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Double Bar Line

Double bar line! The Encount3rs commission from the National Arts Centre Orchestra is complete. My resulting work, Phi, is 30 minutes in length, scored for full orchestra with electronics used in the final movement. The score is now in the hands of choreographer Jean Grand Maitre.

Perhaps the most amazingly unusual aspect of this commission is NACO’s commitment to giving the artists their very best shot at success. All three composers involved in the event were given two full orchestral rehearsals, spaced out by several months, before settling on a final score. In my experience, this kind of commitment totally unheard of, probably due to cost and time commitments. Lets face it, contemporary music is not exactly known for lucrative ticket sales. NACO’s new focus on creation is remarkable and we will all revel in the wonderful art that results.

As I have written in my previous NACO Creative Blogs, I have immensely enjoyed composing the ballet, and while my work is done, I look forward to the adventure of seeing the ballet come together with video, lighting, and choreography. Since sending the final score and parts, I have been thinking about these double bar line moments, the end of the composition process, and how it compares to other teleological goals in life.

It is hard to define ‘the end’ of the composition process. When someone declares #doublebarline, it might mean: the end of the major creative decisions, the end of score preparations, the end of making individual parts, or the end of the final edit. Perhaps the end is when the piece finally comes alive in performance, leaving the imagined world into the real world witnessed by peers and audience alike. Whatever it means, the double bar line is an event that we composers often see celebrated:



But of course, it is worth reflecting that the purpose of composing music is not to get to the end. It is not, at least for me or anyone I know, some unpleasant process to be endured for promise of an end. I must admit the most joy and pleasure to be found is in the process, not necessarily the end. Sure there is a satisfaction knowing that you met a deadline, and a sense of professional security knowing you can move on to the next commission on time (my teacher Gary Kulesha once told me if you can a) deliver a score on time, and b) not embarrass anyone, you can be a successful composer). Perhaps the end is the moment when the work can be shared. But it is simply one moment, the last moment, on the creative journey. After all, who reads books to get to the end? Who works to get to retirement, goes to school to just to graduate, or goes on a trip just to get home again? It is the journey that must be savoured, because, after all,  every piece ends the same way and all double bar lines sound the same. As a composer I try to be mindful of this and remember that the joy of creation is not a finish line to reach for. 

I leave you with British philosopher Alan Watts, speaking of ends, music, and life:






For more blogs about the composition of my ballet, visit:,

I love to write in the morning.

I love to write in the morning. Today, after 3 days off (I never write on weekends) I began with a review of the fragments I have on the go so far: three movements, working titles 1> Rex, 2> Man/MachiNE 3> Return to Eden. About a month ago, I had written a canon-based chorale , intended for the last movement. It came out in a mighty burst, which happens sometimes. Today I returned to it and experienced another cloudburst of creativity, and in two hours I was able to sketch out a loose form of the whole movement. This is at odds with the daily ‘grind’ and snails pace at which the 2nd movement is going, where I have been concentrating most of my daily efforts. Day by day: write 12 measures, delete 11 measures. Both kinds of writing are important, but I must confess that while I count on the daily rituals,  I live for the cloudburst. There is nothing like the feeling of music that appears to write itself.  It is a total rush – like the whole earth is vibrating just right to make the sounds, totally in the moment.  Above all I seek clarity and presence. And nothing nothing says ‘be here now’ quite like a FFF brass tutti on a unison. This pitch, this moment, this place. #nacoballet2017    

from the sketchpad:


Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 11.18.08 AM


A ballet inspired by the wonderful magic of Phi

Jean Grand-Maitre and I are creating a 30 minute ballet inspired by the wonderful magic of Phi. It has long been used overtly as a device, used most notably my Bartok, Webern, Nono, and even Debussy. Most uses I have observed and read about use phi as a formal or rhythmic device. I myself have used phi as a catalyst and inspiration, in my doctoral thesis St Croix, and in Talking Down the Tiger.  In this piece, I wanted to explore phi melodically and harmonically. After several weeks of research, I was very pleased with the results:


This is a matrix I created using phi. It is the amalgam of 2 smaller melodies (AKA hexachords), shown here. IMG_0683

Interesting facts on PHI: any 10 consecutive fibonacci numbers added up will give a sum which is divisible by 11 (and the 7th number of any 10 consecutive numbers, if multiplied by 11, will give the sum of those same 10 numbers!). I Thank Mario Livio for this insight, in his wonderful book “The Golden Ratio”

This is particularly interesting to me as I had inadvertently created an 11 note ‘row’ (much like a 12 tone row used by serialists). Interestingly, the missing pitch is the tritone, the most dissonant interval. This happened quite by chance. Using 1 and the pitch C, Db is 2, D is 3, and so on. As one proceeds this way in either an upward or downward direction, the pitch F# does not appear for quite some time (at least until the 30th number in the series. Eventually it probably appears, but I have yet to test it beyond the 1st 30 numbers).

Here is the melody derived using Fibonacci numbers, going up and down in alternation: IMG_0684