Contour

July 12, 2019 § Leave a comment

Over the last year or two I have been focusing on research into the area of melodic contour (the ups and downs of a melody without reference to the actual pitches). This was a project funded by a Bursary from South Dublin County Council, for whose support I am grateful. It culminated in the performance of my cantata Four (see previous post) on a long poem by Billy Mills. I have been investigating structures that foreground contour itself rather than the melodies, and am deriving larger structures from contour motifs by means of fractal, generative techniques.

What I like about this technique are its implications of im-perfectionism. Current microtonal practice tends to focus on creating definite subdivisions of the octave, often employing theoretical reasoning to justify the choice of these fixed subdivisions (eg. just-intonation vs temperament). By employing the same contour patterns over a contracting pitch area, this contour technique can make explicit fine-tuning as a never-ending process without a goal. It applies the aesthetic of drone music to the modernist technique of endless, developing variation.

As a theme in Four is the life-cycle of a leaf, each part of the unfurling process implicit in embryonic form in the part preceding it, these fractal/generative contour techniques seemed nicely appropriate. Nothing in nature repeats exactly.

For those who appreciate such things, below is a video of one of the patches I developed for Four in operation. One of the features I like of this particular patch is that it’s possible to select a small portion of one of the generated ‘branches’, and start again afresh generating a fractal, but using the distinct properties of the ‘branch’.

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