Do you hear what I hear? Audiation and the Compositional Process

Redgate, Roger. 2019. Do you hear what I hear? Audiation and the Compositional Process. Principles of Music Composing, 18, pp. 19-27. ISSN 2351-5155 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

When Igor Stravinsky was asked if he hears music when he composes, he replied it’s sometimes more a question of knowing how it sounds. Alternatively, John Cage commented ‘I don’t hear music when I write it. I write in order to hear something I haven’t yet heard. My writing is almost characterised by having something unusual in the notation. The notation is about something that is not familiar.’

These comments by two leading 20th Century composers would seem to undermine the notion that music is initially ‘heard’ and subsequently transcribed, potentially challenging the popular view of the compositional process. Of course, both these composers employed significantly different compositional strategies. However, in each case there is arguably some kind of apprehension of sound in the mind of the composer to be translated through notation into performance. What is the relationship, therefore, between what is heard and what is written, and how much could notation be said to mediate this process? Further, what is the nature of what is heard and to what degree is this auditory musical image informed by its own possibility in notation, by a habit of thought? Can we imagine a music that can’t be notated, for example? If so how would we write it? Can notation itself create a useful distance between what is heard and how a score becomes manifest, with a view to finding new forms of expression?

The dialogue between the auditory and what is notated is clearly more complex than at first appears. The 20th Century saw a decline in a common musical language and an increase in the diversity of compositional techniques and new forms of generative processes/notational strategies, often raising doubt as to the role of audiation in the creative discourse. However, the use of such compositional processes can often lead to the discovery of new musical potential and material, beyond what might in the conventional sense be said to have an audiative origin, but which is nevertheless defined by an internal musical ear - an analytical audiative process.

This paper examines these issues in relation to my own work as a composer, which seeks to explore the complex relationships obtaining between what might be said to exist in the mind of a composer - an initial apprehension of sound, and the development of meaningful compositional strategies aimed at capturing the reality of an auditory musical image through notation.

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audiation, notation, composition, 20th Century composers

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September 2018Accepted
November 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

25 Nov 2019 16:47

Last Modified:

21 Jul 2020 14:43

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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