Fernando Laub’s Universes is a fixed-media 8 channel (that has an alternate, stereo mix) piece that is based upon three sets of drawings.  Take a listen to it below, and read the program notes and description at this link.

However, it is not the concept or precise formal structure that I wish to illuminate here.  The prime reason I chose this piece as something we composers can learn from is its symphonic approach to electronic music, particularly in timbre.

As you listen, you will encounter at most a two- or three-part texture.  This can be likened to a Webern or second-Viennese school klangfarbenmelodie.  It also hints at Mahler, with its continuous form and somewhat simple texture.  In this way, it is texturally simple, but timbrally brilliant, as if Fernando is commanding an orchestra through a set of circuits.

To rephrase: the simple texture allows the timbral diversity nestled in this piece to emerge.  From sharp clicks, to lush vowel-like sounds, to very clear music concrete: timbre is the driving force of this piece.  In a more traditional sense, this piece can be likened to a Debussy or Ravel work for orchestra–constantly focused on timbre, effect, and sonority.

What can we learn from this, as composers?

  1. Timbre itself can form the entire basis of a piece.  A piece does not have to preoccupy us with anything other than timbre, if we wish it to be so
  2. With that in mind, timbre unified with structure and texture can be a potent combination.  In the case of this piece, structure provides the timbres used the ability to grow and decay, creating drama.  The simple texture gives the timbres used the ability to be present in the forefront of the listener’s mind
  3. A piece does not have to be texturally complex to be dynamic and engaging.  This piece uses very few layering techniques, yet the sounds as juxtaposed create diversity and draw the listener in, inviting us to guess what sound will appear next, asking us to hold on as the ride goes on
  4. Form can be conceptually defined, but non-repetitive and flowing nonetheless.  A problem with students learning about music is the adherence to musical forms, especially those involving repetition.  It is necessary that students learn Western form and structure in conservatories, but composers who explore these forms once they understand them, as they should explore them, can often get stuck into ruts.  What I mean is that they adhere to “blocks” of form, and repeat with little or no variation (for example, making a rondo ABACA with near-exact elements of A, and clear structural boundaries between each letter).  This piece has a clear, three-part structure from a conceptual level, but continues on seamlessly, as if it has no structure.  In truth, I was unaware of its three-part structure at first listen, before I read the program notes.

Yet, I am wondering what you think of this.  Please respond in the comments, with your thoughts.  I am particularly interested in hearing what you think of its:

  1. Timbral diversity
  2. Through-composed form
  3. Lack of textural complexity
  4. Use of panning (noting that this is a stereo mix)
  5. How the concept is realized in this piece

Let me know!

Happy composing,

Dan