Academic Interests

My research interests have primarily stemmed from tunings used on violones and bass instruments from the renaissance through the late classical period.  As a result of these investigations, I have implemented various facets of these early tunings in original compositions in order to not only create a more unique harmonic foundation for an instrument, but to implement historical principals that have been abandoned in contemporary performance practice.  My curiosity for tuning stemmed from prior performances of classical works in standard fourths-tuning that were originally conceived for Viennese tuning.  This interest in historical performance practice and the significant benefits I observed playing these works in their original tuning unintentionally made me question the validity of the modern fourths-tuned bass.  As a consequence, I dedicated my master’s research to the study of multiple historic tunings that have gained resurgence in the 21st century.  While this research led to several important observations, one recurring insight was that each tuning has different strengths and weaknesses.   While I tended to prefer some to others, no tuning materialised that outperformed another in all situations.

At the outset of my PhD research, after developing a proficient insight into the implications of historic tunings from my master’s research, I realised these skills could allow me to create novel works for string instruments that could escape the technical restrictions produced by a standard tuning.  My hypothesis was that by using more eclectic scordaturas, I could compose more harmonically adventurous music without jeopardising the playability of a piece.  Rather than focus solely on scordatura, I allowed this subject to be the impetus for further exploration based on various discoveries, problems, and observations. This expanded my research focus to include topics affected by scordatura, such as notation, performance practice, tuning range, timbre and approaches to notation, which were examined within a historical context.

Furthermore, an attempt to devise a methodical system to use scordatura in a transcription process led to the development of two new inventions: scordatura pedals and extension pedals, of which the former is patent pending.[1]  Both inventions use a mechanical pedal that allows an individual string to be retuned or lengthened.  This created a number of additional tuning possibilities.  The system allows a player to access all of the open string and harmonics of the two most popular modern bass tunings and triples the number of open strings and natural harmonics on the instrument, which allows for the composition of more novel bass passages.

Beyond the physical execution of scordatura, my research investigated how scordatura can influence composition techniques.  This led to the development of a compositions process, which is devoid of any scordatura but is conceptualised from its use.  This process modifies harmonic material by transforming various pitches in a work. This process, called periodic interval displacement, is very beneficial for transforming musical material. One of its advantages is that it can be implemented with string and non-string instruments alike.  Additionally, periodic interval displacement is not bound by the physical constraints of scordatura, such as the range a string can be raised, and is merely a method for developing harmonic material.  From its use, passages can be transformed in various ways and can be applied to any amount of material.  Depending on the way it is implemented, certain traits of the original material may still be perceived, but this is solely dependent on the composer’s implementation of the process. 

Impact & Research Originality

There have been many discoveries from my research that have contributed to contemporary musical thought.  Since much of my work looks to history and reinvents these concepts in a modern context, my research has an impact on current musical trends while still being rooted in historic methodology.  Other elements of my work, such as scordatura pedals, have the potential to change double bass pedagogy and significantly enhance the characteristics of the instrument.  This can be attested to in recent compositions that highlight the instrument, such as Little Book of Musings (song cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble) and Laniakea (concerto for double bass).  The result of this research led to the development of a new composition method, periodic interval displacement (PID), which is novel in its approach as a result of its application to pre-existent music passages (conceptualised from scordatura).  While similar in result to other techniques, such as the rotational array method used by composers from Stravinsky to Oliver Knussen,[2] the necessity of having pre-existing music makes periodic interval displacement as much of a transformation method as a composition technique.  This has allowed me to incorporate material from other composers into my work in an original way.  Notable examples include Palestrina’s motet Accepit Iesus calicem in my bass concerto Laniakea.  


 Fig. 1: Bars 1-7 of Palestrina’s motet Accepit Iesus calicem [3]

 Fig. 2: Bars 158-164 from Laniakea (select instruments)

A notable trait in my current composition output has been to use historic music in this manner (see Fig 1 & 2) in order to reappropriate its intrinsic qualities into a modern context, consequently reinforcing historic musical values while producing compelling contemporary music.

[1] United States Non-Provisional Utility Patent Application Number 14/174,060.

[2]  Julian Anderson, ‘Harmonic Practices in Oliver Knussen's Music since 1988: Part I’, Tempo, 3/221 (2002), 2-13.

[3]  Palestrina, Pierluigi da, Pierluigi da Palestrina’s Werke, Inhalt 25, Accepit Iesus calicem. (Leipzig:   Breitkopf & Härtel, 1882). 123.