The beginnings of starting a new composition are always extremely challenging. Each new work, unavoidably, is the subject of fitting into the canons of the past and creates a dialogue with the legacy of the music that has already been written in that manner. Even if the musical language is innovative, or the artwork unusually expands the compositional practice, still, the process applies. Wanting or not, one automatically compares newly written work for the string quartet to the other existing works of this kind he/she has previously heard. It is not only dictated by the need for judgment or comparison in the music oeuvre. It is simply the need to categorize and refer the subjects to the familiar corresponding backgrounds and enlarging the scenery of the known context in art. However, I am not postulating to fit the musical artworks based on one set of criteria; it would personally seem inappropriate, impoverishing, and myopic, especially by being a composer myself, to treat music so short-sightedly. The beauty of mature growth inside the art world is that under the certain experience and cognition of new works, criteria of judgment classification and comprehension of contemporary works evolve, expand, and the subjective borders of categorization of works get continuously redesigned for each listener.  


Stagṓn for guitar, which I worked on between January and April 2020, was created in the described above manner but had an additional story to its creation. For many years, I faced the bizarre fright of writing a piece for classical guitar. I reckon that it is connected to the way I perceive music and arrange the harmonic relations. As a trained pianist, I seem to look at musical networks harmonically-horizontally. It is familiar and somehow imprinted in my compositional nature since childhood when I started to play the piano. This relation to perceiving networks of sounds seems secure but becomes an obstacle while working with the instrument that produces sound quite differently. As a part of training in classical composition at the university, future composers are being acquainted with the art of orchestration and instrumentation, to be free, independent, and flexible in writing or arranging music for all possible instruments. To my astonishment, after so many years after graduation, I realized that the guitar was practically never a subject of the orchestration class and rarely discussed, notwithstanding its often implementation in contemporary music settings since the last century representatively. What follows is uncertainty and insufficient knowledge and flexibility in producing the music for this instrument. It is accurate what Seth F. Josel and Ming Tsao underline in "The Techniques of Guitar Playing", that writing for guitar brings a hassle, for the composers "must be aware of the rich variety of sounds that the guitar itself can produce" and "must be able to notate an array of such techniques so that the performer can properly interpret them". The comfort of creating a new piece with the participation of the performer is not a standard. Usually, the composers need to undergo this challenge alone, with the support of instrumentation books and study of dedicated literature and scores only. 


My story with Stagṓn followed precisely the same way. Fortunately, I had a chance to access the instrument while composing my work and experiment with its unfamiliar for me, nature. My husband's advice and guidance, a composer with a B.A. in classical guitar, who stopped performing years ago, was still a life-saver and helped overcome many technical insecurities. 


Micromelodies. Grasping the ears.


Composition Stagṓn for guitar requires retuning of the instrument within freely interpreted just intonation canons. It explores the micropolyphony of tightly composed motivic structures, their reception in space, and the resonance's functioning in retuned reinvented guitar resonance space. The idea, originating from a concept of a drop being a part of the whole, resonates the most heavily by constructing the micro polyphonic opening material, where E 3/4 flattened on the highest E string and D sharp on B string lead a dialogue. The counterpoint in the other strings heavily plucking the pitches surrounding the harmonic distances between D - E through the octaves, enlarges the landscape and resonating chord structure in this fragment. The material triggers the microintervallic perception of melodic patterns and introduces a new interplay order between closely arranged pitch constructions. I thought of sustaining a certain continuity of the action that could resemble the passage's mantra character, especially by the irregularly introduced rhythmic dependencies between the pitches.    

