You are on page 1of 187

Changes Over Time:


The theoretical modeling, analysis and redeployment of jazz improvisational, and time-feel, mechanisms

Milton Mermikides

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the

requirements for the degree

Doctor of Philosophy in Composition

Supervised by Dr Stephen Goss, Reader in Composition

Department of Music and Sound Recording

University of Surrey





1. M-Space and Expressive Contours


1.1 Introduction


1.2 Background


1.3 Chains of Thought and Musical Refractions


1.4 Limitation and Variation of Musical Topics


1.5 Improvisation as Musical Mutation: M-Space Modelling


1.6 Changes and Time: Expressive Contours


1.7 Applications of M-Space and Expressive Contours


1.8 Reflection


2. Time-feel


2.1 Sub-notational Rhythmic Expression


2.2 Relevant Research


2.3 SLW Model of Time-feel


2.4 Where’s the Beat? Determining the Master Time-Line


2.5 Defining Swing: Offbeat Asymmetry


2.6 Ensemble Swing and Swing Friction


2.7 Latency


2.8 Weighting


2.9 Time-Feel Matrix


2.10 Relationships between Swing, Latency and Weighting


2.11 SLW-Coach: A Computer Application for Time-feel Analysis


2.12 Real World Time-feel Analysis


3. Case Studies


3.1 59% Swing on Swing '42


3.2 A Little Drag


3.3 Constant Friction


3.4 Swing Blocks


3.5 Push-Pull


3.6 Temporal Plasticity


4. Coda


4.1 Ongoing Theoretical Research


4.2 Presentations


4.3 Glossary


4.4 References

176 !


This collection of writings contains two theoretical papers and a compilation of case

studies. The first paper, M-Space and Expressive Contours offers a consolidated theoretical

model of jazz improvisation. This draws together a range of pedagogical sources and

improvisational theories, and provides a framework in which to appreciate the unifying

concepts behind the diverse compositional portfolio (Changes Over Time: Practice). It also

serves as a necessary foundation for the second paper (Time-feel), which presents a model

of expressive micro-timing and forms the central theoretical contribution in the thesis.

Finally, a collection of analyses (Case Studies) drawn from a varied repertoire, and

employing time-feel, M-Space and expressive contour methodologies, demonstrates the

real world relevance and utility of these concepts.

Throughout the thesis, the term jazz improvisation is used repeatedly, so it’s advisable

at the outset to clarify this terminology. The area of research in this submission focuses

upon the popular genres of African-American born instrumental music including jazz,

blues, funk, soul and rock; but also extends to the variously related genres including

reggae, ska, fusion, hard rock and metal (with various levels of density) and the hip-hop,

rap, R&B and electronic dance styles. However, the musical mechanisms at work are

broadly applicable to all groove-based, quasi-metronomic, variably improvisatory and

technological genres. Any one word would be too broad, or too narrow, for satisfaction,

but references will be made where appropriate and the moniker ‘jazz’ used as a

placeholder. The expected breadth in theoretical knowledge, stylistic understanding and

technological awareness of the serious contemporary jazz student is some vindication of

the use of this shorthand convenience. Improvisation presents another potential

terminological pitfall: it may be argued that a distinction should be drawn between the

practice of free improvisation within a wider musical community – sometimes conducted

with little special training - and the enormously skilled discipline of the jazz heritage with

its demands on form, rhythmic accuracy, aural skills, ensemble techniques and evolved

language, on which this thesis focuses primarily. However, the techniques presented in

this thesis are found in, and are applicable to, all skilled improvisational scenarios from

traditional ‘standards’ improvisation to ‘free jazz’. It is telling that Hal Crook, an eminent

jazz instructor, released six instructional volumes on every nuance of improvisational

technique before addressing ‘free’ jazz (Crook, 2006). These various forms, although

somewhat amenable to categorization, exist on a continuum of flexibility, and rigidity, of

various musical components (solo forms, melody, harmony, vocabulary, structure etc.),

rather than entirely different skill-sets. 1 Terminology from the jazz idiom, which often

has little consensus on precise meaning, is used in this thesis and somewhat refined, and

some new terms have also been coined. A glossary of such terms is included in Section

4.3 (p 172).

The theoretical models in this thesis have been developed through years of jazz

training, performance, composition, teaching and audio production, and are informed

primarily by creative practice. However a feedback cycle has emerged whereby

theoretical concepts are refined and continually reintroduced into the creative process

with varying degrees of premeditation and intuition. A critical reflection of the results

helps refine and develop these theories for further deployment. During this cyclical

process, music technology has provided an invaluable tool with which to analyse the

repertoire, test and employ theoretical models, and enhance significantly creative

opportunities in both performance and composition.

In the graphical representation of music in this submission, standard notation is

sometimes employed, but these examples should always be accompanied with the

1 A comprehensive and instructive survey of ‘free jazz’ is provided in Northern Sun, Summer Moon: Europe’s Reinvention of Jazz (Heffley 2005).

reminder of the important limitations inherent in this system. Standard notation is not

without value, however due to its impoverished and discontinuous treatment of pitch,

timbre and rhythm, it should always be seen as a convenient approximate guide (masking

all manner of tacit stylistic implications), and not a definitive account of the deep

complexity of music that exists in the artist’s creative intention, the captured sound wave

or the listener’s experience. Annotated standard notation, sonograms and diagrammatic

representations are all employed where appropriate to the concepts discussed.

Throughout these theoretical writings, references to the creative portfolio Changes

Over Time: Practice are made, these may be explored as the examiner is compelled,

however the presentation of concepts in the theoretical writings has been made so that a

complete reading forms a framework and terminology with which to best approach the


All audio examples cited in the theoretical writings appears on CD1: Audio Examples

(where for example, CD1.3 identifies the third track of the CD). Some of these audio

examples are short and require attentive listening, so the ability to loop a track, and the

use of quality headphones (or monitors) is recommended.


1. M-Space and Expressive Contours

The modeling and reapplication of jazz improvisational technique


This paper presents, from a practitioner’s perspective, a consolidated model of jazz improvisation. This is drawn from a range of theoretical and pedagogical sources, as well as the author’s own heuristic inquiry. In this model, a musical object is seen as possessing an array of properties available for modification, and existing at a point in multi-dimensional musical space (M-Space). Improvisation is represented as the artful carving of trajectories through M-Space via corresponding gestural manipulations of consynchronous musical parameters (expressive contours), which may form larger scale musical structures. This view of improvisation offers practical applications for performance, as well as a framework in which to analyse and appreciate the repertoire. Music technology is of great value in the facilitation of this model’s employment in analysis, performance and composition. Also presented is the heterogeneous adoption and reapplication of these concepts throughout a portfolio of stylistically diverse collaborative electroacoustic works: ‘Changes Over Time: Practice’.

1.1 Introduction

This paper outlines an improvisational and compositional methodology enabled by a

heuristic understanding, theoretical modeling and technological redeployment of jazz

technique. This approach demonstrates how the musical mechanisms found in the

heritage of improvisational practice may be reemployed in composition and performance

beyond their presumed stylistic and practical restraints (Berio 2000, p 82-84). The

author’s experience as a jazz practitioner allows a deconstruction of the improvisational

process from ‘behind the lines’, and an informed level of analysis. Furthermore, extensive

experience with music technology has enabled the design and employment of tools to

understand better the improvisational mechanisms in question, and to reapply these to an

extent beyond the limitations of traditional practice. These resources provide an

opportunity to extend the creative reach of the improviser and, at the furthest extreme,

compose quasi-improvisational electronic pieces that once established, require little or no

creative input from the composer, rather deferring musical decisions to various external

physical patterns.

This thesis serves to identify and demonstrate the utilisation of jazz improvisational

technique into a wider stylistic and theoretical context. This binding of a heuristic

understanding of improvisation, analytical models and the judicious employment of

music technology can inform the compositional process and improvisational practice in a

range of styles.

The model of jazz improvisation presented here, drawn together from diverse

theoretical and pedagogical concepts, has wide opportunities for application, and these

are outlined with reference to the Changes Over Time: Practice portfolio.

1.2 Background

The analysis and pedagogical focus of the jazz idiom before the 1980s was largely

limited to those musical features most easily described within the standard notational

system. Standard transcription, scale choices, harmonic extensions, melodic material and

formal structures took precedence over hugely important stylistic features such as

improvisational practice, rhythmic feel, timbral modulation, horizontal vs. vertical

consideration and melodic interpretation. Improvising Jazz (Coker 1987) first published in

1964, represents a typical approach of its time: A comprehensive study of useful scales,

progression and chords, but ‘swing’ is incompletely defined (Coker 1987, p 45-9) and a

welcome mention of contour is frustratingly fleeting (Coker 1987, p 54-5). With some

notable exceptions 2 , jazz practitioners sided with the analysts’ bias, touting ever more

complex harmonic and scalar systems while largely ignoring all other salient stylistic

features. 3 This can be attributed to the difficulty in analyzing certain idiomatic practices,

but may also the result of the incentive of jazz analysts and performers to achieve a sense

of academic parity with ‘classical’ music within the established analytical framework. It is

not that these other unarticulated aspects of improvisation were considered unimportant

by practitioners; rather they were generally considered to be only transferrable though

listening and absorption, and not direct instruction. Jamie Aebersold’s introduction to a

popular Charlie Parker transcription, the Charlie Parker Omnibook, illustrates this:

2 Charlie Mingus’ 1962 lecture discussing the beat ellipsis (Mingus, cited in Berliner, 1994, p 151), solo structuring in Clifford Brown’s playing (Stewart 1973), and Gunther Schuller’s 1968 (Schuller 1986, p 58) linking of jazz improvisation with seed-pattern variations in African music (Jones 1959) are salient and unusual analytical approaches for the time.

3 The jazz community’s adoption of such texts as Nicholas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns (Ratliff 2008 and Slonimsky 1999), George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (Russell 2008) and The Schillinger System of Musical Composition (Schillinger 1978) illustrate the bias of scalar and harmonic devices over other important mechanisms.

Only a minimum of articulations have been put in this book. We feel that jazz, being an aural art form, is often times best imitated by listening over and over, and then playing the notes the way you hear it on the record. This might seem like the long way to do it, but experience has proven reliable. After all, who would object to listening anyway? Listening is what music is all about.

Aebersold & Slone, 1978, p iv

Ironically, many of the tools and vocabulary helpful to the academic understanding

and development of the jazz idiom were already underway in other genres 4 . The lack of

adoption of these tools by authoritative jazz practitioners of the time was a loss to all

genres concerned. Meanwhile, non-pedagogical research into the jazz idiom was confined

to the areas of harmonic observation, cultural history and heuristic enquiry, with little

attention to the mechanisms addressed in this thesis: phenomenological and sociological

rather than more analytical musical perspectives. 5 Other research into improvisation (in

the general sense) has addressed relevant issues but is often divorced from the stylistic

practice within the jazz idiom, and largely from a non-jazz practitioner’s perspective. 6

However, the advents of digital audio analysis, computer-based modeling systems and a

fresh, stylistically relevant approach have started to demystify and illuminate the

mechanics of jazz improvisation. 7

4 Folk music research, (in the areas of cantometrics (Lomax 1968) and melodic contour typology (Adams 1976)), semiotic analysis (Cook 1994, p 151-82) and the field of notes inégales (Fuller 1980) were all readily amenable to the study of jazz improvisation. The lack of adoption into jazz research of the concepts in electroacoustic music particularly with a timbral, non-score based concept of the musical object, such as (Erickson 1975), was also a missed opportunity.

