in my division of the
musical work. As each scene changes to the next, new musical elements are introduced
while existing musical elements begin to gradually fade out. Noticeably, many musical
elements remain constant over multiple moments; for instance, the bass drone, wind
noise and bass drum are nearly ever-present throughout the work. My intention was
that each moment, though somewhat self-contained, may also perceived as part of a
larger homogenous whole. The result is that the sound world of the piece is much more
seamless, with moments coming into being and fading away in an unhurried fashion.
Similar fades are employed throughout where the waves break i find you. Overall, those
elements that experience little to no perceptible change over a long duration contribute
to the overall sensation of timelessness.
Longer, gentler fades are also used in the first half of Biome, created by
transitions being made at noncoincident points in the various instrumental parts. As
discussed in Chapter 3, the piece incorporates a sense of global directionality over its
first 7 minutes, gradually expanding the boundaries of pitch, dynamic, rhythm,
orchestration and texture. This may either be viewed as one continuous section or
multiple static moments that gradually fade between one another. Examining each
instrumental part in isolation would lead us to view it as the latter, as at any one time
each instrument plays a defined cycle of material in their own tempo and then
periodically moves on to new cycles that have wider boundaries. These parts on their
own suggest a series of self-contained moments. However, the cues are staggered
between parts, and no instrument begins a new cycle at the same time as another. The
intention is that from the listener’s point of view, this means that it is very difficult to
determine where one moment begins and another ends, or even what the characteristics
of any one moment are. Each stage overlaps so much with the next that it is more likely
to be experienced as a smooth progression, rather than a periodic change between
5.2 Formal structures
For each of the six works included in the portfolio, I have created a formal illustration
for analysis. What I am most interested in visually representing is the distribution
within the formal structures of those bounded, timeless, nonlinear, static ‘moments’
that this thesis has been investigating. In these graphs, I have made the distinction
between two types of music: ‘moments’, and anything else. In the ‘anything else’
category is any overtly linear or goal-oriented music, beginnings, endings and climaxes.
This is a reductive form of analysis, and certainly not completely comprehensive, but
nonetheless one which I see as important in the context of this thesis. If my goal has
been to compose timeless worlds for listeners to inhabit, it is germane to the discussion
of such worlds to consider how many different worlds occur in each piece, when they
occur, and how they are proportionally distributed.
These graphs are mapped on a time continuum, and all measurements are
taken from timecodes in the recordings (as opposed to bar numbers). Bounded
moments of timelessness are represented with boxes, while any other form of music is
represented with a wavy line. The graphs also represent transitions; gradual fades
between moments are represented with boxes that overlap. To begin, let us
concurrently examine the maps for Cloudscapes and Firefly.
Figure 21: Formal map of Cloudscapes.
Figure 22: Formal map of Firefly.
At first glance, it is clear that Firefly has four distinctly bounded moments, while
Cloudscapes has five, interspersed occasionally with more linear music. The bar before
A in Cloudscapes, for example, which occurs at 1:45-1:55 in the recording, does not
belong in the sound world of the previous section, as for the first time the instruments
all take a breath and move together: a clear interruption of the continuity of the
moment. It is therefore a small section of linearity which bridges the first two bounded
moments of the piece. Similarly, section C, which occurs at 4:15-4:40, functions more
as a linear bridge between the preceding and succeeding sections rather than a bounded
moment of its own, as its musical content is directed towards the goal of the next
section. Section F until the end also features the instruments moving together and
functions as the climax of the piece, reaching a pitch and dynamic maximum before
fading away to the end, so is not considered a moment. The five bounded sections,
which clearly take most of the time of the piece, are each self-contained entities which
are characterised by nonlinearity, stasis, multiplicity and symmetry. The differences
between each section are marked primarily by changes of instrumentation and melody.
Two trumpets occupy the foreground in the first section, horn in the second, trombone
with tuba in the third, first trumpet in the fourth, and second trumpet with trombone
in the fifth.