The creation of microintervallic melodies does not impact dissonant attitude in my compositional practice. I find microtones freeing and introducing the elusive but still present forms of hearing that are rarely in practice for most classical music listeners. The close relations of pitches bring new connections and sharpen the cognition of the tiniest distances between them. They present an intriguing catalog of possibilities and musical passages to explore. The terminology of consonance and dissonance developed through the centuries of western music theory introduces a rigorous division between perceiving one sound as pleasant and the others as unpleasant. Of course, it is one possible way of interpreting the pitches, developed by a certain musical practice and a certain type of listening characteristics. However, it feels quite discriminatory towards the vast majority of "humankind's general ear perception" regarding all continents with existing musical cultures and traditions, where perceiving consonance and dissonance is different from the mainstream western classical approach. I prefer to approach the experimentation in the tuning and micro interval possibilities as grasping the ear with the whole spectrum of pitch connections, introducing towards the long plains of new relations and patterns, treated equally and without the emphasis on only known through the centuries of western music development, listening habits. Perhaps, this is the certain "ear learning" technique that excites my hearing while sensating the new intervals, a certain attitude towards the openness in harmonic relations that might reach to unexplored and unfamiliar but uncanny connections in music. 

A series of significant and difficult to make decisions in terms of notational choices usually occurs at the beginning of a working phase, just before attempting to notate the musical idea on paper. The process of reaching the best solution in terms of practicality, musical correctness, and the score's aesthetic design all influence the composer's workflow. The redesigned array of harmonic connections changes the sound characteristic of the instrument. Nor does the composer or the performer have a sufficient possibility to refer to new harmonic complexities and find the references between the notated and sounding qualities in work. This core decision in my composition process caused the additional challenge in writing Stagṓn, as in order to control the pitch arrangement of various passages, I helped myself with a "home-made" chart of newly created lattice references and wrote the music back and forth by referring back to it and checking and correcting the sound results with the instrument. Moving on, I have decided to write a performer's score in transposition, as it was composed in standard tuning, and attach an extra small stave in the upper part of the score that could represent the sounding pitches. Not only to help the performer in reading the music but also to underline the importance of newly created harmonic space and its impact on the sounding of music. It visually makes the score look significantly larger than it actually could be but effectively supports the interpretation of music and grasping its essence during the practice, performance, or score reading.  




The retuning of guitar




Stagṓn is a word originating from Ancient Greek and means "a drop". I have searched for a way to musically discover the possibility of applying microtunings and sound-transforming operations within a solo instrument's potential, quite often connected to the demand of retuning the instrument or use extended techniques to envisage the timbral mutations of sound and performance space. I have sought to formulate a long-breath narration that somehow stretches the perception of sound events, maintains their independence, and sharpness in the overall acoustic landscape. The idea of a drop, an element of an extensive matter that in the moment of encounter disappears to become the element of another, all-embracing whole, seemed like an intriguing aspect to follow. I needed a sound spectrum of guitar open strings that could remain vibrant, dark, but warm altogether. This has pushed me to research the possible ways to retune the instrument strings and find the desired lattice for compositional operations.  


The tuning of a guitar in Stagṓn has been derived from the analysis of a spectrum of A1 that has been shrunk half of its size, using the scaling factor of 0.5. This tuning is a free personal approach to the Just Intonation tuning. It is based on the odd harmonics of A1 (3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th harmonics of A), where every single of them is presenting a new pitch in the spectrum. The intervals in between them are unique, uneven and never repeated. They might have a very dissonant relation to one another (the sixth string to the first one, the fifth string to the third or second one), but they are the components of an organic consonant organism. One struck to each of them makes the rest vibrate and live in the resonant space. Grounding the spectrum on the calculation of A1, the "imaginary" fundamental becomes imprinted into the specifics of string A of the instrument and creates an interesting network of sound connections. All guitar strings are tuned according to a precise relation to this axis. The retuning has been made with the highest respect to the instrument's specifics, not to change the string types of guitar to achieve bigger intervallic deviations. Rather, it keeps the manipulations in the border of a maximum halftone, keeping the original types of strings in order.


Examples of the second micromelodic structure.

Work scheme of guitar tuning.

