Composing with timbre: saturation, (dis)integration and space

Hillier, E. (2022) Composing with timbre: saturation, (dis)integration and space. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.


This project, consisting of eight original works and an accompanying commentary, explores in depth a timbre-focused approach to composition. Tracing the genesis of these works, I outline the methods that emerged as I sought to sculpt complex sonorities and larger forms—investigating the reciprocal relationship between discourse and timbre at both a micro and macro level. Each of the four chapters presented is thus allied to a broad organisational scheme: integration, disintegration and saturation become the subject matter of Chapters One, Two and Four respectively, with specific reference made to the instrumental writing of Pierluigi Billone and Raphaël Cendo. Chapter Three, on the other hand, investigates the effects of space upon sonorities’ temporal unfolding; the music of Natasha Barrett and Rebecca Saunders is cited here as central to my compositional development. Though the relationship between timbre and form is the principal lens through which the portfolio works are discussed, several interlinked research strands emerge. These include explorations of: lo-fi compositional approaches; sonic ‘landscape’; noise and white noise; parataxis; ‘directional’ growth processes (drawing upon the spectromorphological writing of Denis Smalley); and multiply directed time. With the influence of plastic arts upon my practice increasingly apparent as the research project develops, physicality and the body become key to my discussions. Drawing particular inspiration from Italian artist, Alberto Burri, whose work is often described as eliciting a visceral and corporeal response in the viewer, I too seek to conjure something of the intimate and human out of my own ruptured musical structures. This sense of physicality, communicated in performance and encouraged by the materials upon the page, is ultimately seen to be prefaced by a hands-on and tactile compositional process: a method I have found to be essential when moulding and shaping volatile and fragile matter as I compose with timbre. ******* IMPORTANT NOTE: The CC-BY-NC-ND licence given to this thesis does not apply to the third-party copyright images which are reproduced with permission on pages 10, 75, 85, 107, and 117 of the PDF *******

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