Of Glass Design

Dear all,

Heron_Hero___MainI was given the opportunity to compose a musical layer in my next assignment. This was part of a massive project that involved all the students in my course. We each had to compose a separate layer which would then be combined to accompany some time lapse footage of Milton Court.


The footage in question tracks the progress of Milton Court from the demolition of the fire station up to the near completion of the venue, as seen from the outside. My teacher was tasked with combining all the layers together and creating the relationship between the footage and the composition.

My individual role was to compose a monophonic layer (one voice) following certain guidelines and parameters. The main outline for the layer was based around composing note groupings and alternating these groupings as different modal areas (pitch sets) were introduced. The interesting thing was how all this developed throughout the piece.

aw-Naqoyqatsi-screened-with-a-performance-by-Philip-Glass111-620x349We developed the piece by expanding and contracting the note groupings. This is where Philip Glass comes in, as these techniques of additive and subtractive development are similar to those found in the early works of Philip Glass.


The note groupings were based around the idea of day and night, and in total there were forty six unique pairs of note groupings. An example of a day and night grouping could be:

  • Day –  3 quavers, shorter notes, in the higher register, upward direction.
  • Night – 9 quavers, longer notes, in the lower register, downward direction.

Although a very simple example, this shows you how you can distinguish between the two.

I had to keep in mind that each note grouping was developed from the previous one by simple addition or subtraction of one quaver’s length at a time. I also had to take into consideration the modal areas, as we were given notes that we had to choose.

MapHere is a list of some of the parameters that we had to follow:

  • Modal Areas
  • Time Signiture (6/4)
  • Tempo (150 bpm)
  • Additive and Subtractive Development (quaver’s length)



As far as rhythm went, we could choose what we wanted when adding and subtracting note groupings and this enabled the rhythm to gradually change as the piece developed. When it came to composing, I used a computer program called Sibelius. Sibelius is a musical notation program that you can use to create your own scores. It proved highly useful in this scenario where I needed to input notes in fine detail.

Sib Screen

You can see from the picture above how at bar thirty, you have the first day and night grouping and then at bar thirty one, I changed to the next day and night pair. The red notes highlight the changes I made to the new pair. Although on the structural map it says that the second note grouping starts at bar thirty three, you can move from one grouping to the next ± five bars from the bar number stated on the map.

This project took quite a while to complete, as you had to take your time to follow the structural map carefully. Even so, I found this process highly satisfying when I put everything together and listened to how the piece developed. It was also a lot of fun to compose in this way, as it enabled me to take on a more detailed focus when making decisions about the piece.

Hugs and Kisses, Jamie

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