5 There exists a wealth of valuable cultural and phenomenological research from the 1970s including (Nketia 1971), (Roberts 1972), (Wang 1973), (Titon 1973), (Nettl 1974), (Tirro 1977) (Sudnow 1978), (White 1978) and (Sickler 1979).

6 The concept of generative improvisation (Clarke, 1988), aspects of timing (Gabrielsson 1988), tonal theories (Lerdahl & Jackendoff 1983) and mechanisms of score interpretation (Sundberg 1988) are all relevant improvisational research but were not immediately adopted in relation to jazz.

7 Valuable and welcome research have emerged in such fields as Markov chain analysis of Coltrane solos (Franz 1998) and broad improvisational processes and ensemble interaction theories (Hall 1992), (Larson

The emergence since the late 1980s of jazz improvisation writings from practitioners

of great authority 8 - born of pedagogical, rather than academic, incentive - is a significant

landmark in the dissemination of jazz methodology, and in opportunities to explore

these mechanisms beyond the immediate stylistic context. This paper combines the

practitioner-based pedagogical perspective of Crook, Jerry Bergonzi et al., with broader

theoretical concepts (found in the writings of Jeff Pressing, Eric Clarke, Trevor Wishart

et al.), including ‘non-musical’ ideas in biology and mathematics, to provide a more

complete model of jazz improvisation virtuosity. These musical mechanisms (with

particular emphasis on the crucial field of expressive micro-timing in time-feel) are, with

the use of music technology, sharpened and re-employed as supporting devices to

compositional practice. Wherever possible, references and analytical examples in the

recorded repertoire are limited to the author’s chosen instrument, the guitar. However it

should be clear that the concepts presented are relevant to all instruments, and indeed, a

wide range of musical styles.

1998), (Monson 1991, 1994, 1996) and (Sawyer 1992). The hugely important and burgeoning field of research in expressive micro-timing is explored and developed in Time-feel in this submission.

8 The new role of the jazz performer/educator/writer, usually associated with an institution such as Berklee College of Music, offers a valuable insight to the jazz student and researcher. Key texts from top- level practitioners who also have the ability to communicate clearly their concepts should not be ignored by the research. See (Bergonzi 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004), (Crook, 1991, 1992a, 1992b, 1992c, 1995, 1999, 2006), (Goodrick 1987), (Hall 1991) and (Liebman 1991, 2000) for an introduction.

1.3 Chains of Thought and Musical Refractions

The author’s formative musical background in jazz performance has instilled a

particular bias and interest in all subsequent creative endeavours. Although there are clear

limitations within improvised music, the challenges imposed have, by necessity,

encouraged a particular set of skills to develop. An approach to improvisation, in which

the author is found in good company 9 is to conceive of every musical object as

containing a set of properties, each individually open to modification in future phrases:

New material is created by altering a selected set of musical parameters from previous

fragments. In other words, improvisation is the construction of a musical train of

thought where every subsequent phrase relates to a preceding one in terms of a changing

set of variable parameters. In Acknowledgement (Coltrane 1965), to pick one of countless

examples from the repertoire, a simple phrase is manipulated in terms of chromatic

transposition, metric placement and rhythmic subdivision (CD1.1). As is always the case

there are many important musical parameters - such as timbre, articulation and micro-

timing - present in the performance that elude the limitations of standard musical


Figure 1.3.1 (p 12) comprises one simple phrase that is transformed in terms of

easily visualised discrete pitches and rhythms. Phrases 2-34 can all be described as

variations of Phrase 1 in terms of chromatic transposition, metric placement and

rhythmic subdivision, with the exception of Phrase 30, which does not hold strictly the

same intervallic structure.

9 See, for example, (Damian 2001, p 12-20), (Crook 1995, p 8-31) and The More Ways you Have of Thinking (Berliner 1994, p 146-69)

Figure 1.3.1 Improvisation as transformation of coexisting musical parameters: Phrase 1 is repeated with independent

Figure 1.3.1 Improvisation as transformation of coexisting musical parameters:

Phrase 1 is repeated with independent modifications of 3 parameters: Chromatic transposition, metric

placement and rhythmic subdivision (CD1.1).

Occasionally, phrases merge; for example, the last note of Phrase 5 is the first of

Phrase 6. This passage provides a clear, and easily notated example but this concept of

improvisation as differential manipulation of consynchronous 10 musical parameters holds

analytical power in a far wider range of complex examples. The following excerpt from

Swish (Mermikides 2008) illustrates the kind of conceptual process adopted in a more

complex manner (CD1.2). Figure 1.3.2 (p 13) presents a portion of the improvised solo,

notated and analysed.

10 The term consynchronous is coined here, to describe multiple parameters that co-exist simultaneously and continually along a time-line.


Figure 1.3.2 An illustration of the chains-of-thought improvisation methodology (CD1.2). In this analysis, phrases are

Figure 1.3.2 An illustration of the chains-of-thought improvisation methodology (CD1.2).

In this analysis, phrases are generally identified as being related to a previously

occurring phrase, and may themselves combine into larger, or break off into smaller,

phrases, and are labelled accordingly. The types of relationships between each phrase are

described by sets of transformational processes in boxed text.

This improvisational methodology thereby involves the selecting of a particular

subset of musical properties of a phrase, or melodic fragment of the tune. This subset of

properties is then either fixed, or modified by varying amounts in the subsequent phrase,

to form a series of interlinking chains. Some points for consideration:


There may be many valid analyses of an improvisation, and the performer’s


conception, and listener’s interpretation of the solo may differ. A single phrase may form the impetus for any number of subsequent phrases,


along any number of transformational processes. Phrases may be hierarchical (e.g. B.1 contains phrases A.1.2, A.1.3 and A.1.4) Figure 1.3.2 (p 13) offers one of several reasonable analyses. Small, or larger- scale phrase structures are all open to modification.


Sufficient transformation may result in the formation of a new phrase unit for

players follows a similar methodology as described here, whereby musical


further modification. This analysis purposefully omits the complex interactions between performers in


an ensemble, whereby musical material created by one player may influence the improvisations of any number of other players. The interaction between

material is shared within a common ideas pool and modified between members of the ensemble. 11 A particular solo, performer’s identity or musical style may be described not just


by their melodic, harmonic and rhythmic vocabulary, but also by the types of transformational processes and extent of variations employed. Phrases G.1 and G.2 provide a glimpse of how technology may be employed as


part of the improvisational process, and how it may offer otherwise unavailable transformational dimensions. The precise demarcation of musical material into units for transformation, which are called ‘phrases’ here, is a subjective exercise. Furthermore the definition of a phrase unit may change in relation to the transformational process employed. For example, a set of five notes might be considered a complete phrase for a sequencing process, but a timbral modulation may also be applied through those five notes, implying a smaller conceptual subdivision. It


tempting (and sometimes useful) to describe musical fragments as cells,


which are combined into hierarchical phrases. But it soon becomes clear in analysis that a cell’s autonomy is temporary, there are no uniformly indivisible musical units; even a single note can be subject to all manners of transformation and recombination, and parameters such as timbre do not allow for such a convenient atomistic perspective 12 . This example mainly presents a traditional improvisation where phrases occur in

a strict series. Contrapuntal mechanisms, ensemble interactions and the

smearing of a phrase (through electronics) allow phrases to coexist, and their

relationships to be parallel, rather than strictly serial.

11 See (Sawyer 1992) and (Berliner 1991, p 647-51) for theoretical, and transcription analyses of ensemble motivic interactions respectively.

12 See Curtis Road’s Microsound (Roads 2004) for an exploration of ‘sound particles’ - lasting less than 100ms - and their role in the creation of line, pulse and texture.

10) There is a differing amount of variation from one phrase to the next; so a solo may be characterised by the extent of relatedness (and how this measure changes) between phrases. This concept of proximity, is discussed in Section 1.5 (p 25).

We may employ the above methodology, both as a form of retrospective analysis and in

terms of real-time improvisational choices. Figure 1.3.3 shows how a phrase offers the

performer a set of options for the continuation of an improvisation based upon various

transformational processes.

improvisation based upon various transformational processes. Figure 1.3.3 An illustration of musical refractions . In

Figure 1.3.3 An illustration of musical refractions. In the course of an improvisation, a phrase is manipulated by the selection of one of many transformational process (1-8 present a few of countless possibilities). The resulting phrase is in turn open to further modifications. Improvisation is seen as the realization of a pathway through the multitude of refracting musical possibilities.

Since there are a non-trivial number of precise transformational processes (let alone

combinations thereof), the above diagram shows but the briefest glimpse into the

refracting pathway of an improvisation, but it should also provide an imaginative approach

to a process which hints at the wealth of musical possibilities available. Phrase-based

improvisation may be seen as the artful carving of a pathway through this mesh of

musical possibilities. Indeed a particular solo, or style of playing, may be described in

terms of which transformational processes are selected. Acknowledgement (CD1.1) favours

chromatic transposition, rhythmic displacement and subdivision. A section of John

Scofield’s Chank (Scofield 1998, CD1.3) on the other hand uses timbral modulation as an

expressive mechanism. Examples of expressive shifts in rhythmic density appear in Allan

Holdsworth’s playing (see Figure 1.6.1, p 56 and CD1.11), while Time-feel and Case Studies

(Sections 2 and 3) provide numerous examples of the virtuosic control of micro-


This chains-of-thought perspective runs the danger of narrowing the concept of

improvisation into exclusively linear, serial and causal relationships between phrases, with

no acknowledgement of the important role of spontaneous, novel inspiration. However,

as this model is developed through this paper, it will be shown that these ‘pristine’

moments may in fact be accommodated into a theoretical model with the introduction of

the concepts of multi-dimensional musical space, ensemble interaction, proximity and

surprise (p 25-55).

1.4 Limitation and Variation of Musical Topics

In the author’s own playing, the improvisational methodology outlined above grew

in sophistication, with increased experience and formal jazz training. Although

instrumental proficiency, jazz harmonic devices and vocabulary were developed, the core

approach, and considerable challenge, of applying this knowledge in improvisational

practice remained essentially the same.

Some external validation for this approach is received from both the pedagogical

and theoretical literature. Studies for a Bachelor’s degree at Berklee College of Music

(Boston, USA) introduced an approach to developing improvisational skill that went

beyond the typical ‘Learn your scales, transcribe and good luck’ advice. Instructors such

as Ed Tomassi, Jon Damian and Hal Crook would set particular challenges for students

such as:


Improvise through the tune using only chord-tones of the harmonic progression.


Improvise a short phrase. Rest. Improvise a short phrase. Rest. Improvise a long

phrase. Rest and repeat.


Improvise a phrase that starts with the concluding material of the previous

phrase. Rest. Repeat.


Improvise a solo with a prescribed dynamic pattern.


Improvise a phrase with a particular intervallic structure, adjusting accidentals to

negotiate the harmony.

Improvising with such types of limitations is a surprisingly challenging yet effective

exercise in forcing new ideas and avenues of exploration. Often the ensuing

improvisations are more successful than prior ‘free’ attempts, and the strictures of the

exercise rarely inhibit the potential musicality. Indeed, the educational benefit of

practicing improvisation within a carefully selected set of limitations is a central theme of

the work of jazz educators Crook, Tomassi, Jerry Bergonzi and Mick Goodrick. One

might think of this type of approach as the training of a particular type of skill: The

independent and artful modification, or maintenance, of coexisting musical parameters.

