Notes, numbers and nuances


I experimented with a system of composition this week. The basis for the work was a series of pentatonic melodies that I had strung together, very much influenced by the sound of a peal of bells. Reading through Dove’s Guide for Church bell Ringers ( I don’t think that all the composition is possible for a set of bells in one church to ring but with some differences in tuning between churches there could be possible duets in a local area. The main concern of the composition was to create five note themes that never repeated. I am finding that this has become one of my techniques when working on compositions and arrangements. There may be some repeated thematic material but the accompanying sounds continuously develop in the arrangements and in the compositions I use the same method but the thematic material does not repeat. Elements of it are familiar (or similar) but the melodies continuously develop as well as the accompaniment.

Working on the maths there are 1x2x3x4x5 = 120 combinations of five notes. I produced a table of all the combinations and assigned each one of the five notes in each of the pentatonic scales a number between 1 and 5. The system was complete, the next step was to choose which combination of five notes would start the composition and then what were the subsequent combinations. Another consideration was when would one set of notes change to the next set of five? Other than the first two series of notes the other patterns taken from the 118 on the table were chosen at random, close the eyes and make a dot on the paper, the nearest pattern was then used. There was more of an artistic decision taken regarding when the changes of pentatonic scale would take place during the music, the main effect I wanted to create was one of moving forward to a number of peaks or key moments during the composition which would culminate with a final section that sounded as though the music had reached a conclusion.


The scales (and as a consequence of how the layers of melody were superimposed on each other, the harmony) move chromatically during the composition without any conventional cadences and creating a sense of the music coming to a rest or resolution was a challenge. This was overcome by another artistic choice, an extra note was added to the final pentatonic scale to make it hexatonic, this addition also altered the rhythmic flow of the music, and a sense of some finality was achieved.

Only 70 of the 120 combinations were used, in my opinion (artistic choice again) I had exhausted the developments of sound possible with the limited resources (using only five instruments) and further sections would have sounded repetitive even though using the mathematical theory they were not. The work is complete and it is a part (or a movement) of Deranged Drums on Digital Vistas, if the composition progresses at the current pace, I should have a complete version to upload for you before Christmas, doubt it will make the season’s charts although some of the instrumental textures are appropriate for that time of year.


About derangeddrums

Composer, percussionist, musical director, teacher and educator. My music has been written for audiences in palaces and in the street. Music is my vocation and my passion and I hope you enjoy it too.
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