Utter notes

Utter is the result of setting a challenge to overcome my natural inclination to work in the 3-6 minute length range, and write my first “long” piece. While I have previously grouped multiple pieces to create longer arcs, I find it daunting to sustain a musical idea much beyond a few minutes. A big part of the challenge is having something meaningful to say, justifying the prolonged utterance.

The piece folds together a couple musical ideas that require a certain duration to work through. Despite the ideal of a grand, continuously evolving piece, Utter consists of movements that are each roughly in the 3-6 minute range, suggesting an inherent limit to my attention span.

The musical style is grounded in mid-16th century polyphony. Throughout, the characteristic modal counterpoint and rhythmic textures maintain a strong presence, sometimes overlaid with non-historical elements.

The first movement opens with a short duet in E dorian, consisting of three breath-length phrases, with the third moving a tone higher to F#. Following the initial duet, two new voices enter, pitched down a fifth and at 1/2 tempo, and continue in canon. Next, another pair of voices enter and repeat the duet, down a further fifth, and at 1/4 the initial tempo. The resulting 6 part mensural canon ends where it began, on E. The structure of the first movement provides a model for the piece overall:

  • the seed material, with its single step up
  • augmenting (then contracting) note lengths
  • transposition down a fifth between sections
  • return to initial starting pitch

The subsequent movements expand on the procedure within the first, based on the features mentioned above. However, there is variation in their treatment: in some movements, individual seed phrases are repeated and grouped into new forms. Overall, movements 2 – 4 present the opening features at progressively larger scales.

Movement 5 further extends the previous pattern of augmentation and transposition: the seed theme starts on G and moves in double whole notes. Utter is organized in a chiastic structure, with Movement 5 at the mid-point. Movements 6-8 reverse the pattern of augmentation presented in 2-4, while continuing the progressive transposition down a fifth.

Movement pairs 2/8, 3/7, and 4/6 loosely share traits, including style, texture, tempo, while the final movement is a repeat of the first, aligned with the return to the initial mode. Utter‘s arc through the chiastic form can be seen as an orbit outward and back, with suggestions of recursion at micro and macro levels.

  • Movement 1
    • Movement 2
      • Movement 3
        • Movement 4
          • Movement 5
        • Movement 6
      • Movement 7
    • Movement 8
  • Movement 9


Movement  Pulse  Start mode  Ending note  
1 Quarter note   E E
2 Quarter note   E F#
3 Half note A B
4 Whole note D E
5 Breve   G A
6 Whole note C# D#
7 Half note F# G#
8 Dotted eighth  B C#
9 Quarter note E E