Developing proficiency in this area fosters a truly creative improvisation when the

limitations are relinquished during performance, allowing the improviser to create

authentically chosen material rather than pat phrases at the moment of improvisation:

“There is no freedom without structure” (Crook 1991, p 55). This improvisational

technique of variation within self-imposed limits may also be employed compositionally

(See 1.8 Reflection, p 79 and the submitted portfolio).

In addition to the support from jazz pedagogical material, further validation, this

time from an academic theoretical standpoint, was offered by the paper Improvisation:

Methods and models (Pressing 1988) in which Jeff Pressing puts forward a model of

improvisation as the variegated attention paid to various parameters and transformational

processes. Values of various musical parameters and types of transformation of a phrase

are defined. Alongside this set of variables, the amount of attention paid to each of these

variables is described by the currency of cognitive strength; this is unlikely to be more than

conjecture, and it is challenging to imagine how it could be measured: personal and

anecdotal reports on improvising seem to suggest that at any particular moment, the

creative improviser is thinking actively about one or two musical goals at the most

(Werner 1996, Nachmanovitch 2000 and Solstad 1991). Pressing’s model taken alone is

not immediately stylistic relevant nor authoritative to jazz improvisation research.

Nonetheless by defining this multi-level vision of music in which the improviser may

navigate, Pressing provides a very powerful conceptual vocabulary. Despite the difficulty

in proposed distributed cognitive strengths, the independent defining of attention to, and

values of, particular musical parameters and processes is illuminating. The staggering

developments in music technology now allow us to adopt this type of model in a

practical way in terms of composition and real-time performance, as well as computer-

based generative improvisation systems. 13

It is the marrying of wide-ranging theoretical concepts and practical application that

best informs the work in this submission. Bringing these theoretical concepts back to a

practical demonstration, here follows an example of the process. Here, a simple phrase

(Figure 1.4.1) is used as the starting point (a seed) for various subsequent improvised

phrases, which were then transcribed, within the limitations of standard notation.

transcribed, within the limitations of standard notation . Figure 1.4.1 Phrase α , a starting point

Figure 1.4.1 Phrase α , a starting point for improvisation (a seed phrase).

Despite its simplicity, this phrase could be described in innumerable ways and levels

of detail such as: (i) a phrase starting on beat ‘4 and’. (ii) a three note rhythmic pattern

with no particular rhythmic placement, (iii) a melodic gesture, (iv) a broken chord

implying part of a Cmin9 or Ebmaj7 chord, (v) a phrase with a particular harmonic altitude

relative to the harmonic context, or (vi) or a particular pattern of timbral characteristics

and envelope represented as amplitude over time (Figure 1.4.2, p 20).

13 See Bäckman, K. & Dahlstedt P. (2008) for a recent significant development in this field.

Figure 1.4.2 Coexisting interpretations of Phrase α . In this way, the phrase can be

Figure 1.4.2 Coexisting interpretations of Phrase α .

In this way, the phrase can be conceived as possessing many sets and subsets of

properties, variably simple or complex, or to adopt Pressing’s language, an object existing

in a particular point in multidimensional conceptual space. It becomes clear how an

improvisation might develop with this concept in mind. Any number of the subsets of

musical characteristics may be used as a reference point for ensuing phrases. For

example, the starting beat may be fixed for a new phrase, the rhythmic pattern preserved

with new notes, or the melodic contour maintained but transposed and so on. Not only

can the concept of isorhytmos (fixed rhythmic structure) be explored but also isomelos (fixed

sequence of melodic pitches) (Persichetti 1961), isotimbre (fixed timbre), isopaesi (fixed

intensity), isomodos (fixed scale implication), isokinetos (fixed gesture) and isologos (a fixed

concept or pattern applicable across multiple parameters) 14 . From a jazz practitioner’s

perspective; by limiting certain parameters one is more able to explore “otherwhere”

(Pate, cited in Berliner 1994, p 385). A language naturally evolves from here to describe a

musical relationship defined by the significant variation of a particular parameter

(displacement, distimbre etc.) Here follows some improvisations, each starting with Phrase α,

and with little preconception of what was to be played, other than the intent to vary the

type of transformational process used (Figure 1.4.3, CD1.4).

of transformational process used (Figure 1.4.3, CD1 .4). Figure 1.4.3 Improvised continuations of Phrase α

Figure 1.4.3 Improvised continuations of Phrase α (CD1.4). Instances of Phrase α , and its close relations,

are labeled with solid and dashed outlines respectively.

Phrase 1 takes the rhythmic structure and general melodic shape of α as a constant,

and uses diatonic transposition and rhythmic displacement as transformational processes.

The increased swing of the second phrase introduces us to the concept of expressive

micro-timing, an important focus of this submission, with its own dedicated paper

(Section 2 Time-feel, p 82-129).

14 For clear examples of the compositional application of isokinetos and isologos see Primal Sound and Omnia 5:58 in the submitted portfolio.

Phrase 2 uses the strict intervallic structure of α and employs chromatic

transposition and rhythmic displacement to create an angular, dissonant line.

In Phrase 3, the melodic structure and ordering of notes of α is kept strictly

constant, but the placement of each note and articulation of the repeating melody is

altered for rhythmic interest.

In Phrase 4: The three-note rhythm of α is repeated without a rest to create

rhythmic displacement and a simple polymetric implication. A shape on the fretboard is used

as a parameter of musical expression. The left hand shape is kept constant but played on

a progressively descending set of three strings.

Phrase 5 continues by adopting a scalar implication of Phrase α, the Eb, G and C

are seen as belonging to a larger set of notes, C jazz melodic minor. The introduction of

B-natural is a slight variation on the harmonic context and alters the ‘colour’ and harmonic

altitude of the solo.

In Phrase 6, the rhythmic information of Phrase α is removed and the phrase is

collapsed into a three-note harmonic structure that is repeated and transposed with

timbral modulation. A volume pedal is used to lengthen the natural attack time of the guitar

and create expressive interest through simple technological employment.

Phrase 7 is an example of interruption in an improvisation. Phrase α is abandoned

and interrupted with a phrase of contrasting rhythmic and melodic content, albeit with a

lingering stylistic timbral and harmonic relationship.

The initial phrase α is refracted through a few of many possible musical pathways, it

acts as a potential seed to future branches of musical growth. The trajectory is

characterised as much by which parameters are held constant as by which are altered.

Figure 1.4.4 (p 23) illustrates how the particular musical topics, guide the ensuing


Figure 1.4.4 An illustration of how the fixing and variation of musical topics may forge

Figure 1.4.4 An illustration of how the fixing and variation of musical topics may forge improvisational continuations from Phrase α .

The importance of considering a host of available topics for modification is reflected

in the ever-growing jazz pedagogical material of the last two decades. Some pedagogical

texts give an overview of many transformational topics within one book 15 , while other

writers choose to create a series of volumes addressing each topic separately, of which

Bergonzi’s Inside Improvisation Series is a clear example. 16 A contemporary bibliography of

jazz pedagogical material has started to resemble a library of chess books with stacks of

general principle texts alongside titles dedicated to every conceivable opening, variation

of opening and style of end game. The study of these differentiated skills, as in both

15 See Crook (1991, 1995) and Damian & Feist (2001) for examples of improvisational meta-views.

16 To date, Bergonzi has written 7 volumes of the Inside Improvisation Series, each focusing on a different topic. (Bergonzi 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004) In fact these can be seen as studies in the fixing of these featured topics (e.g. a particular melodic cell) and thereby exploring deeply other variables (e.g. permutation, harmonic altitude, segmentation etc.)

chess and jazz improvisation, aims to offer the player informed options and intuition at

the moment of performance.

The process of limitation and variation may be deliberate or unconscious 17 , regardless

there will inevitably be associated parameters that alter, or have to maintain constant, as a

consequence of any given improvisational choice. For example the ascending chromatic

transposition in Phrase 2 causes a corresponding non-linear response in dissonance.

(These types of relationships are categorized in 1.6 Changes and Time: Expressive Contours p

56). The consequential effects of any particular musical choice may also be harnessed

musically 18 .

This section has introduced and given some examples of the concept of

improvisation as a mutation of preceding phrases, whereby a phrase is modified

according to various parameters and wanders from its starting origin, while remaining

comprehensible to the listener – The musical object is progressively transformed along a

varying set of dimensions. The next section will look more deeply into this idea of

trajectories through multi-dimensional musical space (M-Space), an approach employed

extensively in Changes Over Time: Practice. This concept is refined through analysis, linked

with a broad time component (Expressive Contours 1.6 p 56), bolstered with important

stylistic mechanisms (such as time-feel, harmonic pathways and melodic shadowing) and always

applied practically.

17 Psychological models of improvisation are explored in such texts as (Solstad 1991), (Juslin & Sloboda 1991), (Hall 1992), (Monson 1996), (Gustavsen 1999), (Rothenberg 2002), (Reason 2004) and (London


18 In String Theory and Event Horizon from the submitted portfolio, the natural bowing technique associated with playing certain passages is picked up by the electronics of the Hyperbow, which in turn modulates the electronic effects of other consynchronous musical layers.

1.5 Improvisation as Musical Mutation: M-Space Modelling

The improviser, given a starting phrase, is presented with a range of choices for

continuation depending on the differential attention to a host of musical subsets. Beyond

the theoretical interest, this concept may be applied pedagogically and in performance to

guide improvisational practice.

Returning to Coltrane’s Acknowledgement (CD1.1), a simple melodic fragment is

transformed in terms of three parameters, chromatic transposition, metric placement and

note separation. The values of these parameters are notated in Figure 1.5.1.

values of these parameters are notated in Fig ure 1.5.1 . Figure 1.5.1 An analysis of

Figure 1.5.1 An analysis of Coltrane’s Acknowledgement in terms of the values of 3 parameters: metric placement, rhythmic separation and chromatic transposition (CD1.1).

Although the transformations in the improvisation occur in a time series, it is

possible to visualize all mutations of Phrase 1 in the same conceptual space. Figure 1.5.2

(p 26) shows a three-dimensional space that represents all the possible variations of the

phrase, in terms of the three specific parameters. The individually numbered phrases in

the solo are plotted in reference to the individual phrases in the solo. With the caveat

that important articulation, dynamic and timbral elements are set aside for now,

Coltrane’s solo may be seen as constituting a small subsection of this clearly demarcated

musical space. 19

subsection of this clearly demarcated musical space. 1 9 Figure 1.5.2 Coltrane’s cube: The phrases of

Figure 1.5.2 Coltrane’s cube: The phrases of Coltrane’s Acknowledgement plotted in the three-dimensional musical space of metric placement, rhythmic separation and chromatic transposition, with a few co- ordinates illustrated with standard notation.

19 The phrases’ positions in three-dimensional space has been derived here from a standard notation transcription. However, this multi-dimensional graphical and conceptual vision can accommodate readily a continuous – rather than discrete - range of values in all three parameters including sub-notational, yet perceptible and musically relevant, elements of micro-timing and intonation. In this way it is liberated from the “finitistic” limitations of Wishart’s lattice (see 2.1 p 85).

Figure 1.5.3 Raup’s cube : An illustration of shells existing in genetic space. Three genes

Figure 1.5.3 Raup’s cube: An illustration of shells existing in genetic space. Three genes (spire, flare and verm) contribute to the shape of the shell. The shaded area of the cube represents the shells existing as a product of natural selection (Illustration from Raup, cited in Dawkins 1996, p 192).

