The universal meaning of balance?


Ultimately, after explaining various technical solutions and compositional choices, we come to the piece's multi-dimensional essence - the search for balance. Balance is not unambiguous for me. It can take place in many fields of the work's exploitation, as well as take on other conceptual meanings. Isorropía (to remind, meaning a balance in Greek) can refer to, and talk about sound, harmonics, instrumentation, or the search for a golden mean in the composition's formal structure. It can be perceived strictly musically and refer to the listener's subjective taste, as well as the subjective artistic choice of the composer, the author of the work. Somehow for me, the middle section of the F sharp / noise exposition becomes the musical explanation for balance and all the sound procedures included in the piece. The crucial moment of tension rising, resulting in the whole ensemble speaking loudly simultaneously only once during the whole composition (bar 127), becomes my personal embodied balance and the moment of purification through sound. I have repeatedly wondered if some of the listeners had the same attitude towards this particular fragment of "Isorropía [...]" as I have. Even further, I have been wondering quite often about performers' reactions and the part of the composition they would call the attainment of balance. This complexity of people's perception is undoubtedly one of the triggers I am so passionate about writing new music. After all, the music stays and speaks for itself without the composer's support, and each and everyone, who corresponds with its sound, understands its meanings differently. I am no longer a part of the equation. Maybe that is a balance for its own? 

We can also use the balance to define the essence and the need to perform pieces written by women composers and more frequently include their music in concert repertoires... The presence of "Isorropía [...]" in the program of "Feminine Forms" has significance for me as well. It calls for balance and understanding of it, or rather, respecting its need in the music world. However, most of all, my music calls to look deeper into the nature of the sound I create, listen to the musical tools I use and shape, and see how it defines me as an artist and a woman composer for all the listeners worldwide. Maybe my compositional legacy is another balance I leave behind for humankind?

I believe that "Isorropía [...]" is a special mark of my musical presence, a composition that helped me overcome the difficulties of the pandemic experience through several months of 2020. It provokes questions and stimulates reflections on music and its relation to life, here and now, for better and for worse. Have I created a balance in my music? Did I keep a certain balance with my piece, or did I disturb it? Or maybe the balance is something that we are not allowed to experience? Is it good or bad? It seems to me that I am not competent to answer these questions, so I leave them open, relying on the interpretation, evaluation, and personal experiences of the listener.

The history of creating the composition began with the inspiration of the siren sound, its harmonic, full quality timbral content. Trevor Wishart illustrates in his book "On Sonic Art" that "the sound morphology of the siren is related in a direct (though delayed) way to the energy input". (p.181) This sound's intrinsic morphology intrigues and outstretches interesting fluctuations of the pitch, leading to perceiving the sound itself as exceedingly stable through its continued instability and imperfection.


I have studied Wishart's "On Sonic Art" at more or less the same time as the two-day Festival "Ding-dong eller dong-ding?" by NordART Center took place in Oslo in February 2020. Astonishingly moving was the chance to familiarize myself better with the music by Arne Nordheim, undoubtedly one of the most important Norwegian composers of the XX century. The awareness that this composer was so closely connected to Poland and its electroacoustic music history through the close collaboration with the Polish Radio Experimental Studio made listening to his music even more special. One of the most memorable works I heard during the Festival was "Response IV" for four percussionists and tape, written in 1977. Four spatially distributed musicians performed with the integrative electronic landscapes, creating the musical space full of depth, timbral changes, and morphing, vibrant atmospheres altogether. Nordheim uses four Acme sirens, distributed spatially and in the significant time distances between each entrance, which constructed a remarkable vivid field of glissando transformations. Both the experience of Nordheim's composition and the frequent references to the siren sound qualities in Wishart's ground-breaking book made me realize that I unquestionably need to use the siren sound as inspiration for my new composition. 


The sound of the siren gives everyone the idea for different connotations, depending on the personal experiences of the listener, because, at any rate, representing a sound of symbolic meaning, whether it is a sign of impending danger, air raid, threat, or just a signal to escape, we are not indifferent to its sound. Musically, the siren's insistent, violent portamento creates an energetic gesture, emphasizing the instrument's physical property to build tension through the rotation of the mass release mechanism, its increase and decrease.


Be it a coincidence or truly a fate, the pandemic took over the world in March 2020, with the long-lasting siren howling as a sign of changing times for me. This sound transformed into the first in my life, quite unexpected, panic attack, and successfully disconnected me from all the duties and artistic works for more than two months. Gradually coming out of this crisis and pandemic shock, a new work, obsessed with the siren sound, the need for balance, and constant pitch transformation, came to the surface of the world and brought me back to artistic life.




