“Schönberg and other serialists of the early twentieth century decisively brought composition into the discourse of intellectual history.”
The twelve-tone technique is a system based on equalizing a series of pitches in a key devised by composer Arthur Schönberg, using his notorious ‘Note-row’ method. This is what theorist McHard calls “A system that ordered all twelve tones of the chromatic scale so that each tone would be used once, and not repeated until all twelve were used. This series could be displayed in any order—hence, the term serialism(ordered array).” (McHard, 2001)
In this system of ‘ordered array’ each note avoids key and tone rows by the ordering of pitch rows into alternating forms, by applying the original row, the inversion, retrograde and the retrograde-inversion. Each of these can be interchanged with alternate pitch levels and given even significance. Schönberg’s work inspired a movement of atonal 20th century music and created a lasting impression on Serial music, “The system of tone ordering… concerned mostly with fixed, discrete pitch (or, later, duration-value, or intensity) sequencing.” (McHard, 2008)
Andrew Mead (1993) names Schönberg’s twelve-tone technique, “a solution to the problem of writing extended music in the total chromatic,” a movement in serialism capable by, “embodying the formal strategies of earlier music.” This transportation through compositional technique is achieved by its likening to science and that of ‘problem solving’. Arved Ashby explains, “Twelve-tone techniques gained their very historical and intellectual legitimacy to the degree that they offered solutions to an ongoing compositional Problemgeschichte, or historical problematic.” (Ashby, 2001)
Schönberg sees modern music as two problems that are ever-present, “That of tonality, and that of dissonance. [But] it cannot be said that the conflict regarding these two questions is new, nor that it is waged with new weapons,"(Schönberg, 1975) His “Dodecaphonic”(Scholes, 1974) form defined itself as music capable of forming it’s own context free of these past conventions, “A free, twelve-tone chromatic field where any configuration of pitches could act as a "norm.” (Winiarz, 2000) This began taking shape around 1906 with his use of fourth-intervals to emphasize seconds and sevenths and enrich unemphasized tonal qualities. In the piece “Pierrot Lunaire” (1912) he moved from past pieces exploring ‘poly-tonal’ sets of melodies within different keys, to total atonality with no set key. This piece “[Marked] a return to counterpoint and [looked] forward to the ordered atonality of serialism.” (Winiarz, 2000)
Employing his characteristic Expressionist style, the poetry-based composition is constructed by a single theme of spoken and sung vocals, ordered and arranged in the melodic and chordal structures by a seven-note motif of G#, E, C, D, Bb, C#, G, spelling the protagonist’s name. Schönberg employs number mysticism to connect the words within the parameters of the sound, paired with methods of inversion and retrograde motion in which first and last notes are reversed, inverted and ascended or descended. The rhythm and pitch of the piece become hypnotic and logical by slotting notes of tone-rows into other octaves, note-rows played at varying pitch-levels at counterpoint to create imitating call and response style properties.
Schönberg’s work was instrumental in further in row usage theory, music theorist McHard pertains it was that it “Single-handedly revolutionized the musical syntax of the 20th century.” (McHard, 2008)
“Electronic music is a well-documented technological breakthrough, spectralism in its simplest form as colour-thinking, is a spiritual breakthrough.” (Harvey, 2000)
Spectralism is a school of thought in which composition gives dominance to tone colour and timbre. The sound spectrum of a piece is analysed and in turn informs its structure. The compositions within this school of thought are based on harmonic spectrums and overtones rather than chord progressions or tone rows. This genre employs technology and computer based sound applications of Fast Fourier Transform to experiment with sound spectrum analysis and visualize a spectrogram or sonogram. This form originated in France during the early 1970’s and primarily developed by instituions such as the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) with the Ensemble l'Itinéraire and the Spectral School, by composers like Gerard Grisey.
Composer Gerard Grisey explains “Spectralism is not a system. It’s not a system like serial music or even tonal music. It’s an attitude. It considers sounds, not as dead objects that you can easily and arbitrarily permutate in all directions, but as being like living objects with a birth, lifetime and death.” Gerard Grisey, (Bundler, 2001) Spectralism rejects the typical Western music reliance on bars or rows, considering the colours of sonority and the acoustic properties of sounds by the use of the overtone series as the basis for its structure.
The overtone series describes vibrations with frequencies each integral multiples of one fundamental frequency. Composer François Rose talks about the system of the overtone “Any frequency can be used as a fundamental while the other elements of its overtone series are called respectively: the second partial (f2) which is equal to 2 x f, the third partial (f3) which is equal to 3 x f, and so on.”(Rose, 1996) These overtones gradually build and paired with sounds of harmonicity and “inharmonicity”, “any component [that] is not a whole-number multiple of the fundamental,” (Rose, 1996) create the timbre landscape.
Originating in the development of new technologies, spectralism marked a “moment of fundamental shift,” (Harvey, 2000) as the computer gained the ability to create complex systems of music synthesis, partials and their relative amplitudes. Spectralism’s notion of timbre was influenced strongly by the electronic technique of additive synthesis, involving the summing of component frequencies produced by sine tones to build complex composites. Rose refers to this allegorically as "instrumental additive synthesis."(Rose, 1996)
Stockhausen's masterpiece "Stimmung" (1968) was a seminal spectralist piece written for 6 singers on 6 microphones in B♭ and is designed to run for roughly 74 minutes. It is a tonal and serial based piece written in just intonation that builds from male and female vocal drone into overtones and employ the resulting harmonics as fundemental frequencies. It is composed in moment form, a structure in which each new section another model of overtone melody is repeated and introduced. The timing of one section into the next is dictated by the performers that gesture with names and rhythmic patterns called out.
