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Deconstructed narratives: a composer's perspective on form, process and review

Thompson-Bell, Jacob (2014) Deconstructed narratives: a composer's perspective on form, process and review. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This project takes the form of a series of compositions in a variety of styles and media. Presented alongside the scores and recordings, the ensuing commentary engages with the creative/research process, documenting significant activities and insights as they arose during the course of the investigation. The documentation aims to mimic the compositional techniques employed in the scores referenced, and is consequently delivered through a mixture of media — this includes written word, graphical analysis, illustration and audio deconstruction. The research project centres on narratives and their expression (or repression) through music. “Narrative” is here used to mean: temporal syntax — its presence, or absence, and the possible implications for reception and critical discourse. The enquiry begins with structuralist approaches, those bound by formal architectures in sound that seek to guide temporal perception (Chapter One). Drawing on the work of Jonathan Kramer (1988), this section divides the enquiry into two distinct timebased varieties — “multi-linearity” and “non-linearity” — explored in detail through a number of original compositions. In the second stage, I explore interdisciplinary strategies, using visual media to organise sound non-temporally, or in “non-narrative” terms (Chapter Two). This second stage investigates the relationship between process and product, and between action and research, in the context of musical composition, drawing on poststructural and performance research theories (Nelson 2006; Lyotard 2005; Barthes 1977), and finding ways in which a multi-media approach can be used as a means of analysing creative practice. Through exploring process-product relationships, this second stage also seeks to deconstruct the means of production traditionally underlying musical composition — from-composer-to-performer-to-listener — identifying ways in which these clearly defined roles can become unstuck, mixed and even reversed in certain contexts. Building on the developments of the second stage, the works referenced in Chapter Three concern sound as a physical presence: a tangible, sensate medium that implicates all of us in its production (Voegelin 2010; Toop 1997). This final stage explores ways in which (musical) sound can be engaged with on a non-semantic level, as an “anti-narrative”, without the structural connotations of a language. This x exploration takes the form of a self-contained series of deconstructions of Schubert’s Meeresstille (1815). The series begins with an audio transformation of a recording by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore, which is transcribed and recomposed into an extended string quartet movement, expanded into a five-day audio-visual installation, and transformed into a 17 minute film reimagining the recording process for the string quartet. Each of these stages emphasises the means of production (bow movements, movement around a performance space, etc.) over and above the presence of an emotional or linguistic meaning, though these aspects may also be discernible in the work considered. The project loosely concludes by stating some key insights gained over the course of the research, followed by a series of open questions outlining new paths to explore based on the work already undertaken.

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