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Some Thoughts on Modules: Taliesin West

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Doug Gibson, May 9, 2018.

  1. The idea for this exercise is to work, and be as creative as possible, within narrow confines of space. You are to select a “Unit, or a “Cell” upon which your entire piece will be based. I have supplied an example below.


    Module (This post is intentionally "abstract" and designed for allowing multiple interpretations. )

    Difference between a Pattern Vs. Module.

    To the extent it is about "mind-set" it is worth exploring. To the extent it is simply "semantics" it is NOT worth

    Similar to the question of Riff vs. Ostinato.

    *** (Subjective answer: When I think of a module I think about a small musical unit to use as a basis for variants. More about linking together to create larger musical phrase or composition. Like the way a rubix cube.

    Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 8.03.11 PM.png

    A pattern: Tends to create a mindset of sequence, or ostinato. The rhythmic and contour of a pattern tend not be disrupted, so the pattern become more foreground and feature of the work. )

    Module is defined by it duration. It may contain, or be, a pattern. But it can also be free of discernible patterns.
    Contour and Rhythm are two of it's most important features.

    The more a module repeats the more variation required to convey a structural function.

    Taliesin West: Frank Lloyd Wright's School

    Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 8.15.15 PM.png

    The basic principle is that being confined to small space one learns principles of design. One of Frank Lloyd Wrights basic tenets was to “Learn by doing”. Students were given basic tents in which they had to both build and live within.

    Thus the goal of this exercise is to explore a similar concept. You are confined to a space, and encouraged to be as creative as possible. While at first glance the idea of a repeating pattern may seem like a journey down a minimalist path (filled with black turtle necks) this does not need be the case. You are both free and encouraged to explore any genre you wish, and can try out any type of variation technique on top of the module foundation, or alter the basic foundation itself.

    Step 1. Choose a basic “Unit” or “Cell “ upon which your entire piece will be based

    For example:
    Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 8.33.36 PM.png

    Step 2. Begin adding in a second voice. I suggest that you simply begin by creating “Blocks” of patterns. Don’t worry about how to develop or expand the piece at this point. (Additionally this exercise is perfect for ear training, and using pencil and paper. You can simply repeat the pattern and try singing an additional voice) Your second voice is free to deviate from your area (is if the design on top of the space)

    Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 8.33.40 PM.png

    Experiment with as many different compositional techniques that you know and get a feel for how each one effects your listening to the material.

    Step 3: Think about how you are going to move from one tonal area to another, and how this will unfold over time.

    Leading tones lock you into a key. 1/2 steps are your friend.

    Step 4: Decide on new pitch are (modulation)

    Step 5: create your “connectors”. To do this you need to know where you are going. The most powerful connectors are 1/2 step below, or perfect 4th below. Think about how long you are going to want your connectors to be. (1 note or 12?) Avoid root position chords in the connector until the final cadence.

    Step 6 : Once in your new pitch space you can create variations one your original block. Why not invert ? Why not stack your intervals? Usually the middle section is where you can blur the lines the most. Your motive is your “through-line”

    Step 7: Figure out how to get back to where you started. End in your original area.

    Example to follow shortly (AKA. I've run out of time)
    Aaron Venture likes this.
  2. #2 Raphael Badawi, May 9, 2018
    Last edited: May 9, 2018
    What you call "module" seems to match what Alain Mayrand calls "motive" in his ScoreClub course "Motivic Mastery".

    I often thought by "patterns" Mike just meant "something reoccuring all the time". It took me a year to discover that a melodic line is not a pattern, even if you keep repeating it (and especially if you transpose it every four bars :-D)

    A motive may change a lot (retrograde, contour inversion, transposition...). So it was clear that while the motive is like a verb (something you conjugate) a pattern is more like ponctuation (it doesn't morph).

    So, I keep asking myself (I know, it diverges from the subject, but in the same time, it could help clarify what a "module" is not, and when a pattern has to become a "module") :
    - what may qualify as a pattern?

    When composing on the piano, I often play the main line on one hand and kind of a harmonico-rythm part on the other, and then write my short scores on this basis. And I still struggle to accomodate the presence of a "pattern" in there, since I'm never sure what qualifies as one. So it affects the effectivity of my work at the very basis.