Harmonies and forms


"Isorropía. In search of balance" is the work written for five amplified instruments and quadraphonic electroacoustic sound layer. The ensemble, consisting of violin, violin/viola, accordion, percussion, and piano/microtonal synthesizer, gave a huge sonoristic potential to explore combining with the electroacoustic layer. Wondering how I could achieve the homogeneity of the musical material in the composition, I decided to use the siren's recording and process its sound as the only acoustic content transformed in my electronic layer, a certain type of tie between the acoustic and electronic realms bound together. Isorropía, meaning "the balance" from Greek, was my personal search for getting back to the balance of things, a way to order, but connect the sound triggers into the one, well functioning, the transparent network of timbres, and finding the way back for myself, after being unable to compose and create. This composition's "timbral microperspective" was undoubtedly hidden in the siren sound and its microscopic analysis, exploration, and expansion through various sonic components. My goal was to carefully define the harmonic layers and arrange the sound's spatial dispositions, thanks to which I could balance with sound clusters and musical situations developing in the sonic space.

In the composition "Isorropía. In search of balance," I used a siren sound to create a complete harmonic landscape of the piece. The highest note of the instrument I worked on according to the spectral analysis was unstable A = ca 440 Hz, and set a primary fundamental note of the whole composition. I organized four groups of complementary harmonic spectra using both overtones and subtones. Each following center is the third component of the previous one, and the more the center moves up the scale, the richer the share of sub-harmonics in the tonal organization of the work. This, as well as E and B, function as the central references to materials constructed with strictly harmonic priorities in mind. Along with moving towards the imaginary, as inaudible or unrecognizable to the human ear, F sharp = ca 11 839.82 Hz, a radical deconstruction and saturation of the previously recorded siren sound take place, which appears in the next part of the work in the form of an echo of its surroundings, an invisible it does not resemble the harmonic glissandi characteristic of the original sound of the instrument anymore. This is an attitude towards catching the sound's inharmonicity, and the overall aura of the reminiscences of siren sound, the echo of its presence, developed through the noise.

Harmonic organization in "Isorropía. In search of balance" has the properties of fluid - it spills in between the fundamentals and balances between the amount of overtone or subtone in the overall shape of the sonic momentum. This transition is subtle, as many of the pitch components are common to each of the fundamentals; hence, in my opinion, the liquidity in sound morphing creates an exceptional harmonic arrangement.

The harmonic construction of the composition is dependent on its form. These elements become relevant to each other and responsible through the process of the composition's growth. Two main formal elements can be recognized in the piece through the harmonic and inharmonic treatment of the siren material with the chosen spectral arrangements.

The introductory phase, an overwhelming mass of bluntly screaming siren glissandos performed both by the percussion player and visible as well in the electroacoustic layer, is filled with the modulating components from fundamentals of spectra A, E, and B. This mass creates a wall of timbres, so often used by the composers like Tristan Murail or Gerard Grisey to create a certain exposition of harmonic material to the listener. However, I did not intend to sustain stability in the opening of "Isorropía [...]", but preferred to use this as a glittering canvas for quite abstract sonic modulations. The fast movement, rhythmical anxiety, preference in high pitch sonic blends between the instruments create a wonderful complement of the aggressive analog chord in the electronic layer and all-surrounding siren glissandi.  

The second phase of the formal development focuses on the inharmonic elements of sound and, called by me, siren's aftersounds. Working on the recording of one full period of siren's glissando upwards and downwards, I have filtered out all clearly visible harmonic elements of the glissando movement and found out that the remaining "noise" becomes a high-pitched mumbling, a saturated, extracted from the siren's existence, plain of sonic shades. I matched this filtered recording with the F sharp spectrum world, dominated by the subharmonic components, which somehow slows down the narration in the composition and creates a very subtle, slowly developing process of moving towards the harmonicity again.

This constant metamorphosis, fluency of sound sequences, and rejection of contrast as a tool for formal development in composition become my obsession with creating one coherent train of thought. A smooth transformation towards the introductory phase's harmonic organization begins through the piano part, first in bar 151, mysteriously and shy, using the harmonies referring to the spectrum of F sharp. The piano part gradually expands and uses all harmonic elements of four fundamentals, enriched by the synthesizer's microtonal counterpoint simultaneously interlacing with the equally tempered primary material. This leads to a certain sound explosion in bar 181 and seals the primary harmonic dominance's full return. The section again derives strength from fast-moving passages, microtonal micro-glissandos in violins, blended with halftone continuous glissandos in the vibraphone, accordion, and piano. Finally, the section swiftly transforms back again into the realm of inharmonicity and noise manifested by the long, unstable drone structure. It maintains the block of sounds on a compelling loud level until the end of the composition. What I wanted to achieve was to choke on the sound - harmonic and inharmonic one, and regain the balance for both with the end of the music and remaining silence.

Listen to the one full periof of the siren sound I have worked on.

Spectrogram of the quadraphonic electroacoustic layer

Listen to the stereo mix of electroacoustic content

Sound diffusion scheme


IV Isorropía. 

