Martin G. Georgiev


Multimedia Web Presentation

based on

Tradition and Innovation in my Music

PhD Thesis

Royal Academy of Music

University of London


containing the theoretical text with relevant excerpts from the scores and sound recordings



2.1.Why Modes?

Diatonic scales and spectral similarity, perceptual consonance and textural balance of consonance/dissonance

Why modes? I must say that this choice is as much intuitive as it is conscious. Although for the intuitive part I cannot account in words, on the conscious side I have many reasons for such preference, and I will mention a few which have a more apparent technical bearing on the present discussion.

It has often been suggested by music psychologists that there is an innate or biological preference towards the use of scales and modes comprising five to seven unequal scale steps per octave.90 (click) 91 (click) 92 (click)      One particular study, by Gill and Purves ascertained that the scales that are most often used amongst the cultures of the world are the ones that have the greatest possible spectral similarity in their holistic intervallic structure to the harmonic spectrum.93 (click)  Through an algorithmic analysis they compared hundreds of thousands of theoretically possible octave-spanned scales (from five to twelve scale degrees per octave) to the harmonic spectrum and ranked the ones that are most similar in their intervallic structure to the harmonic spectrum. They then compared these theoretically constructed scales which ranked highest in terms of their similarity to spectral harmonicity to the scales which are most often used by most music cultures of the world (including the Common Practice). They found that the well known Phrygian, Dorian, Major, Natural Minor and Lydian scales94 (click)  were amongst the six possible heptatonic scales with greatest possible similarity to a harmonic spectrum, and the sixth one, which was ranked fourth by spectral similarity, was the scale of Maqam Husainy, which is identical with the scale of the First Tone in Eastern Orthodox Christian Chant – the most fundamental one to that tradition.95 (click)  There were also other Indian and Arabic scales which ranked in the first fifty possible scales with greatest similarity to a harmonic spectrum. The researchers emphasized furthermore that the harmonic spectrum has a primary biological importance to us, as that is the spectrum of the human voice, the aural perception of which is essential for our survival, which itself has particular implications for the structure and functioning of our perceptual system in general. It is also not arbitrary that many of the music instruments that we use, particularly in Europe, have a harmonic spectrum.96 (click)  Together with these apparent advantages for auditory processing, this kind of spectral similarity in the scale structures has particular importance for spectral fusion97 (click) 98 (click)    and perceptual consonance,99 (click) which are fundamental to Spectralism and Tonal Music respectively, and which have importance to my music as well, as I will discuss below and in the following chapters. (In particular see 4.1, 6.1 and Conclusion).

On the other hand, these diatonic scales/modes (tempered or untempered) are deeply engraved in our musical thinking by the means of enculturation, which still does not make them only culture-specific, because the great majority of world cultures, (that do not necessarily engage with tonal music) employ these types of scales.

While I will touch further upon the significance of these factors below, and in the conclusion, it is important to mention here that by finding these factors significant I have not been pursuing necessarily some predominantly consonant quality in my music overall. Indeed, I have been carefully considering the balance between consonance and dissonance in the general sonority of my music. To describe that, I would give (in anticipation to the next chapter) an example from The Mirror: bar 283, p.36. (Example 1) That is one of the most dissonant passages in the work, and probably in my music altogether. It is a memorable moment in the opera and in my mind it is similar to a cascade of machine gun shots. The overall pitch collection for that passage is completely diatonic, (in fact identical with a C Major scale) (except for the glide in the trombone and the low f sharp in the timpani, which in this case function as sound effects only). It is true that there is a sustained base pitched on b natural which suggests particularly the Locrian mode as the overall pitch collection, but a comparison to bars 308-309, p.41 of the same work (Example 2) will show that in the latter case the background is also a diatonic mode, the texture is also dense and a large number of dissonant verticals occur between the voices, without any signs of ‘resolutions to consonant verticals’, yet the passage sounds altogether rather consonant.

This comparison testifies that the perceived consonance/dissonance quality (for the majority of textures that I use) is not just an attribute of the background modal network, nor could it be controlled by considering how many dissonant intervals occur in the foreground or what their relationship to consonant intervals is. Consonance/dissonance in this technique is rather, an overall quality of the texture, influenced by timbre, articulation, density, tempo, indeed by all possible aspects that influence the texture. All these aspects have to be considered in the view of the overall quality of, what I consider as, textural consonance/dissonance. Furthermore, I explore this quality as a spectrum of possibilities, with all the nuances between both extremes, and I consider that factor carefully in the process of composing.

In this, there might be a certain degree of similarity between my approach and that of the spectralist composers. I do hold a great admiration for their work, but I have not become a spectralist myself. Appreciating the significant variety of approaches between spectralists, I will only mention that there are significant aesthetic and technical differences between my approach and theirs generally, which would be again too lengthy to attempt to discuss within the limits of this text.


2.2.Verticals, Windows...

Modal Clusters, Cluster Trichords, Endings

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