Chapter 4: Abstract Musical Ideas


The final method identified for developing creative/musical ideas is through the abstract qualities of sound. Here, formal qualities such as pitch, rhythm, and duration provide the basic building blocks for a more extensive musical language that can supply (and unsettle) expectations of the listener such as tension, release, trajectory, cadence, structure, etc. Complex musical languages, both known and unique to individual works, emerge from this category. Examples of such abstract musical techniques include reductionism, augmentation, and innovation on a given form. Reductionism relies on the stripping away, or intentional abandonment of, certain parameters for the purpose of highlighting the most significant language-bearing field(s). In the context of instrumental/vocal music and sonic arts, we might imagine works that feature changes in only one or two parameters (eg. pitch or timbre) while others (such as rhythm) remain constant - this technique is commonly used in minimalist works. Augmentation is the expansion of a single language-bearing field as a means of developing the subject and exposing referential meaning. For example, José Halac’s The Breaking of the Scream (1999) presents its insight through the expansion of gestural timeframes to environmental timeframes; from the human orbit to the realm of the transcendental. Innovation on a given form is arguably the most common of the identified techniques. These given forms are abundant in instrumental/vocal music and sonic arts and are supplied through culture. The strophic structure of popular music, the harmonic and improvisatory frameworks in jazz standards and the conventions of raga are all examples of compositional strategies that have been given to us by history and culture. Departures from these given forms may be described as innovations that ideally have the potential to present insights. For example, a blues guitarist who improvises using a scale that contains mainly conventional, but notably one or two non-conventional notes says something very specific about departure from, and return to, a given form.