Tag Archives: movement

New Music update (minimalism)

Those who have been reading my more recent blogs will have no doubt seen recent updates on my in-progress minimalist work. If you have, then you’ve most likely heard (and hopefully enjoyed) the trailers and demos for two of the pieces four movements. The most recent article on the wider work can be read here.

Now, these four movements all have final names. The overall pice itself also now has a working title: Urban Sequencing (a city distilled).

This working title reflects the mental images which occur to me when writing these movements. Urban landscapes and the movement of people/transportation is a recurring theme.

I’ve often thought of cities as living organisms, for good or bad. Seen from a distance, they can look like bright, smoke-beltching monsters fed and cleaned out by ant-armies of people. Most psychological and sociological studies on the matter will tell you that we also behave differently in a crowd. With that in mind, I wished to explore different aspects of the modern urban environment through minimalist music. Using simple, repeated phrases overlapping one another, in conjunction with the mathematic movement titles, I am attempting to recreate the nature of living in the city.

The piece’s four movements can be represented as follows:

#6×5 (allegro)

train1train2

(Pics by Beijing Cream & rediff.com)

This opening movement implies images of rapid moving transport, much like the above pictures of asian railway stations implies. But it could equally represent crowds of people, or indeed, the frantic state of mind that city life and cause in some individuals.

You can hear a short trailer for #6×5, as well as read a little bit more about this movement, in this article.

#5×4 (adagio)

Though this piece was initially concede as a reflection on the life of a dear family member who had passed away, this adagio movement also serves to highlight reflection in modern life. Even in urban environments, it is possible to find time to pause and reflect. But even in this act, we are still in the presence of a sequence, so in keeping with the theme, the city never leaves us in this work.

You can read more about #5×4 and hear a demo recording of the full movement (as it is right now) via this article.

#6×3 (animato)

roundabout

Pic by Tony Burns.

The third movement, #6×3, is a dance. A dance of sequences in triple time. Lively and animated (hence the subtitle ‘animato’), this short jig is also the scherzo of the work.

In #6×3, I hope to reflect how beauty can be found in random patterns, from the movement of pedestrians as they avoid each other, to traffic in roundabouts (like in the beautiful picture of a roundabout in Shanghai from National Geographic, above).

I am still putting the final few touches to this movement, but i hope to upload a demo for you guys to listen to very soon.

#5×2 (allegretto)

Squares by Adam Magyar

Pic by Adam Magyar (via Rupert Cook).

Finally, #5×2 brings us back to the frantic, hurried feeling from the first movement. This time round, however, there is more order. Unlike #6×5, this final movement is made up of five phrases of just two notes each, unlike the five note patterns from the earlier piece.

The resulting music, to my ears, implies that the city has played a part in shaping you, in organising it’s components to more effective use. Oiling the cogs, if you will. however, if you feel ending this piece feeling like a small cog in an uncaring machine, perhaps there is another way of viewing this. Going though all four movements in sequence, we start frantic and chaotic, before slowing down to reflect. We then enjoy the ‘joke’ of the piece, the dance, before ending in a more organised manner – and therefore with a less stressed attitude (at least, that’s one theory!).

As with the third movement, this piece still requires a little more ‘tweeking’ before I’m ready to release it into the world, even in demo form. However, I don’t think it’ll be too long before you get to hear it and let me know what you think.

Final thoughts

Overall, this entire piece should last just under fifteen minutes. Though my demos have so far been showcased on piano, I originally intended for this music to be recorded by an ensemble of tuned percussion, and hope to record a version in that style this year. I may decide to experiment further with alternative instrumentation – any suggestions?

I’d also be interested to know what you think of my concept overall. As always, you can comment or contact me through my social media channels to discuss, if you so wish.

Until next time, stay happy, and keep playing!

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#6×5 – Part one of a four-movement minimalist work

Following on from the re-publication of last week’s trailer for #6×5 (which you can read about by clicking here), I thought it was time I told you a little more about the wider work (as yet untitled).

#6×5 was an idea I had for a movement of a minimalist work. It’s title comes from the six separate motifs, each five notes in length. The interplay, juxtaposition, and indeed, dissonance derived from how these motifs are arranged becomes the complex – yet ultimately simple – basis for this frantic piece.

Since it was the first idea of the four smaller pieces which came to me, I still consider this to be the first movement. Originally arranged for tuned percussion, the trailer demonstrates ensemble or solo or duo piano. The opening statement (which starts the trailer) forms a strong setup for the piece. Clearly showcasing each of the six motifs, we then descend into a something much more complicated. From here, the listener should know roughly what to expect from the remaining four movements.

