[r-t] New plan

Mark Davies mark at snowtiger.net
Sun Dec 27 00:00:49 UTC 2009

Ander writes,

 > Is it time to consider establishing some standard metrics for
 > music distribution?
 > Has anyone tried computer searches for the best composition
 > according to "distributional" criteria?

This is a good idea. Most of my recent compositional effort has been 
focused on exactly this: getting the music nicely distributed throughout 
the peal. It seems to me there are three main things you want:

1. To avoid long "bad patches". Even if your peal contains a lot of 
music, it can be spoiled if this is concentrated in one part, with 
swathes of rubbish elsewhere. Music should be distributed throughout the 
composition. The "no duffers" concept is the beginnings of a way to 
measure this, but as Ander implies is not sufficient.

2. To mix different music types. Finishing with three Homes is dull, 
because the music is too samey; similarly, I don't much like cyclic 
compositions where the same cyclic runs appear in each part. Much better 
to have different types of music continually mixed up throughout the 
composition. This is harder to measure by machine.

3. The right music at the right time. I'm a firm believer that peals 
should be paced nicely, with music placed where it will be appreciated 
most. Stabilising courses at the beginning are good - surely only a 
computer would put the one tenors-split course in a peal at the start. 
Conversely, I sometimes like to put the plain course in the middle of a 
peal. It's usually the most musical course - put it somewhere where the 
ringing is likely to be at its best. Structural concerns come in here, 
too; for instance, I think it is lovely when the first part of a peal 
presages some music, which will return in a later part in a different 
variation, or extended to greater heights. That sort of thing is, to me, 
the hallmark of a truly exceptional peal.

There is no metric which can encapsulate the third rule, which is why I 
think the eye of a human composer is so important. But that's not to say 
we oughtn't to put some effort in to measure rules 1 and maybe 2.

The way I currently work, to try and produce compositions which follow 
these rules, is something like this:

a) I'll start on paper, looking for short blocks which pack in the music 
I like. I might use the computer to help generate these blocks, too, but 
it's very much a manual assessment process: have I got the beginnings of 
the music I want, threaded together in an efficient way.

b) Next I'll try to link the blocks up, directly into a peal length if I 
can; into large blocks if a more complex, staged approach is required. 
Machine-linking of blocks is good, and will highlight the best ways of 
linking them in terms of absolute music counts.

c) But, absolutely music counts are no use on their own. Many of the 
machine-generated linkages will be sub-optimal with respect to the Rules 
above. So lots of hand-sifting goes on here, to identify the 
compositions that have the best mix and positioning of musical sections.

d) Often a given set of blocks cannot be linked nicely, so at any point 
I might need to head back to the drawing board (stage a) to look for 
other possibilities.

e) Finally, when publishing the finished composition(s), I will try and 
describe in words what I feel I have achieved. There aren't currently 
any good ways of measuring rules 2 and 3, so a description of how 
closely I've matched them is the best I can do.


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