Seven Archetypes

For wind quintet


Sometimes music comes from unexpected starting points. When a commission beckons the vocal / instrumental forces and something of the conditions surrounding the performance are usually known. But the ‘idea’ that sparks the actual music is often an unknown and can be very elusive.

When I visited the exhibition Natural Makers at Rochdale’s Touchstones Gallery I did not know I would come away with that ‘idea’.

In Tool Museum by Sharon Adams I found a collection of functionless tools that were part art objects, part remembrances of things and practices of the past. It was unusual and challenging. What caught my attention was that her tools followed seven different archetypal functions or tasks, and it was this classification that I saw might be directed into forming a collection for musical performance. So such a collection would present the classical wind quintet with starting points from which, with my help, they might ‘make’ music.

Extract from Brush

In several recent pieces I have taken words, my own and those of others, as the generative material for composition, most usually in forming the parameter of rhythm. This is quite common and some composers like Hans Werner Henze regularly embedded this approach into their practice. In two particular works, my Quintet for piano and winds (after Mozart’s KV 452) and the string quartet Into the Green Inverted Dawn I used the very letters of poetic texts to generate pitches.

This is more unusual and achieved by mapping alphabetic symbols directly onto a chromatic scale of pitches. A word then can produce not only a fragment of melody, but also a chord, a distinct harmonic object. Conjunctions and connectives provide important moments of repetition that act as a kind of glue between nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs. In fact the very grammar of a sentence can be coloured with particular processes a composer can invent – to act upon words.

Extracts from the opening bars of Hit
and Rake


With Archetypes I created a sequence of poems that would illustrate each task and provide the pitches and rhythms to help ‘make’ the piece. Some of that making required responding to the quality or idea of the task – in matters of tempo or expressive character; whereas Hit is marked ‘flowing but relentless’, Rake is ‘slow and sustained’. But there is more than applying a kind of function machine that takes in the text and outputs a sonic result, even though simple algorithmic procedures are used to form the musical whole.

For the curious performer the poetry might serve as a clue to the expressive character that might belong to each task.  And so the text of each poem is presented below.

In progressing Seven Archetypes I’m particularly indebted to Sharon Adams publication Conversation with Tools available from


Seven Archetypes score [pdf]

Seven Archetypes parts [zip]

Seven Archetypes reference recording [mp3]