The next movement to be almost entirely completed is #5×4. Again arranged for solo or duo piano, this is the slow movement of the work. Using the same principle as #6×5, this slower, more reflective movement features five individual lines which use four unique notes each*.

[*On average, for which a lengthy explanation may be required. To read this, please see my post of #5×4, coming soon]


The remaining two movements currently remain very much in the drafting process. I have yet to settle on the final motifs which will form the basis of these pieces, though the most recent versions have shown a lot of promise…

What I can tell you is that one of the movements will feature a triple time beat. These will utilise triplet-quaver phrases for their motifs, though how many variation will end up in the final draft is yet to be seen. It could be called ‘3×3′ or ’14×3’ depending on how strict I am with myself in the distilling and editing process!

You have spotted a pattern by now, which means you’ll be able to guess the number of notes in the final movement…

That’s right: two.

Again, as with the triplet-time movement, I have yet to ‘kill my darlings’ and finalise which motifs will form the base components for the the piece. My greatest challenge in both of these movements is the overwhelming similarity to the work of Philip Glass. I have long been a fan of Glass, and his reputation as one of the foremost minimalist composers leaves me with the unenviable task of following in his footsteps, hopefully without appearing as a poor imitation.

My next post will be a publication of a full-length demo for #5×4. In the meantime, you can watch & listen to the trailer for #6×5 by clicking here. Enjoy!

Music & Wellbeing (Part 4): Music & Movement

This blog is a continuation of my mini-series examining the value of music on our overall wellbeing. The next two instalments will look at the physical benefits of music as a means of healing and rehabilitation.

As always, if you have any comments, suggestions or would like any further information regarding any of the research provided below, please do not hesitate to drop me a line! Music therapy is still a relatively new field (especially when looking at the wider sphere of medicine), and a lot of this might be new information to some. However, there exists a huge array of prior research and reading material on the subject. If reading these articles has sparked an interest in learning more about music therapy, but unsure about the best place to start, I would be more than happy to point you in the right direction!

I got rhythm: Music & Movement

Levitin (2006, p. 174) states that the cerebellum, as one of the earliest parts of our brain to evolve, is responsible for motor functions, including timing:

The Cerebellum is the part of the brain that is involved closely with timing and with coordinating movements of the body…From phylogenetic studies – studies of brains of different animals up and down the genetic ladder – we’ve learned that the cerebellum is one of the oldest parts of the brain, evolutionarily speaking. In popular language, it is sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain. Although it weighs only 10 per cent as much as the rest of the brain, it contains 50 to 80 per cent of the total number of neurons. The function of this oldest part of the brain is something that is crucial to music: timing (Levitin, 2006, p. 174)

As one of our oldest brain functions, our propensity for rhythm is therefore hardwired into us. Combine these automatic functions with the reward-centre activation we experience when listening to music (Salimpoor et al, 2015), and it goes quite some way to explaining our natural need to set things in order; an ‘unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 264).

Sacks (2008) discusses studies which demonstrated that the motor cortex and subcortical motor systems were activated when listening to music, or even merely imagining it. He argued that keeping time, in both a mental sense and as a physical act, depends ‘on interactions between the auditory and the dorsal premotor cortex’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 262). The human mind is unique in its ‘functional connection between these two motor activations’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 262) which are so intricately integrated with each other. Further to this, when listening to music is coupled with a physical activity, such as finger-tapping or any other movement in the body, several more areas of the brain are utilised. These include the cerebellum and the areas of the frontal lobes commonly associated with ‘higher perceptual and cognitive control’ (Thaut, 2005, p. 179).

According to Thompson (2015), utilizing music’s effects on the brain has yielded a positive response in stroke patients with impaired motor skills:

Patients who engaged in this intervention, called music-supported training, showed greater improvement in the timing, precision and smoothness of fine motor skills than did patients who relied on conventional therapy. The researchers postulated that the gains resulted from an increase in connections between neurons of the sensorimotor and auditory regions…the hope now is that active music making-singing, moving and synchronizing to a beat-might help restore additional skills, including speech and motor functions in stroke patients (Thompson, 2015)

Thaut (2005) has also recorded positive results when using ‘rhythmic auditory stimulation to facilitate walking’ in patients who have been partially paralysed following a stroke (Sacks, 2008, p. 276). Again, we see rhythm at play here to increasingly useful effect. Similar research carried out by Jun, Roh, & Kim (2013) investigated the benefits of music therapy in rehabilitating stroke patients. They discovered that better results, and improved mood, were increased by providing music-based movement treatments on a more regular basis (Jun, Roh, & Kim, 2013, P. 29).

