Small assignment: Soundscape for an existing story
A simple assignment for instruments and/or voices. Useful for learning about soundscape creation and also as a preliminary exercise for creating one’s own narratives in music.
Goal and output
Initial experiments in extended playing techniques, introduction to non-traditional notation
A soundscape based on an existing story, with a clear dramatic arc.
A performable score with mixed techniques: text, drawings, colours, textures and traditional music notation, e.g. rhythms, dynamics, articulations, harmonies and/or melodies.
A useful preparatory exercise is performing a movement-and-sound improvisation with a partner as an introduction to graphic notation (see the assignment 48. From movement expression to graphic notation).
- Run the assignment twice with the students using their voices or instruments. Have someone read the story out loud both times.
On the first pass, have everyone make music together, listening and reacting to each other all the time. On the second pass, have everyone make music with their eyes closed as far as possible and assign duties (solos, duos, small group solos, etc.) as you read out the story, for instance by touching students on the shoulder (first touch = solo begins; second touch = solo ends).
"I'm standing in a forest. The wind whistles in the trees.
Raindrops begin to fall on the ground.
It's raining more and more.
The rain increases, it turns into a storm.
I see a small cottage on top of a hill. I start climbing up the hill.
I run up the hill.
I get to the cottage. I open the creaking door.
I'm sitting in the cottage. The door slams open and shut in the rain.
The slams become louder.
The slams grow quiet.
The rain stops. I open the cottage door (creak).
I walk down the hill.
I run down the hill, quickly.
I listen to the humming of the wind.
The wind dies down.
It is calm."
- Create details in the musical illustration of the story by working through the individual elements (forest, wind, rain, etc.). Try out various ways of playing instruments or using voices to create the elements needed for the story. Use all instruments and voices to produce the effects..
- Agree on a rhythm for the slamming of the door.
- Agree on articulations, playing techniques / vocal techniques and harmonies to be used for the rain and the storm (e.g. pitches or intervals from a specific scale, or individual notes/clusters/staccatos/trills in specific registers, etc.).
- If the improvisation results in melodic ideas at various points in the story, try to recall them and play them together by ear, develop them further and write them down.
- Think about the dramaturgy of the piece. Where is everyone playing at once, and where could there be solos?
- Make a drawing of the piece on paper or on the board, using images, shapes, textures, rhythms or notes, and add dynamics, articulations, instrumentation.
- You can also divide the story up into sections and have small groups work on each one, then present their ideas to the entire group for putting the piece together. In this case, you may want to reserve two lessons for creating the piece.
- You may omit the spoken story from the final performance, because it is simply a tool for the composition process.
Topics in the assignment
Detailed description of tools
You may begin by illustrating the story with voices only and then implement the ideas generated on the students' own instruments or on classroom instruments.
After completing this assignment, you may invite students to come up with their own stories individually, in pairs, in small groups or as a whole group, and then draw it as an image or a graphic score.
The more details there are in the story, the more like a composition the soundscape will become.
Assignment suitable for further study