Immediately a reference may be made with the language of evolutionary biology.

Figure 1.5.3 (Raup, cited in Dawkins, 1996, p 192) shows Raup’s cube; an illustration

where three genes contributing to the shape of a shell (spire, flare and verm) are laid out in

three dimensions. Every possible expression of these genes is laid out in multi-

dimensional space and the evolutionary pathway, through genetic variation, of a species

may be drawn. The shaded area represents the shells that have been found in nature as a

product of natural selection, and a subset of all possible species. 20 Similarly, the phrases

in Coltrane’s solo represent the ‘naturally-occurring’ subset of all possible phrases within

a defined musical space.

Figure 1.5.2 (p 26) used a simply arranged set of transformed phrases however the

exact layout of phrases within that musical space is debatable. One could make a good

case that potential phrases existing along a particular dimension may not always have an

easily described continuum of proximity: A semiquaver displacement may actually be a

more radical mutation than a minim displacement; an octave transposition is perhaps less

20 For an overview of current research in the use of evolutionary mechanisms in music composition, see Evolutionary Computer Music (Miranda & Biles 2007).

extreme than a semitone, and a semitone less extreme than a quarter-tone for that

matter. 21

This problem of defining proximity may be approached carefully. For example,

Phrase α (Figure 1.4.1 p 19) may be imagined as existing at a particular point on an axis

of rhythmic placement within the concept of a cyclical bar (Figure 1.5.4 p 29). Because of

the pattern of strong and weak beats, a minim displacement is to be considered the

‘nearest’ displacement (despite it being the furthest in terms of beat placement). A

crotchet displacement is more distant, the D for example would now fall on beats 2 or 4,

rather than 1 or 3, a more significant change in character. Any quaver displacement alters

the phrases yet more extremely, removing the upbeat and interfering with any swing

quaver characteristics that may exist. Semiquaver shifts, and yet finer rational

subdivisions (if appreciable), alter the phrase still more radically. 22

This particular axis is represented here and usually conceived as a series of discrete

points along an axis representing integer divisions of the beat. In Section 2 (Time-feel p

82-129), this notion is challenged with the conception of this axis as a continuum rather

than a fixed grid, albeit with weighted nodal points.

21 This non-linear nature of musical proximity is noted in On Sonic Art in reference to the relationship between frequency and consonance (Wishart 1996, p 71-73).

22 The layout of these phrases is not static, once a rhythmic displacement has been made, phrases are reordered in terms of proximity. For example if Phrase α is displaced by a crotchet, its ‘nearest’ neighbour is now a minim away.

Figure 1.5.4 An illustration of Phrase α existing within a range of proximate phrases, the

Figure 1.5.4 An illustration of Phrase α existing within a range of proximate phrases, the ordering of which is determined by the extent of their musical transformation.

With this concept of musical proximity in mind, more dimensions may be added and

a new musical space may be constructed for exploration. Orthogonal to this rhythmic

placement axis (Figure 1.5.4), a note separation axis may also be postulated, representing the

progressive elongation and contraction of Phrase α, with wider note separation in one

direction, and shorter in the other. 23 In Figure 1.5.5 this axis is arranged with the

23 It is useful to differentiate the concepts of note separation and note length. Note separation describes the rhythmic distance between adjacent notes as opposed to their individual durations. This allows, for

emphatic top D used as a rhythmic anchor about which the outer two notes are stretched

or compressed. The individual notes may compress until they form a chord and then

extend beyond that point to form a retrograde transformation of Phrase α.

point to form a retrograde transformation of Phrase α . Figure 1.5.5 Phrase α with some

Figure 1.5.5 Phrase α with some of its musical neighbours arranged in terms of increasing and decreasing note separation.

In addition to rhythmic placement and note separation another axis may be added that

represents all possible diatonic transpositions of a phrase (diatonic to the key of C

Dorian, as opposed to the chromatic transposition in Figure 1.5.1 p 25), higher in one

direction and lower in the other. Chromatic transposition within a tonal harmony creates

a non-linear pattern of musical distance. However within a modal setting, from which

Phrase α is derived, the hierarchical nature of scale degrees is less clear. The subjective

decision has therefore been made to arrange the proximity in terms of diatonic

transposition very simply, so that proximity in this dimension is equivalent to similarity

of melodic register (Figure 1.5.6).

to similarity of melodic register (Figure 1.5.6) . Figure 1.5.6 Phrase α transformed through diatonic

Figure 1.5.6 Phrase α transformed through diatonic transposition in the key of C Dorian.

Given the definition of these parameters, variations of Phrase α exist in three

dimensions, with potential mutations of the phrase existing side by side in conceptual

space. A sense of musical proximity within these constraints may also be perceived

(Figure 1.5.7).

these constraints may also be perceived (Figure 1.5.7). Figure 1.5.7 Phrase α existing at the centre

Figure 1.5.7 Phrase α existing at the centre of a three-dimensional musical space with variously proximate neighbouring phrases. Phrase α is indicated in red and the musical distance between it and various close neighbours is shown in green. The boundary of the orange sphere describes a boundary of equal proximity, and contains phrases within this musical distance. The lower part of Figure 1.5.7 shows an impression of Phrase α existing at a point within this musical space.

Now that the concept of proximity has been established, one might also imagine

additional transformational dimensions emerging from the Phrase α, including a

chromatic transposition dimension, axes of various timbral characteristics (including

those only achievable through electronic manipulations), points of symmetry, intonation,

segmentations and so on. An impression of how a musical phrase exists in multiple

simultaneous dimensions of transformation, here termed M-Space, is shown in Figure


here termed M-Space, is shown in Figure 1.5.8 . Figure 1.5.8 An impression of M-space: Phrase

Figure 1.5.8 An impression of M-space: Phrase α (circled in red) sits at the centre of many simultaneous dimensions of musical transformation. Twelve of these are represented in four three-dimensional subsets (some of which are continuous rather than discrete values) with some proximate phrases indicated. A phrase may move along any number of such transformational axes during the course of improvisation. In the top right of the diagram a phrase (circled in blue) shows the result of a small move in all of these subsets simultaneously (the modification is marked as a blue disc in each transformational subset).

It becomes clear that most jazz analysis limits itself to variation of only a few

dimensions such as harmonic altitude, standard-notational rhythmic placement and

simple vocabulary choice while ignoring characteristics less easily notated, such as

rhythms and pitches that fall between the cracks of standard notation, timbral gestures

and many forms of motivic transformations.

The co-existence of these multiple dimensions is possible to conceive, but difficult

to illustrate precisely in one diagram (Figure 1.5.8 is an illustrative attempt using two and

three-dimensional subsets for clarity). Similarly, the representation of three genes (or

musical transformations) with linear expressions is easy, but once we add several more,

particularly with more complex transformations a clear visual illustration is problematic.

A conceptual model, whose precise demarcation can be delegated to a computer, may

serve better than two-dimensional illustrations 24 . Regardless a logical visualization of a

phrase existing within a radiated sphere of closely related musical material may readily be

adopted and, as will be demonstrated, a concept of relative musical proximity is

intuitively accessible, despite the mathematical complexity on which it is constructed.

As more axes of transformation are added, an idea is built of any particular musical

object living at a particular point in a conceptual space of all its possible variations. A

point within a grand Musical Library of Babel 25 from which the improviser may explore in

any direction, or to use saxophonist Evan Parker’s description of improvisation, take a

note for a walk (Parker, cited in Borgo 2005, p 36).

Proximity is simply distance in M-Space. These fields, grouping related phrases

together, are shown later as cloud-like structures, but the actual shape is harder to grasp.

Since we are conceiving this boundary as a multi-dimensional object of a particular

radius, its shape cannot be conceived as a simple three-dimensional sphere. An n-sphere

(or M-Sphere here), a multi-dimensional sphere, exists in many dimensions and has a

conceptually challenging shape to consider. It may extend far along a few axes if stable in

24 Research by the author, beyond the scope of this thesis, is currently underway in the production of M- Space computer modeling and real-time computer improvisations. The musical distance between phrases P x and P y is calculated using Euclidean geometry over m musical dimensions, thus:

d ( Px , Py ) =

m # ( x i " yi ) 2 i =1
# ( x i " yi ) 2
i =1

25 See the Library of Babel, (Borges 2000). In this short story, Jorge Luis Borges describes a library of similar length books, housing every possible permutation of the alphabet and a short list of punctuation marks. So the library contains mainly nonsensical books, among all versions of the Bible, Great Expectations and On the Origin of Species – all with every imaginable alteration of plot, protagonists, obscenity, profundity and editing. It is alarming that books could span clearly labeled volumes, and alternative encyclopedias could exist. Stranger still, despite the awesome size of the library, it would have to be finite, encompassing the limits of our imaginations. In lectures at the Royal Academy of Music, the author has postulated an (also finite) CD library of Babel, whereby every permutation of the bits of a 16-bit 44.1kHz stereo information within a CD capacity are housed. These include all one’s favorite – and least favorite - records, arranged for every conceivable ensemble, standard of playing, and nuance of performance – amongst of course a catalog of inconceivable noise and extremities of expression. Students were invited to contemplate which few of this vast number of CDs they wished to recreate during their recording careers.

others, and if many parameters change then they are relatively constrained. This concept

is illustrated in Figure 1.5.9 (p 36), three M-Spheres of different radii are illustrated, each

with Phrase α at their centres. The surface of each sphere represents phrases of equal

musical proximity (from Phrase α). Since these are multi-dimensional shapes, proximity

and distance may be distributed unevenly across many dimensions. For example the

boundary of M-Sphere A may be seen as one small change in one dimension, while B

may represent one moderate alteration or a few small changes. The surface of M-Sphere

C includes phrases with for instance, radical changes on one dimension, moderate

alterations on several and small changes on many. A phrase exists within this complex

radiated sphere of proximate musical material, and once a selection has been made,

another sphere congregates around this newly created phrase.

Figure 1.5.9 Phrase α illustrated in the centre of three M-Spheres of differing radii. The

Figure 1.5.9 Phrase α illustrated in the centre of three M-Spheres of differing radii. The surface of

each sphere links phrases of equal musical proximity. Each sphere represents distance across multiple

musical dimensions, and musical proximity does not have to be distributed evenly across all dimensions.

Multi-dimensional musical proximity would imply that the exact repetition of a

phrase, with a major alteration in a single dimension, such as a huge timbral modification,

may be equally proximate as a repetition of the phrase with many slight alterations.

Techno (and associated electronic dance music styles) illustrates this idea clearly, a

continuously repeated phrase may be subjected to extraordinary timbral manipulations

while remaining an intelligible relationship to the original phrase (For one of numerous

examples of this, see extract Flaphead (Aphex Twin 1992) with an audio extract on

CD1.5). Funk, with its relatively immobile chord structure and repetitive hypnotic nature

allows a highly sophisticated ensemble-interactive and dynamic expression of time-feel. 26

On the other hand, jazz, for the unaccustomed ear, may vary too much from one phrase

to the next, becoming unintelligible. “Without certain musical glues, it all sounded like

noodles” (The Real Frank Zappa Show 1989). A stability of many parameters may often be

uninteresting, but can also engender a greater sensitivity to subtle musical changes, as

26 In-depth multidimensional ensemble time-feel analyses of James Brown’s rhythm section performances have been conducted (Mermikides 2005), and in samba music (Naveda et. al. 2010).

may be said of the minimalist movement. This interrelationship of parameters and the

concept of slack theory, the relaxation of parameters to allow expansion in others, is

discussed in terms of expressive contours later in this paper.

