The Magic of Microtones - MUS00129C

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  • Department: Music
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Martin Suckling
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2018-19

Module summary

We spend most of our time working with sounds derived from the standard twelve-equal-steps-to-an-octave black-and-white notes of the piano. Discover the music that lives in the gaps between the keys.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Summer Term 2018-19

Module aims

This is a module about microtonal music: listening to it, playing it, writing it, thinking about it.

We will consider microtonal music in its broadest sense, taking it to mean not only intervals that are smaller than a semitone, but also any music that does not conform to the familiar twelve-tone equal temperament of the modern piano. This means:

  • Old music! (e.g. Nicolo Vicentino)
  • New music! (e.g. Enno Poppe)
  • Spectral music! (e.g. Gerard Grisey)
  • American music! (e.g. Harry Partch)
  • European music! (e.g. G.F. Haas)
  • British music! (e.g. me…)
  • New complexity music! (e.g. Brian Ferneyhough)
  • Minimalist music! (e.g. La Monte Young)
  • Electronic music! (e.g. Wendy Carlos)
  • Non-western music! (e.g. pretty much all of it)

Classes will emphasise exploration and discovery. You will hear sounds you have never heard before, play notes you didn’t know existed, write intervals you didn’t think were possible. Many writers are very passionate about this subject and as such, microtonal theory can become (unnecessarily) intense. We will take a pragmatic approach, focusing as far as possible on how things actually sound (and also the closely related concept, how to play this stuff anyway), though we will signpost and investigate the theory rabbit holes along the way.

Students are neither required nor expected to be specialists in performance or composition, though everyone involved in the module will be expected to do some writing of music and some playing of music as part of the classes.

Module learning outcomes

  • Be familiar with a range of microtonal repertoire, and be able to place it within a musical, historical and cultural context;
  • be familiar with some of the common techniques of microtonal music, be able to identify and discuss their effect, and be able to apply them compositionally and/or in performance;
  • be aware of wider musical and cultural questions, and have considered their own positions on these issues;
  • have developed a critical appreciation of microtonal music in its widest sense.

In their independent work, students should demonstrate Learning Outcomes A1-6 and (where applicable) A10.

Assessment

Task Length % of module mark Group
Essay/coursework
3000 word essay
N/A 75 Default
Essay/coursework
Coursework portfolio
N/A 25 Default
Essay/coursework
Composition and commentary
N/A 75 A
Essay/coursework
Coursework portfolio
N/A 25 A

Special assessment rules

None

Additional assessment information

1. A portfolio of short exercises completed during the taught part of the project (25%)

2. EITHER

a) 3000-word essay on a topic to be decided in consultation with the project tutor (75%)

OR

b) 5-minute microtonal composition with short commentary. This must be submitted with a recording (which does not need to be with 'real' instruments). The recording itself will not be assessed, but is required for the purposes of hearing the microtones. The commentary should briefly outline the microtonal approach taken.

Reassessment

Task Length % of module mark Group
Essay/coursework
3000 word essay
N/A 75 Default
Essay/coursework
Coursework portfolio
N/A 25 Default
Essay/coursework
Composition and commentary
N/A 75 A
Essay/coursework
Coursework portfolio
N/A 25 A

Module feedback

Report form with marks to student no later than 4 weeks from submission of assessment.

Indicative reading

TBC



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.