Contemporary Techniques in Music Composition 1

This was the other class that I took during Berklee Online’s Spring 2021 term. There was a huge amount of really dense material with lots of exercises and discussion topics. In many ways this course was outside of my comfort zone as it challenged most of what we had studied in the Music Theory & Composition 1-4 classes and pretty much everything I had done with music throughout my entire life. This class spent a lot of time focused on atonal and chromatic music by composers from the early to mid 20th century.

While I admire and respect the cerebral/intellectual acuity of the composers doing this type of work, it isn’t my favorite music to listen to. I’m glad that I had some exposure to these concepts as they are often utilized in current films and television, but I’m glad this class is over.

Here’s what we covered during the twelve weeks.

Week 1 – “New Scales”, Apr 3rd – Apr 9th
Introduction, Meet and Greet, Whole Tone Scales, Exercise 1.1: Whole Tone Scale Melody, Pentatonic Scales, Exercise 1.2: Pentatonic Scale Melody, Octatonic Scales, Exercise 1.3: Octatonic Scale Melody, Invented Scales, Exercise 1.4: Invented Scale Melody, Discussion 1.1: New Scales, Assignment 1: Music for Solo Instrument or Voice

Week 2 – “New Modes”, Apr 10th – Apr 16th
Introduction, Modes of Limited Transposition, Practice Exercise: Modes of Limited Transposition Analysis, Exercise 2.1: “Abîme des Oiseaux” Analysis, Mode Mixture, Folk Influences, Quiz 2.1: “Romanian Dances” by Bela Bartok, Igor Stravinsky, Discussion 2.1: Harmonic Implications, Assignment 2: Composition, Recap

Week 3 – “Interval Structures”, Apr 17th – Apr 23rd
Introduction, Interval Sets, Practice Exercise: “Abîme des Oiseaux” Analysis, Exercise 3.1: Interval Set, Arnold Schoenberg’s Early Works, Exercise 3.2: “Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke” Analysis, Exercise 3.3: Interval Sets for Two Instruments, Pre-Serialism, Exercise 3.4: Pre-Serialism Analysis, Reply , Discussion 3.1: Defining Pitch Language, Assignment 3: Piece for Two Melodic Instruments , Recap

Week 4 – “Triadic Extensions”, Apr 24th – Apr 30th
Introduction, Tertian Harmonies in Non-Functional Relationships, Exercise 4.1: “La Cathedrale Engloutie” Analysis, Exercise 4.2: Tertian, Chordal Language, Triad Voicings and Voice Leading, Triad Layering, Exercise 4.3: Triad Layering, Discussion 4.1: Triad Layering, Assignment 4: Composition , Recap

Week 5 – “Other Intervallic Structures”, May 1st – May 7th
Introduction, Quartal Harmony, Charles Ives, Exercise 5.1: Analysis of “The Cage” by Ives, Exercise 5.2: Quartal Harmony, Quintal Harmony, Exercise 5.3: Quintal Harmony, Secondal Harmony and Clusters, Exercise 5.4: Composing with Chord Clusters, Interval Mixture, Discussion 5.1: Intervallic Structures, Assignment 5: 20-30 bar piano piece, Recap

Week 6 – “Harmonic Motion”, May 8th – May 14th
Introduction, Parallelism and Other Types of Harmonic Motion, Exercise 6.1: Planing and Parallelism, Exercise 6.2: Harmonic Movement, Harmonic Stasis, Cadential Devices, Exercise 6.3: Cadential Devices, Discussion 6.1: Resolutions, Assignment 6: Project 2, Recap

Week 7 – “Rhythmic Devices”, May 15th – May 21st
Introduction, Mixed Meter and Odd Meter, Exercise 7.1: Using Mixed and Odd Meters, Rhythmic Complexity, Ties and Tuplets, Exercise 7.2: 7 against 8, Additive Techniques: Non-Retrogradeable Rhythms, Exercise 7.3: Rhythmic Techniques, No Meter, Exercise 7.4: No Meter, Discussion 7.1: Rhythmic Perception, Assignment 7: Rhythmic Devices, Recap

Week 8 – “Formal Devices”, May 22nd – May 28th
Introduction, Fibonacci Series, Discussion 8.1: Fibonacci Series, Mosaic/Moment Form, Exercise 8.1: Mosaic Form, Cagean Rhythmic Structures, Discussion 8.2: Formal Devices, Assignment 8: Composing Using Formal Devices, Recap

Week 9 – “Aleatory”, May 29th – Jun 4th
Introduction, Chance, Discussion 9.1: “Music of Changes”, Exercise 9.1: Chance Operations, Indeterminacy, Discussion 9.2: Indeterminacy, Proportional Notation, Exercise 9.2: Proportional Notation, Graphic Notation, Discussion 9.3: Notation Style, Assignment 9: Aleatory, Recap

Week 10 – “Percussion and Found Instruments”, Jun 5th – Jun 11th
Introduction, Standard Percussion Instruments, Discussion 10.1: Percussion Use Examples, Exercise 10.1: Piece for Snare Drum, What’s in Your Kitchen?, Percussion is All Around You!, Discussion 10.2: Found Percussion, Assignment 10: Composing with Percussion in Mind, Recap

Week 11 – “Prepared Piano”, Jun 12th – Jun 18th
Introduction, Inside the Piano, Prepared Piano, Exercise 11.1: Prepared Piano, Other Effects, Discussion 11.1: You and Prepared Piano, Assignment 11: Prepared Piano Composing, Recap

Week 12 – “Other Extended Techniques”, Jun 19th – Jun 25th
Introduction, Harmonics, Exercise 12.1: Harmonics Analysis, Artificial Harmonics, Exercise 12.2: Artificial Harmonics, Other String Effects, Multiphonics, Other Wind Instrument Techniques, Putting it Together, Discussion 12.1: Other Extended Techniques, Assignment 12: Final Project, Recap

I’ve posted the score and audio for my final project below.