Spectralism defined new harmonic languages and systems of parallels without hierarchy in its uses of harmonicity and inharmonicity. It’s work in experimentation with melody, polyphony, and rhythm presents new compositional ideas and generates new procedures like microphony and macrophony and puts its listeners in the position of having to find new ways of listening to and understanding music.
IANNIS XENAKIS & HIS POLYTOPES
“Iannis Xenakis has developed a means of evolving sounds into patterns whose degree of disorder (ataxy) varies by complex manipulations of sound screens using logic functions.” (McHard, 2008)
The work of Greek-French Composer Iannis Xenakis was visual, powerful and sought to combine music and architecture. He gave great influence to the developing medium of electronic composition through early experiments with sound and mathematical theory to build “architectural tectonics” in material space and “sensory qualities” (Sterken, 2001) to evoke energetic space. Emerging during the post-war avant-guarde period, Xenakis saw his work as enabling a composers to create a single, visceral “Cosmic vessel sailing in the space of sound, across sonic constellations and galaxies.”(Xenakis, 2001)
By creating a multi-media art form known as the “Polytope”, a combination of the Greek polys (many, numerous) and topos (place, space, territory, location) he was able to inform a new shape of multi-media space, “The polytope is based on the idea of a great space consisting of many smaller elements, a domain of spatial complexity that may be articulated by sound and light in movement. According to Xenakis, the polytope "experiments with novel ways of using sound and light. It's an attempt to develop a new form of art with light and sound"”(Harley, 1998)
Xenakis’ extended the mathematical and structural into the equation at the World Exposition in Brussels 1958, with his collaborative work with architect Le Corbusier and composer Edgard Varèse in their piece ‘Poeme Electronique’. Xenakis designed the Pavillion for the Philips company and wrote a piece of “musique concrete” to accompany.
Musique Concrete, termed by composer Pierre Schaffer in the early 50’s used sonic trajectories to tell stories, “[Taking] sounds for their intrinsic qualities and then the relationships between them give a kind of music,” this was a kind of music that “consisted of recorded sounds not produced by especially designed musical instruments or by voice” (Malina, F.J & Schaeffer, P.,1972) but by their applications and parameters of use. Schaffer’s work informed Xenakis’ compositional use of the spatial properties of sound to develop his ‘polytopes’ and make signature his use of paraboloids and conoids in his designs. These surfaces sculpted the sounds in his orchestral work “Metastasis”(1953-55).
Metastasis, “strongly influenced by Le Corbusier’s proportional scale arising out of the Fibonacci series and its association with the golden section.” (Capanna, 2001) is a sound mass composed, golden ratio based piece 8 minutes long, evoking the sounds of warfare by the graphic shape of each players glissandi sounded at alternating pitches and times to create continuous transformations of time-shifting, with palindrome-like qualities so that the direction of its playing could be interchangeable.
Xenakis combined the concept of painting the abstract with the visual through shifting spatial configurations and patterns, a play on colour, form, time and abstract music. According to Xenakis, the process of musical "abstraction" consisted of a “shift toward atonality and relied on the appropriation of concrete sounds, creation of electronic sonorities and their organization into vast sonic gestures.” (Malina, F.J & Schaeffer, P.,1972) The work of Iannis Xenakis and the model of the polytope were seminal in forming the early processes of electronic, logical contemporary composition in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Ashby, Arved (2001) Schoenberg, Boulez, and Twelve-Tone Composition as “Ideal Type”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 54, No. 3, University of California Press, pp. 585-625.
Bündler, D. (2001) Gerard Grisey, The David Bundler Pages,
viewed 21st April 2011
Capanna, A. (2001) Iannis Xenakis: Architect of Light and Sound, Nexus Network Journal, Volume 3, Number 1, pp.19-26
Harley, M.A (1998) Music of Sound and Light: Xenakis's Polytopes, Leonardo, Vol. 31, No. 1, The MIT Press, pp. 55-65
Harvey, Johnathan (2001) Spectralism, Contemporary Music Review, Vol 19, Part 3, pp.11-14
Malina, F.J and Schaeffer, P.(1972) A Conversation on Concrete Music and Kinetic Art, Leonardo, Vol. 5, No. 3, The MIT Press, pp. 255-260
Mead, Andrew (1993) Webern, Tradition, and "Composing with Twelve Tones...", Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Autumn, 1993), University of California Press, pp. 173-204.
McHard, J.L. (2008) The Future of Modern Music, Iconic Press, Michigan pp.1-188
Rose, François (1996) Introduction to the Pitch Organization of French Spectral Music, Perspectives of New Music 34, no. 2, pp.6–39.
Scholes Percy A. (1974) The Listener’s History of Music, Oxford University Press, London pp.1-58
Schönberg, A. (1975) Problems of Harmony, Style and Idea, University of California Press, California, pp.-1-268
Sterken, S.(2001) Towards a Space-Time Art: Iannis Xenakis's Polytopes, Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 39, No. 2, MIT Press, pp. 262-273.
Winiarz, J. (2000) Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire: an Atonal Landmark, La Scena Musicale, Vol. 5, No. 7
Viewed 20th April 2011
Xenakis, Iannis (2001) Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition, Harmonologia Series No.6, Pendragon Press, NY, pp.1-165