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Striking a Balance: finding equilibrium between science and poetics in composition



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Bloom, Darren 


This thesis takes the form of a portfolio of five instrumental compositions inspired by science, along with a commentary detailing technical aspects of the compositions and poetic and contextual backgrounds to their inception. The portfolio comprises the following works: Dr Glaser’s Experiment, a chamber symphony for 19 players, Five Brief Lessons on Physics, a string quartet, New Eyes for large orchestra, A Dance of Diatoms for 10 strings, and The Solar System does not play well-tempered for solo bass clarinet.

Composed over a period of five years, the compositions chart a journey of interactions with scientific stimuli and investigations with scientists that lead from an initially impressionistic relationship with the science to one in which the technical fabric of the music is interwoven with data derived from scientific sources. Through the commentary I show how this progression changes the nature, and perhaps even the style, of my output. However, I also reflect upon how these changes catalyse a competing interest in arresting a waning of the poetic side of my music. If one is to imagine a spectrum where on one side exists Holst’s The Planets with its predominance of mythological influences over the limited science of the time, and on the other side the pure ‘hands-off’ sonification of data, this portfolio represents a narrative of my effort to find an artistic balancing point along such a spectrum.

In the commentary on each piece, I also assess my approaches to organising pitch material, specifically: a conflict in between my 'pitch wedge' technique, where intervals expand exponentially from a moveable focal point, and an increasing interest in spectrally influenced microtonality. Ultimately, I show that these opposing harmonic systems can successfully coexist within my music through juxtaposition, and in limited cases, superimposition. However, I acknowledge that the bass register, whether approached in a spectral manner or not, has a predominance over the registers above, and that the ‘pitch wedge’ is of more use as a system from which to derive harmonic and melodic materials, rather than as a governing principle for how the music is to be heard.





Causton, Richard


Chamber Music, Contemporary Music, Music, Music and Astronomy, Music and Physics, Music and Science, Music Composition, New Music, Orchestral Music


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (1650295)
AHRC (1650295)