Reintroducing the improvisational process from section 1.3, Phrase A.1 (Figure 1.3.2

p 13) may be seen as existing at a point in the multidimensional space of all possible

mutations. The labeling of the relationship between continuing phrases now makes sense

in terms of M-Spheres or fields of proximity, for example A.1, A.1.1, A.1.2, A.1.3, A.2 and

A.3 all exist within the same field: they are sufficiently closer to be recognized as similar.

In this case the relationship can be seen through standard notation, but the definition of

M-Space includes a host of musical parameters that escape easy notation, which

nonetheless contribute to musical proximity (Figure 1.5.10 p 37).

Every executed phrase implies a field of related phrases – along many dimensions of

transformation. The precise demarcation of these fields is subjective and may cross-fade,

as illustrated. The coherence of any new phrase in an improvisation depends on which

phrases have occurred in the past and a measure of relative proximity.

Figure 1.5.10 An M-Space representational analysis of the Swish solo (CD1.2) Phrases exist in fields
Figure 1.5.10 An M-Space representational analysis of the Swish solo (CD1.2) Phrases exist in fields

Figure 1.5.10 An M-Space representational analysis of the Swish solo (CD1.2) Phrases exist in fields of proximity, which may overlap, and the improvisation is conceived as an exploration of multi-dimensional musical space.

Given a particular starting phrase, one may imagine a field existing of appreciable

‘natural’ continuations of the phrase. The language of evolutionary biology returns, just

as Raup describes evolution as a walk through this multi-dimensional space of genetic

mutation, the improviser artificially selects (whether consciously or not) subsequent

phrases from a radiated sphere of proximity. 27 These fields contract over time as the

memory of a phrase dwindles; an exact repetition of a phrase may be appreciable to the

listener for some duration, whereas more extreme mutations would have to occur

relatively soon to maintain an intelligible relationship 28 . This concept of genetic drift in

biology is useful, but not entirely analogous to the process described here. In this model

phrases do not have to reference the immediately previous phrase, we may skip generations,

any phrase in the past is fair game (as if from a storehouse of recessive genes), and the

performer is allowed to restart a pathway from any point in M-Space at will. We can

thereby imagine a cumulative proximity caused by the repeated referencing, along varying

transformational dimensions, of a starting motif. One implication of this time-based

model is that the repetition of similar phrases will expand the field of proximity, meaning

that a new phrase has to be relatively more different to maintain a similar level of

novelty. For example, a one-note solo would require a high level of rhythmic and/or

timbral activity to maintain a level of novelty; an example of slack theory in action 29 .

A contour of proximity over time may be described through a solo as the distance

traveled in M-Space from one phrase to the next. The itinerary of this ‘flight path’ is

shown in Figure 1.5.11 (p 40).

27 Unlike the evolutionary process, the improviser is not constrained by the inconveniences of reproduction or limits of genetic viability, she is free to skip to the ‘hopeful monster’ (Goldschmidt cited in Dawkins, 1996, p 87-88) at any point in the performance.

28 Incorporating a time function into a mathematical calculation of a distance:

d ( Px , Py ) = ( f (T ( P x , P y ))) 2 *

m # ( xi " y i ) 2 i =1
# ( xi " y i ) 2
i =1

Where T(P x ,P y ) is the time difference between phrase events P x and P y , and f is a (linear or non-linear) function simulating memory response.

29 For a humorous illustration of this type of principle in a compositional context, see CD1.6, Johnny One- Note (Keneally 2007).

Figure 1.5.11 The Swish solo (CD1.2) illustrated as a trajectory through M-Space. The musical distance

Figure 1.5.11 The Swish solo (CD1.2) illustrated as a trajectory through M-Space.

The musical distance of each leap in M-Space can be measured and tracked over

time. Close repetitions of phrases would appear on a flat line while radically changing

material would be represented by consistently high peaks. Figure 1.5.12 illustrates an

impression of the improvisation as a proximity contour.

an impression of the improvisation as a proximity contour . Figure 1.5.12 An impression of a

Figure 1.5.12 An impression of a proximity contour, tracking the novelty of each new phrase in Swish. The height of the contour represents the distance travelled in M-Space, a high flat contour would for example represent a steady fast velocity through musical space, while upward and downward countours would correspond to M-Space acceleration and decelleration respectively.

This raises a question of the existence of an optimal ‘musical’ distance in M-Space

from one phrase to the next. The skill-set of the proficient improviser includes the ability

to control musical proximity for artistic effect. In The Sound of Surprise (Balliett 1959),

Balliett’s “aural elixir” is the result of perfectly selected surprises and, as Borgo notes

(Borgo 2005), effective improvisation is not a random stumble through musical space,

nor is it always a dainty, careful and predictable movement through it.

Randomness does not produce a sense of surprise, but rather confusion, dismay, or disinterest. And small departures from an orderly progression, if insufficiently interesting or dramatic, will pass without much notice. Surprises are by definition unexpected, and yet those that most capture our interest or delight have a feeling of sureness about them once experienced.

Borgo 2005, p 1

Some approaches to finding this ideal middle-ground between predictability and

randomness are addressed later in this thesis. Regardless, the concept of proximity allows

an awareness of a rarely identified expressive contour: Irrespective of the specific

vocabulary, a series of phrases with only subtle changes creates a different musical effect

than a series of wildly disparate phrases. 30 In other words, M-Space distance and velocity are

in themselves, avenues of expression, as is acceleration, the rate with which proximity

between phrases alters.

Rather than improvisation as a meandering drunken walk through this M-Space, large

scale improvisational strategies are possible, and occur often in the hands of skilled

30 For an example of an unbounded improvisation refer to an extract from Derek Bailey’s Sheffield Phantoms (Bailey 1975) on CD1.9.

practitioners. Listening to Jimmy Smith’s solo on The Sermon (Smith 1958) (Figure 1.5.13

and CD1.7) with the M-Space model in mind, it is easy to hear the separation of phrase


in mind, it is easy to hear the separation of phrase fields. Figure 1.5.13 A standard

Figure 1.5.13 A standard notation transcription of an extract of Jimmy Smith’s solo on The Sermon (CD1.7) with some salient time-feel features notated.

A first listen sorts these phrases into five main fields (A-E) with 2-5 phrases in each

(A 1-3 , B 1-4 etc.) These phrases and fields are labeled and coloured respectively in Figure


Figure 1.5.14 The phrases and fields of Jimmy Smith’s solo on The Sermon (CD1.7) labelled.

Figure 1.5.14 The phrases and fields of Jimmy Smith’s solo on The Sermon (CD1.7) labelled.

There are common features within each group that form a strong gravitational force

(or ‘Zappa’s glue’) between the phrases. This proximity means that they can tolerate and

indeed draw attention to any subtle transformations including editing of notes and

detailed variations of time-feel and inflection. The creation of proximate phrases fixes

groups of musical dimensions and thereby frees up other musical dimensions for

effective expression. Note also that exact repetitions of phrases in terms of notes still

include alterations in harmonic altitude, given their context, and small but effective

rhythmic and micro-timing variations. Figures 1.5.15-19 (p 45-49) illustrate the grouping

of these phrases within fields, with descriptions and illustrations of salient differences

between members of the same field. The diagrams to the right of each figure give an

impression of the musical proximity between component phrases of each field.

Figure 1.5.15 Phrase field A: Phrase A1-3 share a very similar melodic structure and vary

Figure 1.5.15 Phrase field A: Phrase A1-3 share a very similar melodic structure and vary in terms of placement of component notes, time-feel and harmonic altitude. An impression of relative distance in M- Space is shown in the lower diagram.

Figure 1.5.16 Phrase field B: Phrase B3 differs from B1, B2 and B3 in its

Figure 1.5.16 Phrase field B: Phrase B3 differs from B1, B2 and B3 in its use of diatonic transposition, yet, in its relationship to the anticipated Bb7 chord, maintains a harmonic altitude proximity with B2 and B4 hence its illustrated position in the lower diagram.

Figure 1.5.17 Phrase field C and its component phrases. Phrase C3 is illustrated slightly closer

Figure 1.5.17 Phrase field C and its component phrases. Phrase C3 is illustrated slightly closer to C1, than C2 due to the dotted crotchet, as opposed to quaver, rhythmic displacement of the first 3 notes.

Figure 1.5.18 In Phrase field D the core G, D, G motif is kept constant

Figure 1.5.18 In Phrase field D the core G, D, G motif is kept constant but a changing upbeat phrase, rhythmic placement, time-feel, harmonic altitude and articulation separate its component phrases.

Figure 1.5.19 Phrase E1 and E2 are loosely linked by a general melodic shape, use

Figure 1.5.19 Phrase E1 and E2 are loosely linked by a general melodic shape, use of chromatic approach notes and expressive mechanism of falling behind the beat. The length of Phrase E2 and use of transformations of similar low-level motives lends itself to further separation into smaller phrase units. The proximal relationship of Phrase E2.1-E2.11 are represented in the right-hand diagram and provide the vision of hierarchical structures in M-Space.

The most loosely connected group is Field E, the two members of which share

the same contour, use of ornaments and rhythmic expression derived from a progressive

falling behind the beat. Phrase E 2 is also distantly linked to fields A and C with the use of

the double chromatic approach to a held note.

Just as there is a particular configuration between phrases within a field, it becomes

apparent that fields themselves exist in a nexus of proximal relationships with each other.

As was shown in reference to E2, phrases may also be conceived as housing similar

constructions. This multi-level hierarchical structure of phrases and fields in M-Space is

illustrated in Figure 1.5.20 (p 51). Fields A-E co-exist as part of the same solo, but their

relative proximity is also due to registral, timbral as well as temporal considerations. Not

shown in Figure 1.5.20 is the yet more complex interaction of fields and phrases between

other performers and musical objects. This is explored variously in Section 3 and Scores

and Notes.

Although Figure 1.5.20 is illustrated in two dimensions, one must be reminded that

the relative distances between fields, and between their constituent phrases, is the

cumulative result of their relative positions in multi-dimensional space (i.e. variations of

many co-existing musical parameters). Once the concept of M-Space structures and their

relative positions has been grasped, the listening and analytical process becomes far

clearer. From the straight-ahead to the most avant-garde contexts, it becomes possible to

untangle Zappa’s noodles.

Figure 1.5.20 A multi-level depiction of The Sermon . Improvisation is seen as a configuration

Figure 1.5.20 A multi-level depiction of The Sermon. Improvisation is seen as a configuration of fields at varying distances and trajectories in M-Space, with each field containing a constellation of phrases. Phrases, in turn, may be broken down into a nexus of smaller phrase units as is shown in reference to E2. Phrase E2 has been placed closer to Fields A and C than B and D, to reflect features of E2.1 as discussed on page 49. Fields themselves are linked together in terms of timbral, registral and temporal components and may co-exist in a yet greater nexus of relationships with other performers or musical objects.