Parkinson’s Disease is another condition in which music has been proven to help in alleviating symptoms. Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive neurological condition (www.parkinsons.org) caused by the ‘degeneration of cells in the midbrain that feed dopamine to the basal ganglia, an area involved in the initation [sic] and smoothness of movements’ (Thompson, 2015). These symptoms worsen as the disease progresses (Ross & Singer, 2014). In later stages of the disease, it is not only movement which is slowed down, but also the ‘flow of perception, thought, and feeling’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 274). This highlights the roots of the disease in the brain rather than in other parts of the body, much in the same way that the body can be affected after a stroke. Most studies conclude that music supplants a rhythm where the patient’s brain has stopped carrying out movement functions automatically (Jun, Roh, & Kim, 2013; Sacks, 2008; Thaut, 2005; Thompson, 2015).

As we saw when looking at musical interventions on stroke patients, one of the key factors to the success of music therapy in patients with Parkinson’s Disease is down to timing. In regard to Parkinson’s Disease, there are particular observations to be made about the patient’s own perception of timing:

‘An observer may note how slowed a parkinsonian’s movements are, but the patient will say, “My own movements seem normal to me unless I see how long they take by looking at a clock. The clock on the wall of the ward seems to be going exceptionally fast.”’ (Gooddy, 1988, quoted in Sacks, 2008, p. 276)

Regarding this example of relative time, using music has a positive effect because it ‘imposes its own tempo’, effectively overriding the impulses to speed up or slow down that Parkinsonion patients experience (Sacks, 2008, p. 276). Sacks (2008) continued that for as long as the music lasts, the patients’ rhythms returned to pre-illness speeds of movement. In other cases, where one side of the body is operating at a different speed to the other, getting the patient to play on an organ brought his limbs back into synchronicity again (Sacks, 2008, p. 277).

In many of the case studies provided by Sacks (2008), he mentions that the patients ‘come alive’ and in some examples shake off all visible signs of Parkinson’s Disease; walking more fluidly; singing; and even dancing energetically. In one case, an especially motionless patient is seated at the piano and not only frees up in her movement, but plays beautifully from memory; the act of imagining the music has the same effect as physically hearing it (Sacks, 2008, p. 278).

The phrase ‘come alive’, to me, suggests a happier state of mind when music is present in these patients. This is similar to the stroke patients in Jun, Roh, & Kim’s (2013) study that experienced an ‘improved mood’. While music is being applied here seeking physical improvements, it is simultaneously improving the patient’s mental wellbeing. Therefore, music can be seen to have an overall positive effect on the patients’ combined wellbeing. I agree with the research in these chapters, and believe that further implementation of music-based interventions within the National Health Service will show quicker recovery times in patients. This, in turn, should lead to a greater overall mental wellbeing in the patients as their health improves. As for the National Health Service, they are optimistic about the positive use of music as a means for treating stroke and Parkinson’s patients. However, they wish to see larger studies with more varied groups of patients. (National Health Service, 2008).

REFERENCES

Jun, E., Roh, Y., & Kim, M. (2013) ‘The effect of music-movement therapy on physical and psychological states of stroke patients’, Journal of Clinical Nursing, Vol. 22, No. 1/2, pp. 22-31. Available from: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04243.x.

Levitin, D. (2006). This is your brain on music: understanding a human obsession. Great Britain: Atlantic Books.

National Health Service (2008) Music aids stroke recovery. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2007/January08/Pages/Musicaidsstrokerecovery.aspx (Last accessed: 07/05/2012).

Parkinson’s Society (2015). Available at: www.parkinsons.org

Sacks, O. (2008). Musicophilia: tales of music and the brain. 2nd Edition. United Kingdom: Vintage Books.

Salimpoor, V., Zald, D., Zatorre, R., Dagher, A., & McIntosh, A. (2015) ‘Review: Predictions and the brain: how musical sounds become rewarding’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol. 19, pp. 86-91. Available from: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.12.001.

Thaut, M. (2005) ‘Rhythm, human temporality, and brain function’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (Eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 171-191.

Thompson, W. (2015) ‘The Healine [sic] Power of Music’, Scientific American Mind, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 32-41.