PhD Application Composition Portfolio

Portfolio of Compositions & Writing Sample

Please find my Portfolio of Compositions below. Each work includes instrumental forces, duration, a detailed note of the composition, recordings, and where applicable a score. 

Composition 1: Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast – for Brass Quintet – 15 Minutes.

Composition Details: This piece was composed for the first Stockholm Chamber Brass Composition Academy, in 2018, and was premiered in Leksand, Sweden, by Wayward Brass, an Australian Brass Quintet with whom I collaborated with on the theatrical elements. The work is based on and utilises the entirety of the text of Oscar Wilde’s book of the same name that offers witty, comic, dark, serious, silly, and frivolous musings. The work was a response to the politics surrounding Brexit, which inspired marching, the pseudo-political sonic environment of section K, and the reference to Rule Britannia played only through mouthpieces at section L. The swift musical shifts from jovial tonality to grungy atonality reflect both the very nature of Wilde’s text and the political farce of Brexit, whilst also offering similar musical commentaries that the text also alludes to with regards to Imperialist agendas.

Composition 2: sensorium organum – fixed media – 4 Minutes. 

Composition Details: sensorium organum was inspired by an installation of 43 organ pipes of various sizes that were on show in the Zilkha Gallery as part of Audible Bacillus in 2019. In interfacing with the possibilities of sound from organ pipes, in their raw, broken, and conventional forms, this work explores the relationships and intersections of longer lines of sustain, drone, and sonic massing, whilst also exploring microtonal materials as a result of thinking about the physical qualities of broken pipes, and how organs struggle to stay ‘in-tune’ because of humidity, dryness, and other environmental shifts.   

The materials of sensorium organum were composed using the Supercollider programming language and environment, focusing on generative approaches to creating sound, filters, envelope generators, and patterns. The overall structure of the composition was decided in Adobe Audition with added elements of automation, and mixing. 

Composition 3: YO-BONG! – for Solo, Duo, or Trio – Open Duration 

Composition Details: This piece is inspired by my time performing, rehearsing, and being in dialogue with Karen Xu, first a student, and then a friend, who I met during my time at Wesleyan University. During the first part of the Spring semester 2020, as part of the Advanced Gamelan class I encouraged Karen to play the bonang barung part in a piece called Boyong, and she agreed! I played gendèr for this, and we both ended up with insanely difficult parts, and spent lots of time in rehearsal together, often outside of class. During one of the rehearsals Karen asked me whether I thought it was necessary to have an extensive knowledge of Western Music Theory in order to successfully compose music, and this piece was a gift to Karen in response to that question.  

The title of this work is a playful reworking of the title of the work we were rehearsing, Boyong. In Gamelan, there are two tunings, pelog, and slendro. Pelog has 7 individual pitches, that are unequally spaced, and pelog has 5, that are equally spaced. This piece explores the idea of choosing 7 notes from whatever tuning system the performer desires and utilising them in the realisation of the scores that follow.

A working knowledge of the nature of Gamelan Kepatihan is ideal.

Composition 4: Futurisma Phantasmagaia – for Reed Quintet – 12-18 Minutes

Composition Details: Futurisma Phantasmagaia is a work composed for Splinter Reeds for their residency at Wesleyan University, November 2019.It consists of nine short miniatures that have nine corresponding hyper-real photographs that I also created, the culmination of an activity I started after seeing the yellow and blue underground trains of Montreal in 2013. 

The title of the work comes from the idea of fusing futurism, with ‘phantasmagoria’, a way of projecting images into a space with varied effects of illusion, and Gaia, which is the name of the earth – so in a sense, this is a projected possible future of our earth, or maybe another earth, or maybe an entirely different timeline all together.

When asked to write for reed quintet, a question and challenge arose – how to balance, use, and compose for a set of instruments that have such individual and unique qualities in timbre, tone, and versatility. The answer, for me, sat within the realm of allowing individual lines to contribute in their uniqueness to a mass totality of sound. 

Thank you for taking the time to engage with my application materials, I look forward to hopefully continue this conversation!

Max Gibson