One can hear, for example, in Wes Montgomery’s solo on No Blues (Montgomery

1965, CD1.8), one very narrow phrase field being used repeatedly as a pivot to other

fields in a ‘call-and-response’ manner. In Figure 1.5.21 (p 52), fields grouping similar

phrases are coloured accordingly and a pivoting pattern emerges so quickly and clearly

that the ensemble are compelled to share the motif. The pattern settles into a two-field

(blue and green) interplay before relinquishing the structure. The repetition of the blue

phrase field is so clearly defined that the other ensemble members are compelled to mark

it with their own musical material, in other words, the soloists M-Space structures has

infiltrated those of the accompanists, as should occur in any responsive ensemble


Figure 1.5.21 A field illustration of an extract of Wes Montgomery’s solo on No Blues

Figure 1.5.21 A field illustration of an extract of Wes Montgomery’s solo on No Blues. (CD1.8) Various phrases pivot around one very tight field (labelled in blue) and settle into a two-field exchange (Notation transcription by Jeremy Poparad).

Coltrane’s Acknowledgement (CD1.1) on the other hand displays the strategy of

identifying a narrow field and then furtively exploring that space for extended periods

before moving to a new locale and repeating the process. Pat Metheny’s approach on

Unquity Road (Metheny 1976) (Extract on CD1.9) is less clearly delineated: Phrase fields

exist, but the transitions between them are often blurred, and referenced interchangeably

(Figure 1.5.22 p 53).

Figure 1.5.22 Pat Metheny’s solo on Unquity Road (CD1.8) merges and switches between phrase fields

Figure 1.5.22 Pat Metheny’s solo on Unquity Road (CD1.8) merges and switches between phrase fields fluidly. Fields have been identified by colour and smooth transitions illustrated by a cross-fade between the relevant colours. (Notation transcription by Jeremy Poparad)

As analyses of improvised solos are gleaned, it becomes possible to sort constituent

passages into broad categories. These are grouped in terms of the relationships between

the phrases rather than the vocabulary itself. A pictorial comparison of five

improvisational strategies is presented in Figure 1.5.23 (p 54): nuclear, field series, pivot,

merged and unbounded of which Acknowledgement (CD1.1), The Sermon (CD1.7), No Blues

(CD1.8), Unquity Road (CD1.9) and Sheffield Phantoms (Bailey 1975) (CD1.10) are

respective examples. The categorisation of these strategies involves some subjectivity

(one man’s nuclear, may be another man’s unbounded improvisation) and there may be

borderline cases, but a clear terminology and framework in which to analyse, compare

and contrast a range of improvisations regardless of style is presented.

a range of improvisations regardless of style is presented. Figure 1.5.23 Five improvisational structures: 1) Nuclear

Figure 1.5.23 Five improvisational structures: 1) Nuclear: phrases, with only occasional small anomalies, fall within one close field with only minor variances (CD1.1) 2) Field Series: close phrases are played a few times with variances before repeating the process at a different point in M-Space (CD1.7) 3) Pivot: one particular narrow field is played often, acting as a springboard to various satellite fields (CD1.8) 4) Merged: fields are merged by the use of a transitional phrase of otherwise distinct phrase fields (CD1.9) and 5) Unbounded a series of phrases with little proximity of one phrase to any other (CD1.10).

Identifying improvisational strategies such as these informs a practical approach to

improvisational performance and ‘guided’ score instructions as well as creating a broad

analytical foundation. However, an appreciation of M-Space structures may act readily as

a supporting mechanism to compositional practice and employment of electronics. M-

Space architecture, the computer-assisted formation of structures, often with live

interaction with human performers, is explored extensively in the Changes Over Time


Through a practice-based and pedagogical exploration of jazz improvisational

method this section has crossed paths with an elaboration of Pressing’s event-cluster model

(Pressing 1988). This meta-view of improvisation is made more powerful with the

support of a practical stylistic understanding of the jazz idiom, which provides an

appreciation of time-feel, harmonic altitude and the extrapolation of the concepts of

proximity and velocity. The implications of a time element applied to this model is

examined in the next section, followed by a survey of the broad compositional

reapplication of these theoretical concepts.

1.6 Changes and Time: Expressive Contours

The previous section identified how subsequent phrases might develop in the course of

an improvisation in terms of selecting from a vast library of variously related material.

This holds analytical and practical power in many contexts, but there are some

limitations. M-Space modeling does not provide the clearest picture of how particular

parameters evolve over time, both within a phrase and through multiple phrases, nor

does it most readily show the interactions between parameters. Furthermore, as can be

seen in a transcription of the Un-merry Go-round (Holdsworth 1985, CD1.11) in Figure

1.6.1 (p 57), M-Space analysis can break down when phrase boundaries become too

merged or ambiguous. The phrases in the first seven bars may be seen as the toying

between two fields, a long note with a semiquaver offbeat kick and a diatonic descending

phrase. They are linked by a fragile timbre, made more ethereal with a subtle whammy-

bar vibrato. From bar 7 onwards however, the rhythmic density and phrase length

increases, jeopardising clear identification phrase boundaries.

Figure 1.6.1 Transcription of Holdsworth’s solo on The Un-merry Go-round (CD1.11) with harmonic context. There

Figure 1.6.1 Transcription of Holdsworth’s solo on The Un-merry Go-round (CD1.11) with harmonic context.

There are however valuable expressive mechanisms at work in this passage that

should not escape analysis. It is clear that the expression inherent in this section does not

come from proximal relationships between clearly defined phrases, but from the

continuous control of co-existing parameters. Most importantly, there is an interplay of

varying rhythmic density and melodic register that, together with an arresting tone,

combine with remarkable effect. Figure 1.6.2 (p 58) tracks melodic register (in red) and

rhythmic density (in green with a measure of notes per beat in the vertical axis) against

time. This analysis gives insight, which may escape conscious perception, into the

emotive power of the phrase. Melodic register tends to be positively correlated with

rhythmic density; however, this correlation is broken in bars 5, 11 and 14 where the line

lingers on medium-high register notes, and the expressive contours separate. Of

particular interest is bar 11 where the density plummets to reveal a slow microtonal glide

in melodic register. Despite its brevity, this passage lays the foundation for extensive

practical research in the effect of various linear and non-linear correlations, and

interrupted patterns of these two parameters.

and interrupted patterns of these two paramet ers. Figure 1.6.2 Holdsworth’s Un-merry Go-Round bars 5-14

Figure 1.6.2 Holdsworth’s Un-merry Go-Round bars 5-14 (CD1.11): Melodic register and rhythmic density (measured in notes per beat) tracked over time. Breaks in the generally positive correlation between the two parameters occurs in Bars 5, 11 and 14.

This approach, of mapping particular parameters against time, can allow a vision of

the overall shape of a solo, or composition to emerge, as well as draw attention to the

interaction between parameters. It also lends itself readily to pedagogic practice, real-time

electronic manipulation, compositional techniques and analysis where clear delineation

between phrases becomes impractical. This analysis can be seen as slicing M-Space into

individual dimensions, and tracking motion across these component layers over time as is

illustrated in Figure 1.6.3 (p 59).

Figure 1.6.3 Illustration of a multi-dimensional M-Space view of an improvisation collapsed into its multiple

Figure 1.6.3 Illustration of a multi-dimensional M-Space view of an improvisation collapsed into its multiple component parameters tracked over time.

In order to dig deeper still into the complex interplay between musical parameters,

an extensive analysis of a short active phrase is required. Phrase β (CD1.12) taken from

Standard Deviations (Mermikides 2008) is transcribed in Figure 1.6.4. Though short, this

passage is analysed in considerable detail in this section as a demonstration of the many

complex and interactive contours available for expressive manipulation and analytical

consideration. Not all of these approaches will be relevant in every context, but an in-

depth analysis is taken to present a survey of the contours, and the subsequently derived


contours, and the subsequently derived meta-contours . Figure 1.6.4 Phrase β from Standard Deviations

Figure 1.6.4 Phrase β from Standard Deviations (CD1.12).

Section 1.5 (p 25-55) put forward a conceptual model of grouped phrases within

overlapping phrase fields. A possible analysis of Phrase β is given below. This layout gives

an impression of how core motivic material, at times overlapping, is introduced and

revisited with modification over the course of the improvisation (Figure 1.6.5).

over the course of the improvisation (Figure 1.6.5). Figure 1.6.5 Phrase field analysis of Phrase β

Figure 1.6.5 Phrase field analysis of Phrase β (CD1.12).

Observing one particular parameter, for example the pitch height (a lattice approach is

taken: ignoring microtones and micro-rhythms), and tracking it over time, presents a

particular contour (Figure 1.6.6).

it over time, presents a particular contour (Figure 1.6.6). Figure 1.6.6 Pitch contour analysis of Phrase

Figure 1.6.6 Pitch contour analysis of Phrase β (CD1.12).

This type of analysis with respect to melody has been researched in the field of jazz,

and other styles. 31 In respect to jazz solos, the term tension and release curve is often used to

describe the shape of a particular parameter over time (Berliner 1993, p 57). Since the

perception of tension and release is rather subjective, or occasionally inappropriate for

some parameters, the author suggests the term expressive contour to describe the

31 See melodic contours of jazz phrases (Coker 1987, p 57-61), jazz melodies (Goldstein 1993, p 13-14) and folk music melodic contour typology (Adams 1976). The reversal of this relationship, whereby prescribed contours (often derived from non-musical sources) are attached to musical parameters, is explored in Changes Over Time (See Primal Sound, Head Music and Blood Lines), and with a historical precedent (See Villa Lobos’ New York Skyline Melody (Frey 2010)).

modulation of a particular musical characteristic over time 32 . Opportunities for musical

expression exist along many parameters, and combinations thereof. For example,

tracking the intonation of the phrase, relative to an equal temperament, creates another

expressive contour. Note how this contour captures vibrato and bends and is

represented as a cyclical scale, wraps around vertically as a note passes the midway point

between semi-tones (Figure 1.6.7).

passes the midway point between semi- tones (Figure 1.6.7). Figure 1.6.7 Intonation contour analysis of Phrase

Figure 1.6.7 Intonation contour analysis of Phrase β (CD1.12).

The dynamic contour, representing the volume (of each onset) of an improvisation

over time, is illustrated in Figure 1.6.8.

an improvisation over time, is illustrated in Figure 1.6.8. Figure 1.6.8 Dynamic contour analysis of Phrase

Figure 1.6.8 Dynamic contour analysis of Phrase β (CD1.12).

32 Wishart’s gestural contours represent a similar idea of parameter control in the context of electronic music (Wishart 1996, p 109-125).

Rhythmic density, the rhythmic distance between attack points may also be tracked

as before. It becomes clear that an expressive gesture may be formed by the change of a

parameter, as much as its absolute value. In other words, movement, as much as

position, in M-Space may create a musical effect (Figure 1.6.9).

in M-Space may create a musical effect (Figure 1.6.9). Figure 1.6.9 Rhythmic density analysis of Phrase

Figure 1.6.9 Rhythmic density analysis of Phrase β (CD1.12).

Harmonic altitude may be defined as the chromaticism of the phrase relative to the

harmonic context. This is a complex field, with hosts of interacting factors (Liebman

1991). In this illustration, a simple measure is employed relative to the G7 context, this

runs from chord tones (CTs) (root, 3 rd , 5 th , minor 7 th ), to harmonic extensions (HEs) (9 th ,

11 th , 13 th ) to common non-harmonic extensions (CNEs) (#9, #11) and the uncommon

non-harmonic extensions (UNEs) (b9, b13, major 7) (Figure 1.6.10).

extensions (UNEs) (b9, b13, major 7) (Figure 1.6.10). Figure 1.6.10 Harmonic altitude analysis of Phrase β

Figure 1.6.10 Harmonic altitude analysis of Phrase β (CD1.12).

