A Colorful Composition
Earlier this year I built a song.
It came about as a final project for my improvisation and composition course during the waning weeks of freshman year. The goal was to take the four colors: red, yellow, blue, green; along with four basic movements derived from the ideas of cross crawling, or kinesthetic neurological repatterning, a physical therapy exercise designed to restore and enhance motor skills and the balance and coordination between both hemispheres of the brain.
From there, we were asked to develop three new variations based on the simple model described above. The vague instructions left many of us befuddled, although, I’m sure this was the intent. We were forced to think outside of the box. So what was the first thing I did?
I made a box.
Step 1: Building the Layers
To create my fugue, I utilized a repeating Red-Yellow-Blue-Green fractal-geomatric system which I’ve translated into a model that can be seen below.
The first layer (which I identify as RED) is the simple R-Y-B-G box, counting from the top left to the bottom right in a Z formation (1–2–3–4). RED has one grouping for a total of four values.
The second layer (YELLOW) is comprised of both the initial layer RED, plus three variants on RED to follow. In terms of YELLOW, the top left quartile is called Yred, the top right is Yyellow, the bottom left is Yblue, and the bottom right is Ygreen. Each variant occurs as both a spatial translation as well as a 90-degree wheel-like rotation of the layer’s preceding orientation in sequence. The translation will occur in a Z pattern, so Yred-Yyellow, Yyellow-Yblue, then Yblue-Ygreen. The numbers/colors will always rotate in a clockwise direction. So, Yyellow is a quarter clockwise turn of Yred’s configuration, while Yblue is simply that of Yyellows configuration, and Ygreen is of course that of Yblue’s configuration. YELLOW has four groupings for a total of sixteen values.
BLUE is the next layer, which is created in the same way as YELLOW, except now YELLOW is in terms of B. Bred rotates and shifts right to the Byellow quartile, Byellow rotates and shifts diagonally down to the Bblue quartile, and Bblue rotates and shifts right to the Bgreen quartile. BLUE has sixteen groupings for a total of sixty-four values.
GREEN follows suit with its inner-lying systems, creating an exponentially larger grid with the aforementioned variants on BLUE. GREEN has sixty-four groupings for a total of two-hundred fifty-six values.
Step 2: Giving the System a Song
This system of intertwined layers is converted to a set of musical phrases by giving each color a unique musical note, which is then played back in an even rhythm and a 4/4 time signature.
Numbers/colors and notes are mutually inclusive, for example if I choose the note C to represent number 1 (the color Red), from now on every time the model calls for a Red 1, the note C will be played; a Yellow 2, the note E minor will be played; and so on. This means the entire piece will be composed of just four notes altogether. I find it helps to have the note pitch correspond to the number value with which it is associated. A higher number denotes a higher pitched note.
RED, as a musical phrase, is played in the same 1–2–3–4 or “Z” pattern as its grouping. Every grouping from now on will be read in this way. You can think of groupings as bars, and values as the individual notes within that bar.
The phrase drawn from YELLOW will begin with Yred then continue with its variations in the same manner as RED. BLUE’s phrase begins with Bred (which is also both RED as well as YELLOW). GREEN’s phrase begins with Gred (which contains RED, YELLOW, and BLUE). BLUE will finish with the completion of every grouping within Ggreen.
Now we have four separate phrases. RED is 1 bar of 4 notes, BLUE is 4 bars of 16 notes, GREEN is 16 bars of 64 notes, and GREEN is 64 bars of 256 notes.
Next, each phrase is transferred to four separate tracks. Each track will contain all the occurrences of a note within its respective phrase. This means that when all four layers of a phrase are played simultaneously, the phrase will emerge. The layers contain the individual note patterns, so they will also correspond not only to a single note, but also to a number as well as a color. For instance, the layer Rr will play every occurrence of the note described by Red/1 in the phrase of RED, and he layer Gb will play every occurrence of the note described by Green/4 in the phrase of Green.
In order to create more dimension in the phrasing, I spaced out the occurrence frequency of each layer based on its quadrilateral position. Rr, Yr, Br, and Gr are base, so they remain the same length of their respective phrase. Ry, Yy, By, and Gy will become twice the length of their base layer, and the phrases will only play once for every two times the first layer plays (in the second half of that space). Rb, Yb, Bb, and Gb become twice the length of their previous layer, or four times the length of their base layer, and the phrases will only play once for every four times the base is played (in the third quarter of that space in time). The remaining layers will follow suit, with each phrase’s layers increasing in length exponential to that of the base layer, and only playing in the position that corresponds to its 1–2–3–4 rank.
Now we have sixteen unique tracks with information about the notes, note patterns, and frequency in a given measure that is proportional to its original length, all informed by the simple system of Red-Yellow-Blue-Green.
Step 3: Arrangement and Other Possibilities
To add some tonal depth, I decided to have each phrase (comprised of 4 layers) occupy a specific octave. RED-C1, YELLOW-C2, BLUE-C3, and GREEN-C4. This means that rhythm complexity and variation will be directly proportional to note frequency.
As for additional layers of manipulation, countless unique variations can be achieved by arranging and rearranging the starting points of these sixteen different tracks by following the RYBG model as a guide. The possibilities are manifold.
In my particluar composition, I chose to initiate with Rr, Yy, Bb, and Gg, then introduce another four layers every 64 bars that follow the YELLOW model (and I decided to rotate it counterclockwise this time; I.e Ry, Yg, Br, and Gb). This continued every 64 bars, pausing with a 64 bar break after 256 consecutive bars, then continuing in the same manner but rotating the opposite way for a variation on the first section. This produced quite an interesting layering effect which features a variety of distinct and surprising counterpoint rhythms throughout.
I plan on writing here on Medium a lot more in the future. Go ahead and follow if you’re interested in any of what my future self will have to say!