The Compositional Process
(In Search Of My Muse #1.06 )
Defining The Road-Map
Although I am an ardent advocate of free-form Live Electronics, there are times when a well-carved and structured composition appeals to me. Hereunder are a few suggestions to help you organize your thoughts constructively.
Before drawing a backbone draft of your composition, listen to a few tapes from your sound library: you might already have some interesting unpublished material which could be (re) used for some parts of your project.
That done, write a draft of the "road map" you have in mind, preferably on a music score sheet: even if your composition is of an abstract or graphical nature, always try to use a music score sheet.. Why?: To remind you that you are writing a musical composition...
In some countries, composers need to present a music score in a conventional notation - or a convincing graphical score- along with the audio tape final mix in order to copyright their musical work. So, take the time to write a score which is as complete and precise as possible.
First, make a draft showing how the global amplitude will evolve in time. If needed, you can also pre-define the panning/ cross-fading of your sounds in a stereo field configuration..
Next, decide what kind of instruments you are going to synthesize. Describe their timbre characteristics and behaviors and where and when they will appear on the score.
Then, show how your frequencies/accents/dynamics will evolve vs. time: if you are writing a piece of tonal music, it is best to write your score using a conventional notation. Evidently, if your composition is of an abstract nature, you can draw a graphical score outlining the general aspects of all the parameters over time: Use your imagination here, but be consistent, logical and precise in this graphical representation of your work.
Now, that you have completed the draft of your "road-map", you should have a good idea of the evolutionary aspects of your composition vs. time. Continue to experiment with sound textures juxtapositions until you are satisfied with the result. Write down the final score showing all pertinent details of your composition. Remember: always be ready to change or improve your composition as you go....
Patch and Score Sheet
This is an excerpts of a finished composition ready to be recorded or performed in real time. The top score shows a diagram of the overall amplitude vs. time (all events shown start at 00.00 second and end at 1.0 minute). Just under it, there is another score which shows the L/R cross-fading aspects vs. time. Notice the triangular waveform LFO evolving from a very slow frequency (0.5 Hz.) to a tremolo (7Hz.)
Next, there is a timbre scores vs. time : a white noise generator is patched to a VCF, whose Band-Reject (Notch) output is sent to VCA1. Similarly, a pink noise generator is sent to another VCF, whose low-pass output is sent to VCA2. An X/Y DC joystick controls, with its Y axis, the frequency of a clock which gates two envelope generators. Both envelopes control the Frequency cut-off (Fc.) and the gain of their respective VCF and VCA. The same DC joystick is used, in the X axis, to control the frequency of a triangular waveform LFO which is connected to the two inputs of a L/R Cross-fader module. Notice the clock's tempo change (at .38 second), from 6 Hz. to 12 Hz.
Finally, there is a score sheet showing the individual frequencies/accents/dynamics vs. time. In this case, the score is self-evident : all frequencies are aleatoric, with no accents or dynamic changes whatsoever.
Clarity And Definition
Evidently, you can apply "classical" compositional techniques to any piece of abstract electronic music: transpositions, expanded intervals, inversions, retrograde inversions, counterpoints, etc. can be put to good use for melodic, timbral, harmonic and dynamic evolutions of your complex sounds vs. time.
However, be aware of sound clusters and noises having a detrimental "masking effect" : always be prepared to transpose some parts for better melodic definition and spectral repartition. Also, recheck the foreground/ background and L / R spatial location positioning of all your mixed sounds.
In general, you should avoid recording your sounds with all your audio mixer panpots at 12 o'clock and/ or all your channel inputs and volume sliders at maximum range : your sounds will be awfully distorted and without clarity. If you need to distort a few sounds in a meaningful way, use special "clipping" modules or effects boxes dedicated to that task: Under no circumstances should your audio mixer be used as a main "clipping generator"...
(Extracts from 'Ye Olde Timer's Analogue Cookbook' by André C. Stordeur)
André Stordeur has taught analog modular synthesis since 1973. He studied with David Wessel at the I.R.C.A.M, in Paris, and with American composer Morton Subotnick.