A medium of expression is also possible in the varied employment of intervals.

Taking a measure of absolute intervals gives an idea of the predominant intervallic leaps

and changes in this field (Figure 1.6.11).

leaps and c han ges in this field (Figure 1.6.11). Figure 1.6.11 Intervallic contour analysis of

Figure 1.6.11 Intervallic contour analysis of Phrase β (CD1.12).

Another perspective, covered extensively in the previous section, is taken in the

observation of a proximity contour - the extent to which a phrase is altered through the

solo. An impression is given in Figure 1.6.12 of how far one phrase moves to another in

M-Space. As new motivic material is introduced the contour rises and falls as this

material is transformed by smaller degrees. This analytical approach gives a general

impression of how the novelty of an improvisation changes over time.

of how the novelty of an improvisation changes over time . Figure 1.6.12 M-Space proximity analysis

Figure 1.6.12 M-Space proximity analysis of Phrase β (CD1.11).

These contours do not function entirely independently but exist in various correlations.

These relationships fall into three general categories: 1) Independent: contours that may

move freely against one another with no cross-effect (e.g. rhythmic density and harmonic

altitude) 2) A direct linear relationship, positive or negative, between contours (e.g.

dynamics and intensity) 3) An exponential relationship (positive or negative) (e.g. interval

and melodic range) 4) A non-linear relationship between contours (e.g. melodic contour

and harmonic altitude) (Figure 1.6.13).

. melodic contour and harmonic altitude) (Figure 1.6.13). Figure 1.6.13 Four types of relationship between contours:

Figure 1.6.13 Four types of relationship between contours: 1) independent 2) linear 3) exponential 4) non- linear.

So by tracking individual parameters of the same improvisation from several musical

perspectives, a multi-dimensional image of an improvisation is built. This vision allows

the effect of multiple parameter changes to be understood more clearly, and in turn,

applied practically in improvisational practice or compositional construction.

There exists a complex resultant musical effect of these many consychronous expressive

contours. In search of this, a meta-contour formed by the summative effects of several

contours may be conjectured. Examples of meta-contours might include 1) Activity: derived

from a combined measure of the contours of rhythmic density, intervallic change (a first

order differential of interval with respect to time) and proximity. 2) Intensity: determined

by amplitude, melodic range and harmonic altitude. Assuming an additive function of

these meta-contours, an impression of these may be calculated (Figures 1.6.14 and 1.6.15,

p 65-66).

may be calculated (Figures 1. 6.14 and 1. 6.15, p 65- 66 ). Figure 1.6.14 Activity

Figure 1.6.14 Activity contour, derived from an additive function of rhythmic density, intervallic and M-Space proximity contours.

Figure 1.6.14 Intensity contour, derived from an additive function of dynamic, pitch and harmonic altitude.

Figure 1.6.14 Intensity contour, derived from an additive function of dynamic, pitch and harmonic altitude.

In Hal Crook’s How To Improvise (Crook 1991, p143-5) some “solo curves” are

prescribed as improvisational exercises. The educational aim is to improvise a solo while

following a particular curve, either in terms of register, dynamics or “excitement level”.

The latter is presumably a form of meta-contour, but how it is to be derived is open to

interpretation. However, if an additive function is assumed, there is an important musical

implication: given a specific level of a meta-contour, any increase in one expressive

contour must be compensated by a relative decrease in the other component expressive

contours. So at a constant meta-contour level of, for example, intensity, a drop in one

expressive contour (e.g. dynamics) must be compensated for by a total increase in

melodic contour and harmonic altitude. This concept of compensatory musical

parameters, is given attention in the submitted portfolio and referred to as slack theory. 33 A

meta-contour of significant interest and research potential, developed by Rolf Bader and

David Borgo (Borgo 2005, p 92-121), is the “fractal correlation dimension”, which is a

composite measure of the complexity of harmonic overtone components, inharmonic

frequencies and amplitude modulations. This hugely involved analytical process, taking

weeks of computer processing for each piece and including up to eighty transformative

dimensions is rendered into a two-dimensional representation of complexity over time,

and aligns quite convincingly with the subjective listening process. However clever, no

one contour can capture the pluralistic structures of music, but directed attention to a

salient set of contours can help explain the emotive effect of mechanism specific to each

musical context.

Although musical gestures occur at small time-scales, such as intonation or time-feel

inflections, a full understanding of expressive contours allows for the appreciation of

how a series of seemingly meandering phrases can create larger scale musical structures

or gestures, the shape of a solo. These larger scale structures are certainly appreciable to a

tuned-in audience, and the candid practitioner 34 , but without the vocabulary of expressive

contours, they remain largely unspoken.

Expressive contours in general are employed in the author’s works in a number of


1) The development of the practical skill to independently control expressive contours,

2) the musical effects of particular contour types, drawn from eclectic sources, on

parameters, 3) the effect of contrasting and complementing contours on overall music

33 The observation of expressive contours is also found in the dramatic arts including script-writing (McKee 1999) and Zeami’s theory of Jo-ha-kuy in Japanese Noh theatre (Rimer & Yamazaki 1984).

34 See Composing in the Moment (Berliner 1993, p 192-220).

experience, 4) the construction of meta-contours by the manipulation of individual musical

parameters, 5) the real-time control of expressive contours in live performance, and in

studio composition and 6) the exploration of slack theory in the differentiated control of

interdependent expressive contours.

Expressive contours may be seen simply as the introduction of the time component

into M-Space modeling 35 , but they also serve to bypass the difficulties in subjectively

identifying the proximity, and the demarcation, of phrases in general. Phrase demarcation

is by its very nature a form of post-hoc analysis; one must wait for a phrase end in order

to understand its position in M-Space, or to put it more precisely, a phrase’s position in

M-Space moves during its execution. This is certainly the case for the listener and is

often true for the improviser. 36 It is important to remember that, as is the case with all

good musical analysis, there is no one-model-fits-all approach. With increased

experience, as both a performer and listener, one becomes more skilled at choosing the

most useful approach in any given situation, for example, an M-Space model is particular

illuminating in The Sermon (Figure 1.5.14, p 43 and CD1.7) but is inferior to a study of

contours in the case of the Un-merry Go-round (Figure 1.6.1, p 57 and CD1.11).

Discernment is also required within a particular analytical approach, when selecting

which of the many features deserve the most attention, and which are the most salient in

terms of our musical experience. As ever, good analysis should serve to illuminate, rather

than replace, the visceral experience of performing and appreciating music.

35 One could add time occurrence as just another dimension to M-Space, but the results are somewhat unintuitive, difficult to visualize and implement.

36 The relationship between M-Space and expressive contours is illustrated in Figure 1.7.2 (p 73).

1.7 Applications of M-Space and Expressive Contours

The view of improvisation as a variegated walk through M-Space with

corresponding modulations of consynchronous music parameters is manifestly employed

in the author’s work in a variety of ways. These concepts have been developed through a

continuing cyclical pattern of practice, reflection, analysis, theory and reapplication and

are grouped here into general categories.

Improvisational Strategies

The meta-view of improvisation outlined in this paper provides a wealth of options

for performance. The training and skill in order to control effectively this walk through

M-Space (via the limiting, and focusing of dimensions) is considerable and a never-

ending pursuit. In the model of improvisation given above jazz skill can be seen as the

ability to manipulate a stockpile of prepared material (Solstad 1991) alongside newly

created elements to create expressive gestures through certain parameters while keeping

others unaffected. ‘Making the changes’ (proficient negotiation of jazz harmony) for

example, may be seen as altering melodic and rhythmic content while maintaining

control over harmonic altitude and melodic range. Equally, a lack of improvisational

interest can be described as a lack of variation of in for example, rhythmic placement,

dynamic or harmonic control. Hence the incentive for the specific exercises of Tomassi,

Crook and Damian. This view acts as a framework not only to practice improvisation but

also a way to evaluate and appreciate the repertoire. One is given the ability to describe

cultural and individual styles as fields among various dimensions: The skills required in

the bebop heritage involves the fixing of rhythmic density (usually quavers) and a specific

realm of time-feel and timbre, while negotiating complex harmonies with mainly step-

wise and arpeggiated lines. BB King’s skilful variation of rhythmic placing, phrase length

and vibrato, despite a limited note choice and rhythmic density, is characteristic of his

style (for example Payin’ The Cost To Be The Boss King 2006, CD1.13). Wayne Krantz’s

playing on Is Something I Don’t Understand Yet (Krantz 1995, CD1.14) may be seen as the

limiting of motivic material (intervallic structures) and creating great interest in variation

through transposition, phrase length, metric placement and time-feel control) In short,

an awareness, and ability to identify, the limitating and variation of a range of topics fuels

endless analytical and practice-based research.

Reaching Out

Music technology allows the improviser to extend her reach across several otherwise

inaccessible dimensions providing an expansion of the improvisational palette. Whereas

the traditional saxophonist has stretched to the widest extent of the instrument’s timbral

spectrum, electronic effects expand hugely the available horizon (See CD1.15, an excerpt

from Strike, for saxophone and guitar).

The use of delay tools in improvisations allow the capturing, looping and warping of

live input to form a textural background to improvisations (See CD1.16, an excerpt from

Torus (Mermikides 2008) - a solo electric guitar (and electronics) improvisation, featuring

a polymetric layering of material and triggering and manipulation of speech samples).

This can be seen as a technological smearing of motivic phrases, where a motif is frozen in

time and stretched and manipulated. Performers are no longer limited by a serial

procession of phrases, they may coexist in a parallel with newly initiated phrases and

form a quasi-ensemble relationship (See Omnia 5:58 (CD2.17) in the submitted portfolio).

Guided Improvisation, Flight Paths and Stripping Contours

Awareness of the multiple paths by which an improvisation may travel allows for

conscious direction during performance, or in score indication. These may be simple

instructions such as ‘Explore timbre’ in String Theory (CD2.15), the harmonic pathways in

Event Horizon (CD2.16) or the modal specifications in Koshinokawa (CD2.9). Figure 1.7.1

shows an excerpt from Event Horizon where the intention is to allow the soloist to

improvise spontaneous long arching phrases. To facilitate the navigation through the

complex harmony, without having to resort to excessive preparation that might mar

spontaneity, a solution was devised. To avoid the undesirable ‘running of scales’ that

often results from improvised passages with non jazz-trained performers, harmonic

pathways are indicated in the score. The performer is allowed free reign to choose notes

from the provided scales within each harmonic context. However, when transitioning

from one chord to the next, smooth voice-leading and an unbroken line is required. To

achieve this each note is given one of three symbols to indicate whether it is sustained

into the next harmony, or altered by a semi-tone and in which direction. The technique

works extremely well, and provides a large range of paths through the chord

progressions without prescribing any particular one, and allows the soloist to form large

scale melodies without an extensive jazz training. This mechanism can be seen as the

maintaining of harmonic altitude, melodic register and phrase length through complex


register and phrase le ngth through complex harmonies. Figure 1.7.1 Harmonic pathways in Event Horizon indicating

Figure 1.7.1 Harmonic pathways in Event Horizon indicating methods for negotiating complex harmonies while maintaining long phrases and melodic register. Symbols above each note indicate voice-leading strategies via semitone ascent, descent or maintaining the note.

