Macquarie University
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Concurrent multiple modalities: a practical and theoretical exploration of polytonal principles through improvisation and composition

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posted on 2023-02-14, 03:59 authored by Mark Lewis

This thesis, which is supported by a creative folio of performances and compositions, reexamines and re-evaluates polytonal principles within a newly framed compositional and improvisational approach that emphasises modal structures and Jazz practice. Though polytonal practice was explored at some length within the Western Art Music tradition during the mid-twentieth century, few of these ideas were adopted or practiced by jazz performers. Consequently, this thesis breaks new ground by presenting a formal compositional approach for the expression of polytonal principles particularly as they impact on modal jazz practices. These principles inspire the exploration of various polytonal scenarios and provide a system for the identification of distinctions between concurrently unfolding tonal centres at a localised level. They also explore the more generalised effect of conglomerate sonority created by the coalescent synchronicity of tonal centres. Ultimately, different combinations of tonal centres are achieved through a range of scenarios leading to a variety of possible polytonal effects.

The selected polytonal scenarios show some of the ways that modal syntax might be used to create or interpret changing relationships between concurrent tonal centres and conglomerate sonorities. Hence, this thesis presents a compositional approach that is based on a theory for concurrent modulation that is designed to syntactically map specific conglomerate and concurrent tonal centre relationships. A further extension of this syntactic theory into the creative practice outcome focuses on the way that performers interpret, extend or expand upon polytonal parameters in the improvisation process over a number of different musical forms and instrument combinations.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Clarifying the creative practice approach and methodological considerations for the project -- 3. Literature review -- 4. Theoretical background: premises and general considerations -- 5. Towards a new polytonal language: mapping tetrachordal and pentatonic concurrencies -- 6. 4DM: a consideration of vertical distance value as a means to understanding polytonal practice in the context of pentatonic musical language -- 7. Changing Light, Water Dance, Dusk -- 8. An analysis of polytonal design and improvisation in ‘Motet’ -- 9. Conclusion: a theoretical construct for concurrent multiple modality -- A: 4DM -- B: Changing Light -- C: Water Dance -- D: Dusk -- E: Motet -- F: Concurrent tetrachord progression types -- Bibliography

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD

Department, Centre or School

Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Andrew Alter


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340 pages

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