This next post features the overarching framework and processes involved in Steven Maheu’s conceptualization of music and the process of composition.  Future posts will include exercises in this method, to “feed off” this large concept.

To begin, please review this image:


To begin, we see 3 primary dimensions:

Mechanics (mechanical progressions) are the “matter/physics” in this creative universe.  They are the elements of creating music and defining how that music exists in aural space.  One sees there are four categories, each with two extremes:

  1. Energy: weak or strong
  2. Space: vague or defined
  3. Flow: free or restricted
  4. Time: continuous or discrete

We can plot these 4 axes and their extremes on an eight-line, circular array.  Here we visualize these extremes, using the color green to define that we are using Mechanics.

Steven uses blue to define that we are using Progressions, when using his notation.  Progressions are the dimensions and flow of the music – the space and time of this notational universe.  Here our four elements are:

  1. Rising or sinking
  2. Growing or shrinking
  3. Advancing or retreating
  4. Spreading or enclosing

Like Mechanics, Progressions can be arrayed on 4 axes with 8 extremes.  This is a powerful visualization tool for those of us who are visual learners.

Steven’s last primary dimension and set of elements is Emotions.  This is based on the belief that music is inherently tied to emotion.  If you recall my previous post on Steven’s method, it is noticeable that his research sources did not include Emotions as a dimension or element.  This is an important gap that Steven fills in.

Steven uses 4 primary emotion extremes to describe his method:

  1. Happiness or sadness
  2. Adoration or repulsion
  3. Confidence or fear
  4. Peace or anger

While some may argue that music may be emotionless, I concur with Steven that there is always a presence of emotion in music, because of the human element in creating music.  For example, when notating a piece in a sequencer, we oftentimes say that quantized music is “mechanical”, “fake”, “rigid”, or “robotic”.  We, as human listeners, need human elements to identify and understand the music presented to us.  As humans are inextricably tied to emotion, it is a natural conclusion that all music is deeply tied to emotion, in the compositional or listening process (or both!).

So, what do these 3 dimensions/elements mean?  How does one use them?

One may notice that each extreme on each axis is numbered.  In future posts we will describe how to use these numbers and their colors to notate music, without the traditional guises of notation.  For examples of what the end product will be (but noting that we have not discussed all of the creative elements in this series yet), look to the Formulas section of the image.

In addition, Steven notes “for each of the dimensions, I would say they can exist to the composer in both aural interpretation and physical manipulation of the instrument itself. In other words to ‘play’ the instrument with an elemental quality like strong energy or anger or continuous or restricted flow.”

He goes on to note, regarding Progressions: “Progressions can exist as scales, arpeggios or circular melodies as well as processed effects like frequency or oscillator modulation,” and “progressions can be modulations in volume too (advancing, retreating)”.

The next post will be an exercise in these 3 main dimensions/elements.

I’m excited to share the rest of this method with you; please keep on the lookout for continued posts in this series!

Happy composing,