In other works more responsibility is offered to the soloist with greater jazz

experience. In Eleventh Light (CD2.8) the performer is given key locations in M-Space to

which the improviser must travel via a field series or merged improvisational pathway; the

soloist is given an itinerary through M-Space with fixed destinations but no specified

flight path. Intentional guidance of an improviser (from various disciplines) by the use of

instructions of which parameters should be fixed, and which must be varied, appear

throughout the portfolio and allow a work to retain an authentic spontaneity while

maintaining a common curve of transformation between performances (See the Rumore

(DVD 5.5) and Rat Park Live concerts (DVD 4)).

The use of electronics can expand greatly improvisational concepts. For example, in

I is a Robot (CD9.5), electronics are used to strip pitch and timbre information from a live

improvisation, replacing them with randomised timbres and pitches. This can be seen as

the stripping apart and reattaching of expressive contours, in this case, rhythmic elements

are hijacked from an improvisation and glued to another field in M-Space. String Theory

(CD2.15), on the other hand, uses the physical gestures of the cellist’s Hyperbow and

reattaches these to musical parameters that effect the timbre of the cello as well as other

independent musical layers.

The concept of M-Space may also be employed compositionally and not in the

context of improvisation. Omnia 5:58 (CD2.17) takes an isologic approach, a particular

conceptual pattern (φ 5/8) is applied heterogenously to a range of musical topics

including hierarchical phrase structures (as in Figure 1.5.20, p 51), spatial placement,

rhythmic elements, vertical stacking, form and time-feel. This may be seen as a

premeditated compositional ‘solo’ where one conceptual seed is manifested in a host of

M-Space dimensions.

M-Space Modeling

The concept of a motif existing at a point of musical space, transformable along

many dimensions, offers another, more lateral improvisational process to occur. In a

standard improvisation a trajectory in M-Space is taken, so that a starting phrase (P 1 )

arrives at the next phrase (P 2 ) at some variable distance. The process is then repeated

along another (varying or similar) set of parameters to arrive at the next destination (P 3 ).

A phrase may reference any previous phrase not just the most recent (P 4 may reference

P 2 for instance) Consequent phrases describe a pattern of proximity relative to what

phrases have occurred in the past, albeit with a fading memory (Figure 1.7.2).

in the past, albeit with a fading memory (Figure 1.7.2). Figure 1.7.2 The relationship between M-Space,

Figure 1.7.2 The relationship between M-Space, expressive contours and time.

A series of phrases over time will build up a nexus of proximal relationships - which

may interweave with the nexuses of other ensemble members - and carve differentiated

expressive contours in a host of parameters. There is a resultant complex interplay

between a newly initiated phrase and a range of previously performed material.

In some compositions there is an effort to provide glimpses of these separate

potential pathways of a phrase and their relationship to the memory of the seed phrase.

An extreme example of this is Omnia 5:58 (CD2.17) where the various effects on each

individual string, extremely spatialized in the hall, allow the listener to experience quasi-

improvised ideas radiating from one phrase. In other words, the electronics add a

fragmented multi-dimensional ‘glow’ to the musical object (Figure 1.7.3 p 75). As the

piece progresses, the fractured glimpses of past phrases are heard, heading through

independent pitch, timbral and spatial pathways. There is flexibility in the score so that

the performer can respond to these reflected musical strands, in the manner of Figure

1.7.2 (p 75), which in turn affects the character of the ensuing sections of the work.

Shutter Speed (CD2.21) takes a similar approach where one simple phrase is, with the

use of electronics, transformed into multiple co-existing phrases creating a quasi-

ensemble performance with complex elements of micro-timing rhythmic expression


phrases creating a quasi- ensemble performance with complex elements of micro-timing rhythmic expression automated. 74
Figure 1.7.3 Each of the five cello strings in Omnia 5:58 (CD2.17) are sent along

Figure 1.7.3 Each of the five cello strings in Omnia 5:58 (CD2.17) are sent along separate trajectories in M- Space, a graphical representation is shown above a standard notational transcription of the effect of a single chord.


The Changes Over Time portfolio includes works that take the concept of an

improvisation forming particular expressive contours and structures in musical space,

and reverse engineers the process. Compositions are created from electronic systems that

use physical phenomena as source material to drive expressive contours and M-Space

positioning. The intention is to provide an aesthetic and philosophical grounding to a

work, many of which are inspired by scientific phenomena, and also to explore the

modeling of quasi-improvisational electronic systems, so that the composer delegates

many musical decisions, and can listener to his own work as an impartial listener. Three

examples are shown below. Figure 1.7.4 (p 77) shows images from Primal Sound (CD2.1),

in which a contour – derived from the coronal suture of a human skull – is mapped onto

co-existing expressive contours. Event Horizon (CD2.16) employs the use of real-time

mapping in performance; the data from the Hyperbow is linked electronically to many

consynchronous musical parameters so that the performer may purposefully, or by

consequence, sculpt the various musical layers via the seven sensors on the bow. A

technological mapping is provided in Figure 1.7.5 (p 77).

Microcosmos (DVD 2) represents a yet more complex mapping system. The

composition is created via the input of colour information, and DNA coding from

microbacterial colonies. Colour information, represented in RGB, and genetic sequences

are mapped onto three parameters subsets in M-Space to form a complex, interactive and

emergent work that responds synaesthetically with the imagery (Figure 1.7.6, p 78).

Figure 1.7.4 Mappings in Primal Sound : the coronal suture (centre) is mapped to (clockwise

Figure 1.7.4 Mappings in Primal Sound: the coronal suture (centre) is mapped to (clockwise from top right) 1) amplitude against time, frequency against time in vertical (2) and horizontal (3) configurations and as a control of event triggers and pan position.

and as a control of event triggers and pan position. Figure 1.7.5 Event Horizon physical gestures

Figure 1.7.5 Event Horizon physical gestures of the Hyperbow are linked to consynchronous musical parameters, allowing the soloist to control various aspects of otherwise independent musical layer.

Figure 1.7.6 Microcosmos employs the mapping of colour and DNA data to three-dimensional musical subsets.

Figure 1.7.6 Microcosmos employs the mapping of colour and DNA data to three-dimensional musical subsets.

The works in Changes Over Time which, as briefly discussed, range from ‘standard’

informed improvisation, bionic extensions to traditional performance and large–scale M-

Space modeling and mapping, are covered in detail in Changes Over Time: Practice.

1.8 Reflection

This paper offers a broad framework in which to practise, develop and analyse

improvisation. This more complete view of improvisational mechanics also allows the

varied and subtle direction, through score notation or rehearsal, of guided improvisation

in composition; performers may be required to explore certain parameters or keep others

fixed, allowing a more sophisticated description of ‘freedom’ in execution. This approach

stands in contrast to the familiar ‘box of notes’ instruction of contemporary score

notation, where a performer is given a set of notes with which to play – but no other

guidance in terms of gesture or modifications of parameters - also reminiscent of the

‘learn your scales and good luck’ approach of much jazz pedagogy. The concepts

discussed in this thesis are amenable to a range of stylistic contexts and help guide

effective and compelling performance without the obligation to always employ the

overtly complex harmony and rhythmic devices often associated with contemporary jazz.

Harmony and rhythmic density represent just a fraction of all potential musical

transformations, and improvisational virtuosity, and more importantly expressive depth,

is possible within the constraints of a superficially ‘simple’ context. Phrase development,

time-feel, timbre, articulation, and the interaction between these parameters are as valid,

musically effective and technically demanding as any other transformative dimensions,

even if the scale material is pentatonic, and a standard notational approximation appears

simple. The concept of M-Space and expressive contours can explain the effectiveness of

these apparently ‘simple’ improvisations, as well as detect large-scale structures that

connect seemingly fragmented phrases in more obtuse extemporisations.

The adoption of music technology in improvisation is, in this model, a natural

evolution, simply extending the limits of various parameters, allowing direct control of

multiple expressive contours and the real-time capture and manipulation of musical

material. Music technology also allows the deployment of these improvisational

mechanisms in deliberated electronic composition and generative systems. However, if

the breadth of choice confronted by the performer during a standard improvisation is

daunting, then the meta-view of improvisation presented in this paper can be utterly

overwhelming. How is one to begin formulating and constructing pieces using the

concept of M-Space, with its Babelian complexity? The author has found a solution in

the application of a higher-level vision of the ‘limit and variation’ improvisational

technique to the compositional process. Can a piece be constructed with only one

specified expressive contour applied to many multiple parameters? 37 What is the effect of

a group improvisation where electronics randomize pitch and timbral content, leaving

only rhythmic elements under the performers’ control? 38 Can a satisfying chord sequence

be composed spontaneously within the constraint of fixed bassline and topline

contours? 39 What is the result of mapping downward physical force of the bow to the

cello’s cut-off frequency, colour values and DNA codes to timbre, or blood cell

populations to multiple consynchronous musical parameters? 40 With very little musical

material, can a systematic cycle of the topic of improvisation form the structure of the

piece? Can geometrically derived coordinates and trajectories in M-Space form musically

coherent melodies, or the expressive contour of harmonic altitude in a blues progression

form the melodic curve in a stylistically distant context? This type of targeted approach

to M-Space exploration has shown to be a useful compositional exercise, improving with

practical experience, developed intuition and critical reflection, and is the case with the

Berklee improvisational exercises (see 1.3 p 11), the strictures imposed rarely inhibit the

potential musicality.

37 See Primal Sound (CD2.1) for this use of isokinetos.

38 See I is a Robot (CD4.5) from the compositional portfolio.

39 Selfish Theme (2.7) employs a simple algorithm to derive a cyclical motion for outer two voices of a chord progression, compositional freedom is allowed only in the inner voice writing.

40 See Event Horizon (CD92.16), Microcosmos (CD2.4) and Blood Lines (CD2.3) respectively.

The view of improvisation as transformations in multi-dimensional musical space is

so broad that it connects the mechanics and pedagogy of jazz practice with a diverse

range of compositional and analytical research. These include: 1) Xenakis’ formal

modelling (Xenakis 2001) which, with its consideration of stochastic functions over

multiple – albeit discretely valued - musical parameters, has parallels with the concept of

proximity and improvisational strategies in M-Space. 2) Wishart’s “gestures” in electronic

music (Wishart 1996) – a taxonomy of continuous sonic modifications - may be

considered analogous to expressive contours with respect to timbre. 3) The multi-

dimensionality of Pressing’s improvisation model (Pressing 1998) is, as discussed (p 18-

19, 55), related directly to M-Space. 4) Moles’ and Schaeffer’s prescient graphical

representations of l’objet sonore (Holmes 2008, p 45-48) are conceived readily in respect to

three consynchronous expressive contours, or three dimensions in M-Space. 5) Methods

within Schillinger’s compositional systems (Schillinger 1978) may be described as

employing isokinetos, isorhytmos and isologos, and 6) Dreyfus’ detailed studies of motivic

transformation in the music of J.S. Bach (Dreyfus 1996) are readily adopted in terms of a

chains-of-thought methodology. However, despite these parallels, this model’s foundation in

the intuitive and idiomatic discipline of jazz practice, allows a wide range of

compositional and analytical frameworks to be approached with confidence and a unified

creative ethic.

With an explanation of M-Space and expressive contours established, a vision of

improvisation as the virtuosic modulation and structuring of consynchronous musical

parameters has been established. At this point, the discussion turns to one particular set

of these parameters that, though hugely important, is under-represented in the literature

and rarely well understood. The next paper models various micro-rhythms that are