Final thoughts


Stagṓn, at the moment of writing this analysis, remains unperformed. Unfortunately, the pandemic's outburst in 2020 thwarted the performance plans for this piece, at least for this year. However, this might be a blessing in disguise that I have managed to start a collaboration with Belgian guitarist Nico Couck during the most disturbing spring months of the year, so I was already lucky to hear at least the bits and pieces of Stagṓn created live in the acoustic space. With the certainty that I have overcome a fear of writing for guitar, I have made the first big step to understand the instrument's specifics and present my own compositional vision with microtunings and innovative harmonic arrangements in music. Working on Stagṓn left behind a feeling of satisfaction and an urge to continue my story with this instrument through a new, this time completely different, compositional approach on the guitar possibilities.

Reaching the desired tuning, new challenges arose in writing, mostly of a technical notation matter:


  • How to approach the notation of guitar with scordatura?
  • How to work with retuning from the compositional point of view?
  • How to prepare the score for the needs of the performer? 

Table chart of new guitar pitches that helped me during the compositional process.

III Stagṓn.

Retunings and Vibrations


Beginnings and contexts



Each work represents a separate challenge and a pursuit into the nature of sound. Subjectively, I treat each new composition as a separate chapter of a never-ending, for now, book of my artworks. A certain set of rules that I always attempt to apply in my compositional process needs to occur before starting the work itself. Usually, imagining new sounds and putting them into the context of what is about to be written takes more time than the process of writing down the notes on a piece of paper or the music notation program. I call it "the ripening" of the musical work and idea itself, so when the imagination can truly comprehend and design the music, it is the time to write it down physically. 

The other, slightly different but still originating from the core idea, music material developed in Stagṓn, extends the stable rhythmic counterpoints against the melodic phrases, again played out in the microintervallic setting. This fragment, introduced first in letter A of the score, primarily leads a dialogue between E 3/4 flattened, D sharp, and E neutral. This becomes extended by introducing new elements in the melodic line. A relation between G sharp and G 1/4 flattened in connection to the previous melodic structure provokes the reinterpretation in sensing the interval of minor sixth and its surrounding shades. From the letter E of the score, I have intended to research similar associations by implementing natural harmonics as the melodic line's crucial elements. Sustaining the repetition pattern high on the first string of the guitar, I slowly introduced the high natural harmonics on strings four, five, and six, which, considering the instrument's scordatura, provoke interesting melodic relations to the repetitive patterns. This time the initiating interplay occurs between high A 1/4 flattened and low A and B that quickly blend in the stream of quickly developing narration and create the whole with other pitch network elements. What is more, the instrument acquires a very soft, balanced, even sweet timbre, which is an additional effect I have been searching for in this passage. It helps me to continuously refer to the quality of "a drop" by melting the sounds with each other and constructing very detailed, attentively knitted morphing timbres. 

Natural harmonic manipulation occurs mostly by switching between XII and XIX fret positions of the lowest instrument strings. It requires an additional control of a swinging wrist while holding a high repetition pattern. It is quite a challenging and not fully comfortable position for performance, but the sounding result compensates for the effort in mastering it. I find the creation of this passage particularly rewarding in my first compositional trial for guitar, as I feel like I could contribute to developing certain techniques or performance practices for the instrument. It might become an interesting pedagogical issue to analyze and a study to master in instrumental technique improvement.       

This way, I have managed to build a fragment of a lattice belonging to the elements of the analyzed fundamental, using the harmonic order of 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 11th element of the spectrum, where the only even harmonic in this equation belongs to A string - a reminiscence of the fundamental itself. I reassigned these partials to each string, which occurred with the warm, gently resonating vibrant space and very plastic timbral characteristics.  


Spectral analysis of the open string chord shows an interesting relation between the partials that excite micro-vibrations and significantly darken the guitar's sound. A particularly interesting axis between the lowest and the chord's highest sound, a significantly flattened octave relation, suddenly does not sound disturbing, rather soothing and intriguing. It seems then that the impact of retuing the instrument evokes different action and introduces new quality in sound. I have realized that the "microtonal tunings offer tremendous sonic potential and alter the resonance of the guitar in truly unique and dramatic ways."

Examples of first micromelodic structures.

All open strings of guitar sounding together.

The spectrogram of a new guitar tuning.