Firefly is divided into four sections, which are marked by the use of the harmon
mute. The trumpeter plays with the mute for the first and third sections, and open for
the second and fourth. This effect, when heard in context, creates quite striking
boundaries between the sections. Unlike the fragmented melodies discussed in chapter
3, the melodies in firefly are admittedly rather linear, using phrases that constantly
move in the direction of goals and points of rest. However, this linearity is frustrated
by the multiplicity of the live delays discussed in Chapter 4, as well as the static nature
of the octatonic scale. The first 3 minutes of this piece may be grouped together as one
bounded moment, due to the consistency of tone colour and texture as provided by
the delays. At the 3-minute mark, cue number 4 in the score, live delay is seamlessly
swapped for pre-recorded electronics, and the trumpeter plays without the mute over
a background of muted sounds. I have categorised this transition as a slow fade that
lasts for around 15 seconds. This moment ends at 5:08, as the pre-recorded electronics
fade and are replaced again by a live delay. This section shares a very similar character
and texture with the first. At 6:00, live delay is again swapped for pre-recorded
electronics and an open trumpet, and this section concludes the work.
The video component of Echo & Abyss contains fourteen separate scenes, and,
for the most part, I am faithful to these divisions in my distribution of moments
throughout the work. For the first ten scenes, each new scene incorporates at least one
new musical element, while the texture of the preceding scene continues. Elements of
the previous scene gradually fade out while some, notably the bass drone and wind
noise texture, continue. For clarity, I have laid out the scenes and their various musical
characteristics in Table 1. This may be considered alongside the formal map provided
4 Heaven I: as Boy is left alone to recover, he experiences memories of a lost love.
Chimes, bells and crotales, piano and reverb
5 Therapy II: a second round of therapy, more brutal than the first
Marimba, synthesiser drone. Grows louder as the scene progresses.
6 Heaven II: Boy is exhausted, falls asleep, and dreams of lost love. Piano, synthesiser and reverb
7 Warp: his dreams morph until they become an unrecognisable nightmare The music of scene 6 becomes warped
8 Therapy III: defeated, Boy is forced to endure shocking and graphic final therapy
Warped piano, marimba, synthesiser. Grows intense as scene progresses.
9 Climax: finally alone, Boy is left broken, and the play comes to a graphic end.
Marimba, synthesiser, drone. Builds to climax and dies away.
Table 2: List of Scenes in We Are Gods
Figure 24: Formal map of We Are Gods.
For the majority of the play, I used marimba and low drones to underscore the therapy
scenes, and a mix of piano and synthesiser to underscore the ‘heaven’ scenes. This
distinction becomes blurred at the end of the play, with a warped piano underscoring
the final therapy scene (Scene 8), mirroring Boy’s psychological changes as his old
memories become conflated with the torture he is forced to endure. As every transition
used is an immediate cut, each section is completely self-contained. As one scene stops,
another one immediately starts, an effect which is heightened by sound effects. Scenes
5, 7 and 8 end in silence, marked with a short gap in the formal map shown in figure
23. The only fade occurs between Scene 6 and Scene 7, which is a seamless blend rather
than an immediate cut. This had a textual rationale: Scene 6 depicts a dream sequence
in which the central character of the play experiences memories of a lost love. His
memories begin to become warped and distorted, marking the transition into Scene 7:
a nightmare sequence. In the music, this transition is marked subtly by applying a
‘detuned’ effect to the piano through pitch shifting. As the central character’s dream
begins to warp, so too does the music. The piano’s pitch gradually sinks, until it is left
unrecognisable. These are the only two scenes of the play which are linked in this way.
I treated each of the other scenes as a completely self-contained moment, in which
musical elements are nonlinear and cyclical.
Figure 25 shows a formal map of where the waves break i find you. In this work,
seven distinct sections are perceptible, each corresponding to one word from the title.
