Bowhead #2: Touching the Surface

I opened the last blog, my first… with the phrase start as you mean to carry on. Making reference to the lack of promptness with regards to my… promptness. Well I did mean it and here is my second weekly blog a week late. Although, having said this I have been going full tilt writing the music for this project so now having completed full drafts and nearly completed re-orchestrations for the various form it needs to be in I have plenty to discuss. Though, ironically, I only have time to briefly highlight a few things. You might say, I’m just touching the surface.

The main aim of this blog post is to capture what I find important to me as a composer and my compositional process, at least in this current moment. So this week I want to talk again about my methodology, which has differed from my normal approach, the compositional make-up of the scores and my own ideas, or maybe even my developing principles—if you like(!?), on orchestration. This week I’ll be keeping audio examples concise as I’d prefer to share the tracks upon completion. Basically I don’t want you snacking and spoiling your tea.


So, to start with then: methodology/process. Typically when I’m in a hurry (due to deadlines) I often look to create a musical idea at the piano that can be quickly, in whatever form it may be, shifted to either Sibelius or Logic (the choice here depending typically on style of music). I then often look to embellish in an open or closed score format (orchestrated on the fly or written in piano score again, not SATB open and closed… unless the composition is for SATB).

The process here differed and I wrote/sketched the whole thing, in semi-reduced fashion, by hand often testing voicing’s of chords, or rather the colour, of the harmonies at the piano. This alone is odd, as I often think linearly over extended periods and rarely worry about the vertical too much. Perhaps the sustained nature of the piece required a greater attention to the sonority of individual chords. Below I have taken amazing quality images of the first score, I-Cadenza… Large portions were fully scored particularly when ideas were spawned from harmony or timbre/orchestration rather than theme. Additionally if a passage was particularly gestural then it would be pretty fully scored. I wrote the score in one sitting over about 8-hours?

20161122_103642Handwritten Score for Film 1
 (in page order, check out my amazing hand writing again……..), I – Cadenza 

Doing this allowed me to review the whole work in a much more disciplined and methodical manner as I had to manually input it all. Revisions typically consisted of embellishment/refinement of the thematic and harmonic material and the smoothness of this, which my less than virtuosic piano playing didn’t always bring out. It really depended on the ideas crux, if it was orchestration/timbre I was typically bob on, if it was harmony or theme sometimes notes were tweaked so it made better sense in context with the film.

Further revisions were made based on the material that spawned from the later two scores as well as the re-orchestration of the material again. This is because I have created a score that I will mock-up from, which contains some greater liberties in orchestration, and a recording score, which can’t afford any liberties.


Compositionally the work has become more sound as time has gone on and using the material that was created in the original second movie sketches and adapting it in this more textual schema has helped with this a great deal. This is because more time has been spent being familiarised with this material. For example, the 3-3 pitch set was identified in the last blog along with it’s relationship to the main thematic idea that used modal interchange between major and minor keys. As mentioned the three pitches of the original 3-3 idea for Duetto were used as the main tonalities, or at least the starting and ending areas for the three works (I: starts in Fs end in Bb; II: Bb – G; III: G-Fs).

The reason for this is down to my desires to have these works performable in a concert context as well as functioning as effective film-scores. Therefore I thought about the films as a cyclical multi-movement work that were related timbrally, thematically and harmonically. This I hope will also help from a viewers point of view in forming narrative ideas in the films which, due to there function, are very open. It also helps connect the films as a single whole.

Before highlighting the “compositional materials” discussed above and how I utilise them, I wanted to quickly discuss my “principles of orchestration”. These are by no means the best and right ways to orchestrate music, rather they are ideas I have developed in that will hopefully yield a greater individuality. Furthermore, they provide a consistency at the very least.

