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Spellspheres: Part 3

The OCA composition courses invite you to write many pieces of music for different combinations of instruments. 

Before beginning one of your compositions, it is useful to think carefully about the instrument(s) you are writing for. The sound, character, or register of an instrument should have an impact on your composition; for example, a solo tuba piece is likely to be quite different to a work for violin. 

You might want to take this further, however, engaging in research; what is the instrument physically capable of, what are its limitations? 

Composers often find inspiration in nature, literature, and the visual arts. However, it is just as valid for a composer to be inspired by the physicality of the instruments themselves. This is what I did when I was selected to write a solo piano piece for Psappha’s Ben Powell (as part of their excellent “Composing for…” scheme). 

I asked myself “what can a piano do that other instruments cannot?” 

I decided to explore the idea of crossfading. Crossfading occurs when some musical material decreases in volume, and at the same time, other musical material increases in volume. Obviously, this is possible on instruments other than the piano (for example, in a duet, the tuba could crescendo and simultaneously the violin could diminuendo). However, if this material is very fast and rhythmically awkward the tuba and violin would simply not be able to cope. This piece is inspired by the fact that only a keyboard instrument (like the piano) would be able to play fast, interlocking, crossfading patterns. You can listen to it below: 

The score for the opening is below: 

Here, the pianist is instructed to play the 5-note cell over and over again, as many times as they want. The right hand begins at loud volume and decreases, while the left hand begins at a quiet volume and increases. Once they pianist has completed this crossfade, they move on to the next cell. 

Only twice do I abandon the idea of crossfading. At 3:05 in the video above, I explore the idea of desynchronization:  

Here, the three notes of the piano chord gradually separate (this is more difficult to play than it sounds!) 

At the end of the piece, I explore another technique. If you wish, you can read through the final page and analyse it. If you can work out what I have done, please leave a comment! It might be useful to read my other two blogs on Spellspheres (https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/music/spellspheres-1/ and https://www.oca.ac.uk/weareoca/music/spellspheres-part-2/

The next time you compose a piece of music, why not ask yourself “what can this instrument do that other instruments cannot?” 

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Posted by author: Ben Gaunt
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One thought on “Spellspheres: Part 3

  • The series of notes remains the same throughout, the pitches only changing through octaves.
    One note moves through 3 octaves up or down in each successive bar.
    This happens in groups:
    down (3 bars), up (4 bars), down (3bars), up (3 bars).
    The next note to move is never adjacent to the previous one.
    The D# on beat 1 of the bar remains fixed for 9 bars, making an anchor point.
    I could not detect a sequence connecting the notes which move.

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