Composing on the way to school
What interesting sounds do we hear in our everyday environment? How could we transform them on our instruments or imitate them using found objects in the classroom, for instance? This is an exploration of the world of tonal colour.
Goal and output
Learning new things about tonal colour and instrumentation. Concrete music and found objects are in the focus.
Composition or soundscape based on extended playing techniques.
Give the students a homework assignment: Bring in an interesting sound from on your way to school. In preparation, you may have them listen to musique concrète or sounds of silence (see Additional material).
An assignment featuring graphic notation may be used in preparation, e.g. assignment 48. From movement expression to graphic notation.
- Have each student bring in an interesting sound from on their way to school. They may record this sound if they choose.
- Have each student describe the sound in class. If they recorded the sound, listen to it together.
- Have the group think about how this sound could be reproduced on their own instruments, their own voices or found objects in the classroom or brought from home.
- Classify the sounds brought in by the students, e.g. into sharp sounds, quiet sounds, breathy sounds, rough sounds, creaky sounds, bright sounds, crystal sounds, etc.
- Have the students work in small groups to think about and try out how these sounds could evolve and combine. For instance, what would it sound like if short, quiet sounds were repeated and superimposed and combined with breathy sounds?
- Have the students imitate the sounds invented by others by ear and have the small groups or pairs present their experiments to the whole group.
- Agree on the instrumentation of the piece, considering the ranges and characteristics of instruments.
- Bring the sounds together into a sound score, which (depending on the sounds) may be partly in metre or in free rhythm, graphically notated with no barlines. Some sounds may have a definite rhythmic form, while others may be cloud-like textures. Write down details in conventional or graphic notation.
- Sounds can be transferred from one instrument to another, be layered, be imitated and alternate, or they can be played tutti.
- Think about form: Does the piece have a culmination point? What are the dynamics of the piece? Add dynamics and character indications.
- Perform the piece from the (graphic / conventional / mixed-media) score.
Topics in the assignment
Detailed description of tools
Students may use a phone or other recording device.
The assignment is suitable for groups and small groups..
The assignment may be performed using everyday items or sound sources found at home or in the classroom (found objects). Go around the classroom thinking about the sounds found there and create a soundscape based on them. For instance, someone may begin by slapping a ruler against a table, while others may knock on chairs, click their pens, creak the door, etc.
If the technology is available, the entire piece can be created using recorded concrete sounds.
Reference works to listen to:
Pierre Schaeffer: Etude aux chemins de fer (1948)
John Cage: 4´33 (1952)
Bernard Mâche: Korwar (1972)
Trevor Wishart: Vox 5 (1986)
Assignment suitable for further study