The tasks (student guide)

The composition task

Compose a piece of music using Reason or GarageBand, which incorporates some of the ideas of minimalism or post minimalism as reflected in contemporary music.

Include consistent pulse, repetition and looping as strong features. Include build-up and reduction of texture. Include short motifs or riffs that you work with and develop. Your piece may be in the form of a song (with verse(s), chorus(es), bridge and so forth), but it should still display strong minimalist features. It may be a piece of dance music, but it should be include interesting textural variation.

Model the structure of your song on one of the pieces you have listened to, here or elsewhere. Specify which songs or pieces of music you are using as a model.

You should compose in pairs. Our music technology studio has 12 workstations for 24 students.

Attempt notation of the main ideas in the piece using Sibelius. It does not have to be a full score, but should include all of your musical themes, perhaps in lead sheet format, or something suitable to the style of your piece.

The performance task

Learn in a small group one of the pieces here. Or a related piece of your own choosing. Check suitability with your teacher first.

Adapt it as a ‘version’: you may closely emulate the original if you choose, or you may adapt it in ways that are subtly different, quite different or radically different to the original. You might, for example, alter the instruments, the beat, the rhythm section, the way voices are used, the tempo, the key, the harmonies, the dynamics, the mix of electronic/acoustic instruments, and so on. Consider Triple J’s ‘Like a version’ series for some ideas.

Your group should normally be between about three and five people, but two to six people is possible. Any larger than this can get unwieldy in planning and rehearsing.

Adapt the piece for the instruments you have available and include in your performance at least one electronic instrument e.g. drum loop, computer generated loop or sequence. You may use conventional instruments too, including school or classroom or ensemble instruments and your own instruments. You may create an all-electronic ensemble.

Your piece may include voice or voices, or it may be an instrumental version.

You’ll have the opportunity to present your piece in a live lunchtime concert towards the end of term.

Adapting to your level

You can choose to work on these tasks at various levels. The boundaries between ‘levels’ described here aren’t hard and fast; this is just to give you an idea of the range. Try and stretch your level though: use the opportunity to reach beyond where you are at the moment as a musician.

You could work at:

Level 1: getting the essential performance and composition happening, maybe even putting the brakes on a little as you build confidence

Level 2: advancing to include more elements in your composition, or tackling a longer piece of music for your performance

Level 3: extending to make a professional sounding composition, and performing something you’d like to hear or play at a live gig out in the community

Level 4: getting expansive and taking your composition and performance ideas even further (to the stratosphere!), as you go for a ‘no-limits’ approach (well, limited only by your imagination and resources available…)

Listening is similar. Start with two of the pieces, and advance and extend to listen to everything if you can. The more you can listen the more ideas you can develop.

  • Essential listening (Core repertoire)

The White Stripes ‘The hardest button to button’

  • Advancing your listening

As well as this core track, which we’ll consider in some detail over the next few classes, have a listen to four to six more of the following 16 songs (18 to be exact as there are two with two versions):

As you listen, listen out for one out of these that you would like to create a cover version of with a group of about three to five people in the class, using conventional instruments and voices along with some form of computer or electronic instrument (and share ideas around).

Arcade Fire ‘Wake up’

Arcade Fire ‘Neon Bible’

Wilco ‘Spiders (Kidsmoke)’

Architecture in Helsinki ‘Heart it races’

Architecture in Helsinki ‘The owls go’

The White Stripes ‘The nurse’

Coldplay ‘Clocks’


Coldplay ‘Viva la Vida’

Ben Folds ‘Such great heights’ [cover]

The Postal Service ‘Such great heights’

Bjork ‘Human behaviour’

Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Mike Marshall ‘Sliding down’

Radiohead ‘Weird fishes/Arpeggi’

Jonny Greenwood, Thom Yorke ‘Arpeggi’ [orchestral version]

Cloud Control ‘Gold canary’

Cloud Control ‘Pursuit of happiness’ [Kid Cudi cover: caution, language warning, one word only, at 0:33]

Penguin Cafe ‘Music for a found harmonium’

Kylie Minogue ‘Can’t get you out of my head’ [caution, a bit raunchy for Y9 & 10 classroom viewing; probably OK for seniors]

  • Extending listening further

Listen to all of the songs listed above.

Then share more of your listening among class members, linking each other to other related music that you know. Make suggestions!

  • Expansive listening

These suggestions are related to minimalism but extending you into other aspects of 20C and 21C music that is very much ‘now’. You might get ideas for structure of your composition from some of these pieces. Or just expand your knowledge of new music:

‘Heima’ film/album by Sigur Rós. Evocative and beautiful ‘post-rock’ music from Iceland, displaying many features of ‘post-minimalism’.

‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’ [streaming version of live recording of the Wordless Music Orchestra on WNYC] by Jonny Greenwood, member of the innovative rock band Radiohead, written when he was composer in residence at the BBC in 2006.

‘Popcorn Superhet Receiver’ displays influences from many 20C musics, including the music of Olivier Messiaen, minimalism, noise music, and post-rock. It has even been described as how Radiohead might sound if they were an orchestra. The composition originated as an extensively overdubbed work for viola, attempting to imitate aspects of white noise (sound in every frequency band), which Greenwood then transcribed for string orchestra. The work is currently (May/June 2010) being performed in Australia by the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

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