Week 9


9: The Natural World / Transformation

The use of natural sound materials and gestural archetypes


  • Bernard Parmegiani – Dedans/Dehors [1976]
  • Denis Smalley – Pentes [1974]
  • Michael McNabb – Dreamsong [1978]
  • Trevor Wishart – Vox 5 [1986], Red Bird [1978]


  • Denis Smalley – ‘Spectromorphology: explaining sound-shapes’, Organised Sound, 2(2), 1997
  • ‘Sound landscape’ in Wishart, 1996
  • John Dack – Instrument and Pseudoinstrument. Acousmatic Conceptions at: sonic.mdx.ac.uk/research/dacklabber.html



Conlon Nancarrow and rhythmic structure; machine music; automatic music and art.

Nancarrow, exiled by his leftist political beliefs to Mexico City and thus well out of the mainstream, combined his earlier studies with Cowell to take rhythmic structuring on an individual tack: he created a series of mathematical structures that could only be realised mechanically, on player piano rolls. We will examine these structures in a series of the player piano pieces.

Also consider Black MIDI, automata, robotics, machine music and technology in music.

Ligeti and the mechanistic

Ligeti Poeme Symphonique (1962): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mUv705xj3U

Ligeti String Quartet 2 (1968) and the string quartet tradition

  • I. Allegro nervoso 2:46
  • II. Sostenuto, molto calmo 8:02
  • III. Come un meccanismo di precisione 16:12




Continuum (1968): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPgwF3G5i4k

Chamber Concerto (1974)

see 11:00 or so here:

Compare Bartok String Quartet 4 pizzicato movement.

A part of this is creating extremes that would be unthinkable or unplayable by humans.  Other well-known examples include music used by Kubrick, such as the Requiem used in 2001:

and Eyes Wide Shut:

Nancarrow and Ligeti both had interests in this area.

Much use of technology in music is based around similar experiments.  How does this compare to ‘standard’ composition?


League of Urban Robots



Pat Metheny playing with robots


Toyota violin playing robot


Toyota trumpet playing robot


And lots of robots together

Robot Orchestra from Royal Institution Lectures 2014

from 55:00 or so (Uni log in required)


Zimoun mechanistic art works


 Also some interesting machine learning and art information


Black MIDI

Finally, and most extreme, have a look at this ‘Black MIDI’ note art: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujnV7uPizrE or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzVV5QCVpLk

Advice on Major Essays

Here are the titles to choose from:

  1. Is there a distinction between sonic art and everyday auditory experience?
  2. Compare Steve Reich’s ‘Come Out’, ‘Pendulum Music’ and Alvin Lucier’s ‘I am sitting in a room’ as examples of process music.
  3. Identify the main trends in the evolution of electronic music from its beginnings to the present day.
  4. How does the process of listening to electronic music differ from listening to traditional music?
  5. Choose a composer/musician active in the twentieth century and compare their work in electronic music with developments in the other arts (literature, architecture, sculpture, visual arts, film, theatre, dance, etc.).

This is the final group class.  For the final three weeks we will devote class time to discussing and revising your submissions on an individual basis.  Tutorials are recommended, but not compulsory.  Please bring material for discussion, ideally printed out, to your tutorial.  Please aim to arrive at least ten minutes early for your tutorial time in case we can start early.

Tutorial times:

Ivan Alele 1500
Kyran Burnett-Smith 1510
Yannis Caff 1520
Max Dewing 1530
Lucy Grace 1540
Elliot Humphrey 1550
Jaimin Manji 1600
James Reeve 1610
Chirag Patel 1620
King Odeh 1630
Adam Doherty 1640