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FROM THREE CHORDS TO SPECTRALISM

FROM SCALES TO SOUND ANALYSIS


Blue Salad Bowl Spectrogram

I started music at OCA in 2011. I intended to do the first two composition modules. The only music modules then were Composition 1-3. I had enrolled on the Creative Arts pathway, not intending to complete it. My music tuition had amounted to piano lessons at school and a few in my 20s. I had never taken a music exam. 


I had enough grasp of music theory to get by in Composition 1. The story of my background I only told within OCA when the degree was almost complete. I had spent decades of my life as a so-called mental health ‘service user’. This is a misnomer because people in this category usually have not really elected to be under the mental health system. Experience had taught me that however well-meaning people are, knowing that one is a ‘service user’ inevitably changes their behaviour towards one, albeit unwittingly often enough. As a social experiment in what happens if people do not actually know, the last 12 years have been revealing. While people may have wondered about me at times they may perhaps have not understood how deeply I had been into mental health service. In 2009 I had been formally discharged back to the care of my GP. 


I began my studies relatively socially isolated, with a piano and a considerable background in listening to music composed between about 1700 and 1830, or what are called the late Baroque and Classical eras. I was in no hurry to complete modules. I wanted to learn as much as possible. 


In the event I also completed the third composition module. About this time the Music Degree was instituted and I was invited to switch to this pathway. I did.


Six modules later I have completed the degree and am currently awaiting a result. During my studies my knowledge of and interest in music expanded greatly to about 350 years before 1700 to the present day. For Level 3 I decided that I wanted to ‘bring my composing up to date’ and to this end studied and emulated one of the greater extremes of modernism, known as Spectralism. This type of music originated in the 1970s and does away with the limitations of the usual scales and twelve semitones to the octave and enters the vast world of microtones, which really means any pitch. One could divide the octave into a hundred steps. Non-musicians may already be wondering what I am talking about. So perhaps an example of the Spectral sound from my main work for Major Project would help. 


The World Waits while the Climate Changes excerpt

Since 2018 I had been interested in the now all too real climate emergency, which at that time was still a more theoretical concept. I have composed several pieces that relate to my reactions to it. My SYP project had this as its core. I teamed up with a climate scientist to put on an online event, the centrepiece of which was a symposium juxtaposing climate science and my music. I arranged a professional performance of a work for piano for this.


I have also experimented with electronic sound analysis and sound creation, using sound samples mostly recorded at home. I worked on them electronically. Some of these sounds were domestic objects including a salad bowl, a glass and a table fork. For my event I wrote a piece entirely produced in this way. This is an excerpt. 


Concerto for a Salad Bowl excerpt

Working on my own had its freedoms. I used the sounds of objects I had to hand as a starting point to make music. 


‘My ‘personal orchestra’

I have gained enormously during my time at OCA both musically and from having the opportunity to interact with people from the generality of society. I think I have learnt a lot about interaction with others and perhaps there are also lessons to be learned from my reticence to talk about the problems I faced in the past. I believe I would have found it more difficult had I been more given to candour.


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Congratulations on completing your studies Chris. It is great to see how your music studies have flourished. The musical excerpts are really interesting. An exercise in spectralism in the course would be interesting at least to have some basic info about it. I'd like to see your final presentation.

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Congratulations on what has been an extremely impressive trajectory through your studies. It has been inspiring to see how your work has developed and how you have found a distinctive voice as a composer. I'm looking forward to seeing where you'll take things next!

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Charles Worvill
Charles Worvill
Dec 20, 2023

Great music - are the full pieces available online?

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Thanks. The pieces can only be heard at the moment in the video recording of my online live event on OCA Panopto. I can send you the link if you want. You can email me through the OCA Gmail. Just start typing my name in the to box and a drop down list of names should come up, When you click the page link it will require you to request permission. This has to be done this way it seems. I have not found a way of giving permissions in the way you can with Google Drive. Not to worry if it's too much hassle,

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Fionagh Bennet
Fionagh Bennet
Dec 20, 2023

An interesting post, Chris, and very uplifting to see how much you have learnt, and how your musical horizons have expanded. With regard to the mental health issues you mention, I don't think that it would have made any difference to us, your fellow students, we appreciate you just as you are! I suspect there are few people who are not affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives. But I understand your reticence to share. It's only very recently that it's become ok to discuss mental health, and the wider public still have a long way to go with acceptance, I suspect. And especially when you think how people love to discuss their physical ailments at…

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That's very nice to hear Fionagh. As you say talking about mental health is very new and I suppose I have been around for some time during most of which it has been thoroughly stigmatised,

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