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Compositional Uses Of Space

Mariusz Kozak (Columbia University), Chair

“Your Soul is the Whole World”: Spatial Tension in Claude Vivier’s Siddhartha

Christopher Goddard (Gainesville, FL)


At 28 minutes duration and scored for a massive orchestra of 89 players, Siddhartha (1976) eclipses all other works in Claude Vivier’s oeuvre in dramatic scope and sonic grandeur. It was composed soon after Vivier returned to Canada following his studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne from 1972-1974, which left a lasting impact on the young composer. Siddhartha reveals the extent of this influence in its strict deployment of Stockhausen’s melodic ‘formula’ technique (Mantra [1970]) and its unconventional distribution of the orchestral forces into smaller groups (Gruppen [1955-57] and Carré [1959-60]). While the former has previously been the subject of scholarly analysis (Lesage 2008), little has been discussed of precisely how it intersects with the latter on a structural level. 

My paper demonstrates the process by which Vivier strategically contrasts inter-group and intra-group textures throughout the unfolding of the principal melody in Siddhartha. In particular I illustrate how both the melodic transformations and their instrumental articulation bring into structural tension two contrasting modes of spatial thinking: namely metaphorical space, expressed through musical register, and acoustic space, expressed through physical placement on stage. I also consider ways in which this project could be seen to reflect aspects of Vivier’s own creative journey within the programmatic context of the eponymous Hermann Hesse novel which was his inspiration. 

Experiencing Spaces through Musical Subjects in Caroline Shaw’s Plan and Elevation (2015) and Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel (1971)

Orit Hilewicz (Eastman School of Music)


Discussing the repudiation of hierarchical forms in non-tonal music, Robert Fink (2001) remarks on composers who adopted forms derived from visual arts, such as collage, for achieving coherence in formal “flatness.” A few, such as Iannis Xenakis and Luigi Nono, were inspired by visual principles and proportions from architecture and painting respectively, which they transformed into music (Sterken 2007, Guerrero 2010). This paper introduces another strategy—shared by Morton Feldman and Caroline Shaw—for re-presenting spaces through embodied experience. 

Each movement in Shaw’s Plan and Elevation depicts a garden in the Dumbarton Oaks estate. For example, “The Ellipse” is inspired by the eponymous garden’s structure and Shaw’s experience walking there, which she likens to Kierkegaardian “infinite repetition.” The movement’s narrative is generated by a musical subject (Monahan’s (2013) individuated element): an ostinato that gradually transforms, through a changing rhythmic, harmonic, and timbral environment, to a large-scale gesture, in a process illustrating repetition as self-transcendence (Kemp 2015). Feldman’s Rothko Chapel expresses the chapel’s physical structure only vaguely, but a narrative emerges from the viola’s repeated declamations, which, expressing a musical subject, interact with choral and percussive soundscapes inspired by the chapel paintings’ variations of textures and hues.

Shaw’s and Feldman’s works are starkly different, yet they both rely on musical subjects in expressing their source-spaces as experienced by the composers. While Xenakis’s and Nono’s schematic approaches encapsulate visual principles through mathematical proportions, I argue that musical subjects allow listeners to Shaw’s and Feldman’s works to experience the spaces’ aesthetic and stylistic features.  

Playing with Perspective in Billie Eilish’s “Party Favor” (2017)

Zachary Zinser (Indiana University)


Innovations in audio recording and playback technology continue to raise our expectations of sound reproduction quality. At the same time, the advancements of technology have allowed musicians the ability to subvert that expectation for artistic expression. One approach involves sonic emulation of older playback devices (e.g., an AM radio receiver, a gramophone) or even devices not designed for music at all (e.g., a telephone). Expanding on the work of Dibben (2012), Moore (2017), Moylan (2012), and Zagorski-Thomas (2018), I suggest the effect of such cases goes beyond playful gimmick or nostalgia—it produces an additional mediative layer to the listening experience, thereby impacting how listeners interpret their relationship to musical sound and, consequently, its perceived expression and meaning. Billie Eilish’s “Party Favor” (2017) begins by creating the impression that Eilish is leaving a voicemail message to sever ties with her significant other, but this perspective is transformed gradually until a sound quality typical of a modern pop record is reached in the first chorus. While Eilish’s narrative voice remains unchanged throughout this process, the sound of her voice and other instrumental components creates an emergent shift of listening perspective (from the significant other to Eilish). The manipulation of spatial impressions through production techniques creates a dynamic listening experience that invites us to inhabit both perspectives as listeners. I argue such listening experiences demonstrate that spatial impressions do not represent an isolated aspect of musical encounters, but rather function as an integral element that can influence all facets of song production.