This work incorporates long fades between sections; they sometimes overlap for over a
minute. Due to the nature of the long fades, the sectional nature of the piece may not
be immediately perceptible for a listener without the guide of this illustration. This was
intentional; I aimed for a very slowly transformative work that never gives the
impression of moving in any particular direction. Each section is marked by a different
kind of texture which gradually fades in and out. ‘Waves’, for example, comprises of a
long drone on the lowest two strings of the cello, overlayed with melodic fragments
and harmonic glissandi, while ‘break’ comprises of a ricochet effect in canon.
Figure 25: Formal map of where the waves break i find you.
Biome is perhaps the most problematic of my works to formally map out due
to the formerly discussed effect of the tension between consideration of the first 7-
minute section as a series of overlapping moments or as one continuously evolving
moment. My visual representation of this piece attempts to address this, with long
overlaps between moments suggesting a continuous expansion. Upon consideration of
this diagram, it becomes clear that this piece should not be described in terms of a ‘lack
of forward motion’: forward motion is clear. What does create a sensation of
timelessness, however, is the multiplicity of musical layers and the nonlinear
distribution of events.
Figure 26: Formal map of Biome.
The expanding height of the boxes over time is symbolic of the global widening of
parameters including pitch, rhythm, texture, orchestration and dynamic. The second
half of the work, from 7:00 till the end, does incorporate some nonlinear elements:
noticeably the drone texture in the upper woodwinds and the repetitive cycle of chords
in the ensemble. The instruments move together in chorale like motion and fade out
to end. It was my intention that this second section would function as a stark
juxtaposition to the texturally dense sound world of the first.
These visual representations, when considered together, show a range of
approaches to the distribution of self-contained moments in my work. One element of
consistency is the approximate length of each moment; across all works, moments
generally last for 1-3 minutes. The only exceptions to this rule are the moments of We
Are Gods, which may obviously last longer if scenes play for longer.
The experience of timelessness is one which is subjective and context dependant.
Though we can look at certain features of my music and hypothesize about how these
may affect a listener’s experience of time, much depends on the perspective of each
individual listener. This document sought to articulate how I intended for the works
to be received and their purpose I believe they serve.
I have laid out an argument that the experience of timelessness is primarily
prompted by a lack of forward motion and directionality in the music, as these are the
means through which music has traditionally articulated the passage of time. A notable
point from the third chapter of this thesis is that the musical features of nonlinearity
and stasis are, as I use them, interrelated. These features are both ways of extinguishing
forward motion and transforming the experience of time from one which is linear to
one which is omnipresent. In this way, extended durations in my work form ‘specious
presents’ in which the semantic content of the music is permanently available. Textures
may continuously evolve within a narrow and unchanging boundary of possibility.
The concept of temporal multiplicity—that musical events in separate parts,
often set in different tempi, resist vertical alignment with one another—serves to
further interrupt and complicate the sense of time in my work. Coincident events from
different parts are rare in my music, occurring as the exception rather than the rule; a
few examples being the concluding chorale of Biome, or the climax melody of
Cloudscapes. Far more commonly, musical events are spaced in a pulseless world, often
achieved through aleatoric processes. Another way to describe this would be to say that
all musical events are ‘off the grid’. Setting two or more similar musical ideas against
one another in different time worlds highlights the experience of multiple time.
Particular attention is drawn to the temporal differences between parts by way of their
respective musical contents being similar in terms of melody, harmony and internal
My works most frequently involve a number of distinctly bounded ‘moments’.
As visible in the formal illustrations of Chapter 5, these sound worlds generally last for
a few minutes at a time. Depending on the semantic language of each piece, moments
are transitioned by immediate cuts, quick fades, or gradual, almost imperceptible fades.
At the end of Chapter 2, I mentioned the spiritual and psychological benefits
of the experience of eternity. As composers and philosophers across different disciplines
have noted, it can be a particularly enriching experience for a human being to transcend
their daily sense of time, even if only for the duration of a piece. My work across art
forms aims to bring this experience to life, toying with it and teasing it out in different
ways. This in turn aims to fulfil my goal as a composer and artist in general; to make
work that is not merely pretty but necessary.
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