Less is More

Less is More

If composers feel that their piece is not quite right, they often rush in to add more and more sounds.

But is that sensible? What if the piece requires greater space and fewer sounds.

Sometimes taking sounds away can be a better compositional choice. Leaving behind only the very best ideas.

How Much Is Too Much?

Knowing how many sounds you should have in a piece can be a difficult thing to judge. It will relate to ideas of timbre/sound quality, density and (dis)order.

Sometimes it is desirable to have a large collection of sounds.

Many Sounds Blend Together

In this clip there is a defined intention to create a highly dense and chaotic sound mass out of many layers of gestural material.

BUT, as we discussed when investigating silence, situations of contrast can often add to the impact of significant events, making them seem even more impressive.

Silence before or after sounds will help them to stand out.

Spaces Allow Sounds to Stand Out

In this clip the sounds are followed by silence. This makes them stand out, while the sounds in the previous example were swallowed up and lost in the crowd of so many sounds.

Change and Stasis

Paradoxically, having many things happen all the time, quickly becomes boring. Even though many things are happening, it becomes the normal state and our brain begins to tune all of the activity out.

Our brains are designed to spot changes and differences and they adapt to ‘tune out’ anything constant.

For example: think about visiting someone who lives near a busy road or railway line. At first you may be very aware of the noise from the traffic on the road and rails, but gradually your ears will zone out and forget them.

Now, because this is the way that our brains work, we can’t simply change it overnight.
But, we can use it to our advantage when thinking about making music with sounds.

Composition Tip

As explored previously, textures often impart the impression of stasis, while gestures give the impression of a clear forward motion.

BUT, if you have too many gestures in too little a space, then you end up creating a texture (listen again to the example above where many voice recordings are combined together).

Contrast in Composition

The contrast between less and more can be highly powerful in music. Both as an idea for structuring pieces, and in terms of creating smaller scale gestures.

This change between moments is the very basis for the dramatic flow of a piece, and thus is very important in making the listener experience the journey of the work.

Therefore, it can be just as important to:

  • Remove sounds
  • Drop sounds in volume
  • Filter and remove portions of sounds

as it can be to add new sounds into a piece.

Minimalism as a Guide

Ideas from Minimalism can be very useful in reigning us in. Minimalism can help us to create works that explore and develop our compositional ideas to their fullest extent.

By fully developing and exploring only a few ideas, it is possible to create the best and most coherent pieces. Works that constantly introduce new ideas soon become confusing and boring. The constant change quickly becomes a static, boring pattern.

“To focus on a one good idea is often more better than using a collection of many average ideas.”

Composition Tip

Simple boundaries can help you to focus your composition process, and encourage you to develop ideas and material to the fullest extent:

  • Limit yourself to using only a select number of original sounds.
  • Limit yourself to using only a few types of manipulation.
  • Make a piece that uses sounds only from a specific location or activity.
  • Focus and fully develop one simple compositional idea.
Lesson Content