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The Contemporary Composer's Kitchen - MUS00090M

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  • Department: Music
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Martin Suckling
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

What goes on inside ‘the composer’s kitchen’? How are the special sounds made, and what can we incorporate into our own practice / toolkit / recipe book?

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

Contemporary composition encompasses a huge range of stylistic and technical approaches. In order to develop your individual creative practice it is important to have an awareness of the diverse sonic possibilities offered by the field alongside practical facility in a range of approaches to creating the materials of contemporary music. Why? Because encountering new types of music expands your imaginative horizons, and by examining the techniques of this music you will increase the tools you have at your disposal to realise your own creative ambitions.

This curiosity-driven attitude can, and perhaps should, be a constant characteristic of your creative life. This module will support your ongoing independent explorations by means of a series of seminars examining case studies alongside associated practical exercises across a broad (but necessarily non-comprehensive) variety of compositional styles. The analytical aim will be to uncover available technical insights, an approach informally known as ‘the composer’s kitchen’.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module you should be able to:

  • Understand the mechanisms by which [specific] compositional techniques give rise to [specific] sonic results across a diverse range of contemporary styles; [or: ‘understand the relationship between compositional technique and sonic result’]

  • Utilise [effectively] a range of compositional techniques from across diverse styles of contemporary music by way of pastiche and/or ‘original’ composition;

  • Develop a personal approach by applying contemporary compositional techniques in novel situations and/or novel combinations;

  • Articulate in writing your chosen technical approach for a given compositional situation;

  • Analyse musical sources as part of ‘the composer’s kitchen’ for the purposes of technique-mining, and apply the insights gained in new compositional work


Task Length % of module mark
Portfolio : Portfolio of compositions and commentary
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Assessment is by portfolio comprising


3 x short compositions (c.2-3’ each) each utilising a different approach chosen from the series of case studies, accompanied by a concise commentary (c.600 words in total) outlining the technical approach taken


A short composition (c. 2-3’) utilising an approach from the series of case studies accompanied by a short commentary (c.200 words)
A concise ‘composer’s kitchen’ analysis of a piece (or portion of a piece) of contemporary repertoire (c.1500 words)
a short composition (c. 2-3’) utilising or responding to the approach outlined in the analysis


Task Length % of module mark
Portfolio : Portfolio of compositions and commentary
N/A 100

Module feedback

You will receive written feedback in line with standard University turnaround times.

Indicative reading

Relevant reading will be given for each session. For a general overview the following are useful:

Gottschalk, Jennie. (2016) Experimental Music Since 1970. Illustrated edition. New York; London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Griffiths, Paul. (1995) Modern Music and After. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rutherford-Johnson, Tim. (2017) Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture Since 1989. University of California Press.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.