War of the Worlds

wotwtnI am fortunate to have as a friend the composer Eric Craven. He encourages my efforts, and doesn’t mind at all that a person with very little musical training is performing his music. Eric’s “non-prescriptive” compositions allow the performer a very significant degree of freedom to interpret the composer’s intentions, so they are ideal for someone like me.

Eric suggested that I should revisit “TWELVE” – my first realisation of a non-prescriptive composition in early 2013. I now have more sophisticated tools and instruments available, and  I agreed that it would be interesting to compare…

(My recommendation is to hear this piece reproduced at high volume using a system which can do justice to the lower frequencies).

If you are curious enough to want to know the details of how I work, the please go here: War Of the Worlds Deconstructed

“War of The Worlds” – A Symphonic Poem -Feb 2014

(16 minutes)

War of the Worlds: Deconstructed

Although I now have at my disposal relatively advanced tools (Reaper Digital Audio Workstation for PC), my methodology for realising non-prescriptive music remains much the same as when I was using Caustic on the Android tablet . There are a number of aspects to the method, outlined below:

Pattern Identification

I visually examine the original manuscript, looking for what I call “patterns”.

A pattern can be any group of datum points that visually seem to form a natural subset of the whole. A pattern can occur anywhere in the data. Having identified a pattern, I usually “realise” that pattern before going back to the manuscript to find more patterns.

Pattern 1

From the manuscript of “TWELVE”, the first six notes immediately caught my attention.

Pattern Translation

Translating the provided data into MIDI events can involve a variety of methods.

The simplest translation method involves the pattern being transcribed quite faithfully, introducing no alteration of the sequence of pitches, and using each pitch exactly once at the designated octave.

Pattern 1 as MIDI Events

The only degrees of freedom in this scenario are the velocity with which the event is sounded, and the duration of each event.

For Pattern 1, I decided that the lower pitch would be a sustained “drone” sound, with the other pitches occurring in a regular, step-wise set of short events.

Pattern Voicing

This stage involves the selection of suitable instruments and effects to create a particular sound that is going to render the pattern. This is a very much an “exploratory” process. I may be looking for a sound that is in some way suggested by the pattern itself, or I may be looking to choose one sound from a “palette” of sounds that I have found by randomly exploring the instruments.

In this case, I had in mind the chosen subject matter “War of The Worlds”, and so went in search of suitably science-fiction type sounds. The instrument “Alionoctis” is a VST synthesizer by HG Fortune, which has some highly appropriate pads and textures. I selected the preset called “Eights Parallel Worlds”.

This sound is designed to “evolve” – the longer you hold down the key, the more interesting the sound gets – so it is just right for this pattern with its sustained lower pitch.

Apart from applying a Volume envelope, no other effects are necessary with this very rich pad.

So Pattern 1 sounds like this:

This became the core “theme” of the Martians themselves, which aurally forms the foundation of the whole piece.

A similar method was used for the majority of the piece, including Pattern 15, which was intended to be the sound of the Martians communicating with one another.

This sequence of pitches is Pattern 15 from the original manuscript.

Pattern 15
Pattern 15

(This view is very much condensed from the original – I have removed spacing between the pitch indicators simply to be able to represent the entire pattern “at a glance”.)

The translation method in this case was more “loose” – but still well within the rules of non-prescription. I  freely altered some pitches by octaves. I also set differing initial event durations, and used a software “humanise” function to introduce small random changes to the event duration, velocity and timing.

The resulting MIDI events look like this:

Pattern 15 MIDI Events
Pattern 15 MIDI Events

The sound of the aliens speaking was designed based upon the Sonata VST synthesizer, preset “49: key string”. To this I added a sweeping low pass filter, and a delay/chorus effect.

The resulting realisation sounds like this:


Assembling the piece in the sequence editor often begins before all patterns have been identified and voiced, so the basic structure of the piece is evolving simultaneously with the pattern realisation. The image below shows a view of the work almost complete.

The location of a pattern in the original manuscript is naturally referenced in a western European manner (i.e. left to right, and top down) but there is no strict relationship to its location in the finished piece. A pattern of pitches from the centre of the manuscript may well end up at the start, or at the end of the overall sequence. I believe this is “within the rules” of non-prescription.


In the view above, I have placed most of the patterns, set “repeat” loops and cross-fades and applied envelopes for volume/depth/pan and envelopes for other effects such as frequency filters (shown here in green and purple).

Finishing Touches

I added some recorded sound as an “embellishment” – in this case, two snippets of a human voice – but with the pitch lowered such that it became barely recognizable, with only the vague rhythm of human speech left intact from the original recording.

Finally of course comes the mastering – many iterations of listening to and adjusting sound levels and effects until it “feels” right!


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