Due to emphasis in this work being moved to texture and timbre, over theme, the orchestrations importance is naturally increased. Additionally, through the acquisition of a set chamber-sized ensemble this provided a more engaging backdrop on which to place the music. Having recently completed an orchestration for a large orchestra, I think I prefer writing for reduced forces. I find the act, overall, much more engaging as it requires more effort and thought in carving out fore, middle and background positions as well as the distribution of the parts that will make up these positions. Along with my studies/practice to refine my arranging, orchestrating and composition, I consider this one of the best videos I’ve ever watched with regards to orchestration: Particularly the idea of position with regards to distance, in his (Rodney Sharman) discussion of solo, section, muted and harmonic strings and the Scherzo of Mahler’s Second Symphony.

To keep it concise I’ve bullet pointed two (as that’s the magic number for me today apparently) key personal ideals with regards to my personal orchestration techniques, that I hope to advance further and refine (as the journey goes on!!!):
Klangfarbenmelodie: I love distributing melodic, counter-melodic and/or ostinati/figuration across multiple parts. Two of my favourite orchestrations (which cannot be present in the Bowhead pieces) being the distribution of an ostinati, particularly if it’s quite driven and quick, is between Bassoon and Bass Clarinet (maybe with Cello constantly pumping it out). Or, an alternation between Celli (potentially doubled by basses at the unison) and Bassoon (typically doubled by Bass Clarinet or maybe another bassoon or contra-bassoon at the unison). Melodically or counter-melodically my choices with regard to distribution revolve around the expression of a melody, which often draws upon the linked videos other discussion on presence and weight. Often if you have a melody it often grows to it’s centre before moving away (not always), so I’d probably look to bring this out through the increase of presence toward that middle.
– Engaging parts: this sort of links to Klangfarbenmelodie. Naturally parts will have to be subordinated, as that’s just how things are if you want effective orchestration. But I do like to make sure players have parts that they feel are contributing to the piece constantly. Even if that’s when they’re not playing at all, I want there rest to be validated by the fact there part, when playing, has an important role. I also like to make parts that are challenging, particularly when it can be afforded. That’s not to say I want to create unidiomatic and unnecessarily difficult piece but I do want to create music that creates just the right level of difficulty that requires the performers (whoever they may be) to invest in the work as well, and hopefully take more from it through doing so.

Below to concisely give examples of my use of the material in the pieces, for which I rely on your understanding of my brevity of time to go through everything and double check everything as well as your own music analytical skills to understand what I am trying to highlight, I have enclosed two images and brief descriptions. Hopefully these will highlight my “principles of orchestration and compositions” effectively.

  1. The opening wind bars (non-transposed) of I – Cadenza. This highlights a basic colour melody idea, with alternation between flute and clarinet on one note as well as horn and cornet on the other. Furthermore, the pitches used are all a part of the pitch-set 3-3, with the G entering in the woodwinds at the end of the phrase. It also shows the opening affirmation (which is quite strong in the larger tonal context of the works) of the tonal area, F-sharp.screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-09-07-31
  2. The ending passage to the III – Coda score. Colours highlight crucial melodic materials: Red, minor third motif; Blue, Major Third Motif; Green, Melodic fragment (typically over a fourth, highlighting the major-minor dichotomy/3-3 pitch set in a stepwise descent); Orange, extended passage that highlights both major and minor-3rd) Purple, 3-3 pitch set; Brown, sustained Major-minor dichotomy (containing 3-3), shared between flutes and upper strings (bars: 55-59) and then (though colouring stuff to highlight this is hard due to so much going on) a brief moment between Celli, Basses, Violin I and Clarinet (bar: 64). (I’ve possibly missed some stuff, again… speed ‘n’ ting, some ideas also overlap). It also provides a further snapshot into my orchestration, with the distribution of the motifs and melodies happening across all the parts and sometimes being shared.
    Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 10.06.42.png

I’d like to briefly add… the names were given to the films by somebody else. I just use them arbitrarily (despite musical connotations), so as to keep things in order.

Hopefully you’ll find something useful in here, if not, it’s been useful for me talking about the music I have composed. ’til next time, stay classy san diego.

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