Being what I am : doing what I do; manifesto of a composer.
Part I of this document, being what I am, theorises an identity for the composer, and
examines precepts and influences in my own development. Part II, doing what I do,
discusses each of the six works presented in the portfolio. A set of appendices,
presenting diagrams and other supporting material, is included as a separate volume.
Chapter 1, what do composers do?, introduces the semiotic theory of Charles
Sanders Peirce, detailing his categorisation of different sign types and function.
Examples in relation to an electroacoustic piece connect to an account of Molino's
and Nattiez' "tripartition" poiesis-trace-esthesis, which is used to frame an analysis of
what a composer can know in relation to their audience and, via Peirce, is re-scaled to
operate at micro and macro levels. Drawing on Peirce and Nattiez, I construct a
definition for "music", as sound which is either created or heard (whether or not made
that way) to have organisation perceived through certain types of non-linguistic sign
function. A series of postulates on the nature of art in the postmodern world lead to
the proposition that a composer is someone who tries to make music that is art.
Chapter 2, being this composer, introduces themes central to my doctoral
composition activity, and relates them to a set of problems I see as facing (or dividing) composers and audiences. I give an acc ount of my learning experiences in
theUSA in relationto the UK. An examination of the traditional principles of
counterpoint is extrapolated to the proposal for a generalised counterpoint, involving
the cross-setting of "energy profiles" within a semiotic space elucidated by Peirce's
sign classifications. I discuss the roles of signalling, physicality and spatialised sound
in capturing and sustaining audience attention, and present a group of conceptual and
practical crossovers between acoustic and electroacoustic technique. An apparatus for
compositional "quality control" is discussed in relation to the Nattiez tripartition. The
chapter closes with a commentary on musicology's sometimes-ignorance of
developments in other areas of critical thought such as literary theory, and a
reassessmen tof the role of this thesis document.
Introducing the portfolio, Chapter 3 discusses an extended tapework, Three Friends,
which takes recordings of acoustic improvisations as "musical" anchors for a
referential play, increasingly mobile in the successive movements. The finale brings
together the three sources in a virtual chamber music. The piece has strong formal
direction,which is presented as a metaphor of my compositional development over
the corresponding period. Functional pitch and harmonic structures support
behaviours only possible in the electroacoustic medium.The work plays with
electroacoustic tropes and introduceshumour. An assessmen tof the first
performances encourages re-affirmation of tape composition's vitality.
In Chapter 4, an analysis of the dialectical interaction between performance
showmanship and musical substance leads to a theory of the virtuoso performer as
musicalcyborg. Aesthetic challenges especially face the composer/performer of new electronic instruments; the violin's density of cultural referents enable a violin-like
instrument to solve some of these challenges.The conceptual and technical evolution
of such an instrument,the "funny fiddle", and realisation of a first concert work,
Gipsy fugue, are discussed in detail. Examination of the relationship between
compositional intent, practical possibility, and an emphasis on evolutionary
"satisficed" technology, together with assessment of thework's reception,inform
discussion of future developments.
Chapter 5 describes a site-specific interactive installation, who's in charge?, designed
to "activate" audience members arriving for a concert. The technical apparatus is
borrowed from the funny-fiddle system, with the addition of slides projected to
appear as posters or direction signals. The elements of the installation are susceptible
to various levels of semiotic registration. Ethical responsibilities are discussed in
relation to the tacit audience-manipulation.
Chapter 6 introduces Teen, a piece for brass quintet and percussion that sets four
short abstract texts written when I was a teenager. Subjective and analytical modes of
text-setting interact with musico-formal design. The music's contextual relationship
to its audience is discussed, as are the difficulties of performing and recording a work
that is deceptively demanding.
Chapter 7 asks what is song? and discusses the interaction of semiotic behaviours in
music (as defined earlier) and text. The texts of New Yorker Songs come from early
years of The New Yorker magazine. Saraband makes a linear, cinematic setting of a
narrative but multivocal poem. A freely atonal musical language, diatonically
inflected, but equally concerned with spectral and physical space, is propelled by the
speech rhythm. Aspects of the setting are discussed in semiotic terms. Line uses and
fragments a shorter text, setting it through formal structures at the background and
middleground level, with foreground concerns for gesture and texture. This is
examined through Emmerson's(electroacoustically-conceived) "language grid".
Lastly, the computation-aided realisation of musical texture is discussed.
Chapter 8 presents Chaconnes, for violin and electronic sounds. Its motivations are
similar to those of the funny-fiddle project, but with a complementary solution. Precomposed
electronic elements are triggered in chamber-music dialogue with the unamplified
acoustic violinist. The piece downplays extra-musical reference, seeking an
internally-directed language "natural" to the acoustic instrument. Analysis of a Bach
model introduces discussion of form and rhetoric. This chapter emphasises strategies
for pitch structuration. A custom playback-tool for the electronic sounds streamlines
the separation of musical composition and technical development, and provides an
efficient performance environment.