In search of balance



Siren during the pandemic




While worried or facing a threat, the human mind gets easily distracted. The ordinary activities demand more time to focus on; creation flow does not come as easily as before, attention slips between the fingers like the time passing by in decade laps... The winter months of early 2020 seemed to me exactly like that, one could feel that soon things are about to change for everyone, and nothing is going to be the same for longer time... Following the disturbing news from China in February 2020, life in Norway still seemed to be in order, people could meet each other freely, the concert life was blossoming, everybody rushed with their every day matters as usual. I have been busy finding inspiration for the next composition that I was about to start working on - "Isorropía. In search of balance". Although the idea to write this work started already at the end of 2019, now was the right moment to dive into the composing activity itself. I have been invited to participate in a project called "Feminine Forms", where five Polish women instrumentalists perform the music by six Polish women composers. "Feminine Forms", rather than being perceived as simply as a feminist manifesto, is something different - it is a celebration of art written by women and performed by women, a musical feast, and a community binding through the world of art. As through the project, there was no particular theme imposed, and I could look freely for the topic of my new composition. My research has led me towards the issue of balance and its comprehension in sound and other non-musical areas of life. Nevertheless, before introducing the reader to this subject, the particular sound has taken over my thoughts and could not leave musically unnoticed. 


Spatialization and the electronic layer


The work "Isorropía. In search of balance" also uses the instrumental material's spatialization techniques with the material composed in the four-channel electroacoustic layer. Thus, the musical composition is created in the acoustic space above the listener's head. The sound material coming from the stage is a kind of a resultant, reminiscence, and a supplement to the spatial play of sounds. Therefore, it was essential for me to create a detailed process map for the electronic layer and include it in the piece's score, which helped me perceive all sound sources (acoustic and electronic) as a whole. This control and certain cooperation of sound directions helped me work on many sound details and polish the transitions from each separate source to another. Working at the spatial sound projection studio at the Norwegian Centre for Technology, Art and Music (NOTAM) gave me a huge possibility to work with spatial sound and carefully design the sound space of "Isorropía [...]".

The composition's opening phase is based on the circular movement of siren sound in the acoustic space. At the same time, the siren sound performed by the percussion player represents a point sound source and curves the exposure of this material, breaks the perspective of perceiving the glissando movement as a one layered phenomenon. This gesture's culminating moment arises in bar 43. In its highest pitch, the acoustic siren crosses the path with five quarter-note distanced siren waves in the electronic layer, performing the glissando movement upwards. After its second repetition and the harsh analog chord entering in bar 55, the acoustic siren peters out. The siren sound in its "obvious" shape is never going to reappear itself in the composition.

Another spatial operation that I wanted to explore in "Isorropía [...]" focused on the disposition of amplified instrument sounds through the dedicated speakers and usage of this procedure to conduct various sound transitions in the acoustic space. The only instrument distributed through all speakers was piano and synthesizer that had a particular role in the piece's musical development. The rest of the instruments corresponded with each other spatially, quite often resulted from one another or intended to dense the sonic space at certain positions in the acoustic space over the listeners' heads. The additional phasing glissandos in the electronic layer often moved in space to mark the transition between one sound phenomenon and the other, reappearing through another speaker. These tiny, microscopic even operations can be caught only during the work's live performance and cause that the composition becomes an experience of its own during the concert.

Last but not least, I would like to point out the significant role of the microtonal synthesizer mapping and the possibility to blend the microtonal tunings (corresponding to mentioned previously harmonic organizations) in the composition. The patch in Max MSP, prepared by Bálint Laczkó, maps 49 selected microtonal pitches into the synthesizer. All notes are derived from the four fundamental pitch organizations and create a sum for spectral sound operations in the piece. The glittering, fast passages at the beginning of the composition blend the violin and accordion sounds into one vibrating organism. However, in the middle section of "Isorropía [...]", the microtonal connections become independent, create a network of passages and motives coexisting with equally tempered twelve-tone arrangements. A slight reverb to the sound supports certain instability or ambiguity of microtonal harmonic relations to the other sound sources.

Design of four complementary spectra

Spectrogram of the siren sound after the filtering.

Spectrogram of the siren sound.

Siren sound after filtering.


Pitch organization within four complementary spectra

Tempted by the thought introduced at the end of my article, I have decided to ask some of the performers of "Isorropía. In search of balance" to share with me, in which part of the composition do they experience the feeling of balance. Here is what I found out:

"For me, the balance in Martyna Kosecka's piece was mainly related to the spheres of form and timbre. A particular sense of such a balance accompanied me, particularly with the dynamics of forte achieved in bar 27. It was a moment of fullness related to the fusion of different colors into one choral block, the unmasking of individual voices that turned out to work in concert. An analogous fragment is the long, apparent, as it turns out, culmination initiated in bar 181 and its actual stroke in bar 210."
Martyna Zakrzewska, pianist


"I experience the balance most fully from No. 15 to 18 of the score. Seemingly a lot is going on there, but we all act together in a quintet; none of us is more important than the other. In the earlier fragments, you feel a lot of tension, or our interventions are dispersed, from 15 as if everything has cleared up, and the tensions have been released."
Paulina Woś-Gucik, violinist & violist

The example of microinterval dialogue between the synthesizer and piano material.

The example of transition types in electroacoustic layer and their notation.

The example of page from the composition.