    Usual suspects for patterning :
    - ostinati
    - rythmic thing at the bass (may be just two notes, as you have sometimes in jazz)
    - ... ?
  3. Great ideas! I've been inspired by FLW since I learned about him 10 years ago!
  4. Perhaps. I can't really comment as I have never seen any part of "Motivic Mastery".

    However I suspect they differ.

    Module VS Motivic Development:

    Motivic Development has been a topic of central concern to music composition pedagogy, and theorist for a long time. There are volumes of works on the subject. So what's the difference.?

    • Motivic Development often only deals with one layer of music. A module may have 3-4 or even more layers of music.
    • "Module" is a term derived mainly from film editing and the unique constraints of film. (* I'm not a fan of using new terms for well established musical terminology. )

    Module is defined by its duration. It may contain, or be, a pattern. But it can also be free of discernible patterns.
    Contour and Rhythm are two of it's most important features.

    (Aleatoric music is almost always "Module")

    Below is a simplified reduction of "The Murder" from Psycho. Hermann is pretty much the king of module composing.
    Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 10.05.10 AM.png

    In film, editing is one of the principle ways a story gets told. Via countless hours of planning
    the execution of editing , selecting ,and joining shots together into sequences. Finally these sequences are turned into a film that is continuous (assuming that coherency and logic is a desired goal) and at the same time dramatically effective.

    Thus, establishing and maintaining linear continuity (i.e. a coherent narrative flow) from one shot to another during the editing process has presented a problem for filmmakers from the early days of cinema. The solution to this problem (i.e. preservation of time and space consistency) has been found in the development of continuity editing.

    During the 1920s, Soviet filmmakers, Lev Kuleshov, Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Aleksander Dovshenko developed their own montage aesthetics exploring the possibilities provided by non-linear editing, based on classic principles of Griffith’s continuity editing. Griffith’s belief that introducing cuts and fragmentation of the film material can lead to more compelling and dynamic results as opposed to unedited scenes

    In the example below, I hope it is clear that a single "module" can have multiple layers.

    In Module 1: one measure in duration

    Layer 1: F# - G, D# - E and quarter note triplets
    Layer 2: 8th rest, E minor as dotted quarter
    Layer 3: E - B bass line as half notes.

    The module itself may be viewed as a "Pattern" or as containing a pattern within it. IE: Measure one the F#-G Tuplet can be seen as a 2 beat pattern that is repeated and transposed on beats 3 and 4.
    Thus two half note patterns = one module.

    Did I make anyone want to jump off a building with that last paragraph ?

    More coming soon
    Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 10.18.45 AM.png
    Aaron Venture likes this.
  5. Very interesting. Indeed, a motive is defined by contour and rhythm, but it doesn't layer, it's not the kind of "block" you describe as a module. So the difference is now clear for me, thanks :)
  6. You are very welcome. I'll post more on this soon.

    In the meantime; only say nice things about me on the "other" forum ;)
  7. If I trash something, it would just be an idea, and after reflection :)

    I was asking myself concerning this module -> repeat -> connector -> module transposed way of writing:
    - can we imagine a structure up with two or more modules?
    - can we try to decipher well-known répertoire works with this reading grid; for example, I'm sure most of The Nutcracker can be read this way (if given the possibility to accomodate several modules in the same track)
  8. Of course. I already posted this, but will do so again. Here is the Psycho Prelude, and the various modules are highlighted in color.
    You need multiple ideas, or things will get real boring real quick.

    Notice in the keynotes the scenes of the film and the assigned modules. Hermann went to this style to make his life easy working with film edits.
    So if a few seconds with say module B2 gets cut, then he can glue the piece right back together and it still holds up well.

    Sure. Most of early film music was derived from classical cannon. For some pieces all you need to do is listen.

    Aaron Venture likes this.
  9. I like it, seems very flexible in the end and for scoring purpose it lets you easily adapt to cut changes on the fly. Something I like with this concept is that it applies with chorale writing as well as line writing: it is compatible with your way to go.

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