CONNECT FOUR – COMPOSING FOR STRING QUARTET

Connect Four. I loved that game as a kid.

My first day back at school and I didn’t play connect four, instead, I had a meeting with Dr Christine McCombe, a composer and mentor at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. A work of Christine’s that I am fond of is Epic – performed by the Australian Chamber Choir. Epic is other-worldly and for me it seems to search for answers to questions that are larger than ourselves, an uplifting and contemplative experience.

We discussed my history as a musician and composer and what I want to achieve while I study composition at MCM. Of course, I explained the games I take part in creating and that one of my goals is to be capable of directing the audio for a major game project – from infancy to completion. To elaborate, meeting with developers in early game development, composing the score, preparing the score for performance use, conducting and recording the performance and finally implementation into the game. Phew! Whilst it is unreasonable to think that one person could do this alone, every skill in the process of making game audio must be learnt to be able to work with a team of like-minded individuals and make something more than the sum of its parts.

After the game-audio chat, Christine shared my enthusiasm for games, but reminded me that the music we compose in the GradDip is all absolute music, meaning that it is music for music’s sake. It is liberating to know that the emphasis is on the art of writing music, honing the finer skills of the craft without being bogged down by a certain narrative or mood that is asked of us when composing for media.

Composer’s Shopping List:

  • Choral work SATB
  • Solo for Bass Clarinet
  • Work for Voice (Set Text)
  • Sting Quartet

I will be working on the above four pieces throughout the semester and then aim for a large-scale work next semester. In the meeting, both Dr. McCombe and I agreed that working on chamber works would be of great value to myself as a composer, before moving onto larger ensembles.

The notebook that we are working from has guidelines for writing the compositions and while there are no real rules governing harmony, I feel that the guidelines help to work on areas of composition that can strengthen a composer’s foundations – which is why I chose to return to study.

The first piece that I have started working on is the string quartet and will share the progress so far.

Guidelines:

  1. Write a short motive that can work well against fast repeated notes (note that the theme does not necessarily have to be ‘fast’).
  2. Develop the single motive into a few identifiable variations.
  3. Write a 2-3 minute quartet movement in a fast tempo in moto-perpetuo form. Employ repeated-note rhythms that are transferred through the quartet in different combinations with motivic emphasis on a single theme.

There are some listening examples to get the mind going and a couple that stood out to me were Shostakovich (No.8, 2nd movement) and Barktok’s fourth quartet (2nd mov).

I started by creating a short score in pro tools using native instruments’ kontakt as a plug-in on a software track. I blocked out some simple chords and came up with a progression that I thought sounded interesting, which was B-minorB-MajorF-Major.

After elaborating on the chord sequence, I came up with a four-part harmony with a basic melodic motive that I thought could work with the chord progression.

Elaborated short score

 

Next, I made a discovery that seems so obvious. I found that when I assigned the short score to the instruments of the quartet, the viola was able to play a motor rhythm that incorporated the harmonic material that I thought the second violin would have to play – this freed up space and I could use the second violin elsewhere. Because of the liberty of being able to use both violins melodically, the piece gained interest and a gave a feeling of the quartet being larger.

Viola takes over the second violin harmony (red highlight), freeing up space in the quartet

I will continue to work on the quartet, developing the ideas to fit in with the guidelines but for now, let’s have a listen to the theme – taking note of the viola utilising motor rhythms, the cello adding interest with its own rhythmic motive and the violins introducing the melody.

Piano roll of quartet motive

That’s it so far, I will keep you guys up to date about the progress in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading and stay creative! 😀

 

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