In this strand of the project, I aimed at dealing with the concept of harmony in a systematic fashion, as I was also doing in the project strand explained in the “Texture” page. By now, the project was obviously growing out of the confines I had originally imagined. There were upsides to this all-encompassing approach, which I will get back to in the section “Reflections on cognition and methods”. But of course the project still risks aiming at covering too much ground.

I had an ambition of outlining some kind of “Grand unification theory of Harmony”. By this I mean to reconsider how to talk about what structural and cognitive processes have created the concepts of Harmony that we know of – and how they are related, across aesthetics and genres.

On a parallel note, such a general overview of harmony across practices could also function as a way to diversify the music coming out of this project. The overview would then function as a roadmap for covering through the project’s artistic output a number of highly different approaches to the harmonic dimension of music during the project.

Based on some composition modules that I had taught at RMC, I started to imagine an overview of possible ways of thinking about harmony as follows (more in-depth explanations below):


* Harmony as a result of simultanous linearities (covered in debt in the earlier project Habitable Exomusics)

* Harmony as functions/ tension-release (covered in the concert series “årstidsfællessang”, Jacob Anderskov solo @ Brorsons kirke, 2020)

* Harmony as vertical translations of tonal horizontal logics: tonalities, modes, scales, modal harmony, etc. (the main source of traditional Jazz Theory, not covered in this project)

* Harmony as vertical translations of post tonal horizontal logics: post tonal melodies as building blocks for vertical structures (covered mainly on the album Anterior Current)

* Harmony as free intervals: (see below, covered in an extended series of new compositions, for a.o. the bands Fosterchild, Emerald, Resonance & Katrine Gislinge)

* Spectrally influenced approaches:

- Harmony derived from overtone series and resonances (covered on the albums Chiasm & Ecstatic Embrace)

- Harmony as imitations or inclusions of sounds from outside the strictly harmonic realm (covered on the albums Chiasm, Ecstatic Embrace & Spirit of the Hive [1]).


As I have tried to convey in the above overview, parts of the artistic output from the project could be imagined as some kind of large-scale prototypical cataloguing of possible positions in how to answer a question such as “what is harmony?” In this way, the different outputs of the project can be thought of as divided between different concepts of harmony.


A further explanation of each strand in the model:


Harmony as a result of simultaneous linearities: was covered in debt in the earlier project Habitable Exomusics. This is, in terms of chronology, how harmony was born, in the history of European composed music: monophony evolving into polyphony, and then only gradually starting to form a theory of how the vertical domain operated. Historically already omnipresent in the Renaissance and Baroque, composers from Hildegard von Bingen and Palestrina to Arnold Schoenberg and Ornette Coleman are obvious exponents of this approach.


Harmony as functions/ tension-release: was covered in the concert series “årstids-fællessang” in Brorsons Kirke 2020, in which I created piano improvisations that now and then turned into communal singing by the entire audience. Though functional harmony is often taught around the world as the foundation and Genesis of western harmony, it is historically a theoretical concept that was not articulated until the 19th century, and is basically deeply tied up to a specific kind of central European metaphysics. While still omnipresent in much songwriting today, I would claim that it historically is primarily related to classicism and romanticism – or to put it another way, from Beethoven to Billie Eilish via Duke Ellington.


Spectrally influenced approaches I:

- Harmony derived from overtone series and resonances: This definition of the category is reminiscent of early spectralism, just intonation music and of works of e.g. Per Nørgaard, Kaajia Sariaho, Georg Friedrich Haas, Wolfgang von Schweinitz.


Spectrally influenced approaches II:

- Harmony as imitations or inclusions of sounds from outside the strictly harmonic realm. Obviously related to the previous category, here we are gradually moving towards Musique Concrete, but also still in spectralist territories, think Gerard Grisey to Else Marie Pade.

In the project, the spectralist approaches are wound into each other. They were covered within the project mainly on the albums Chiasm, Ecstatic Embrace & Spirit of the Hive.


Harmony as vertical translations of tonal horizontal logics: I chose to not deal with this approach in the project, mainly because the jazz theory industrial complex has filled up the need for generations to come, in terms of applying this concept to improvisation. Shortly, as many readers will know, the concept transforms horizontal material from tonalities, modes and scales into a vertical layer, thus resulting in modal harmonies and the renowned chord-scale-relations. Historically, more than anything this is related to impressionism, and the work of e.g. Debussy, Wayne Shorter & Maria Schneider.


Harmony as vertical translations of post tonal horizontal logics: post tonal melodies/linearities as building blocks for vertical structures: This approach to harmony is all over the post WW2 serialism of Boulez, Stockhausen, etc. The reason why I argue it should be named like this is the preference for making the series (to some degree a horizontal mental concept) dictate or build the harmonies (in the vertical domain), very similarly to the tonal version of the same concept described above. In this project, it was covered mainly on the album Anterior Current (see the Context Page), but to some extend also in the Complexion Miniatures series, more on that in the section to the right.


Harmony as free intervals. Probably not a perfect term, this category would be related to the work of Morton Feldman or Carla Bley, or, to any post-serialist or post-Cagean pantonality that allows itself to be made “without formula” – to quote Feldman[2]. This category is central in marking the profound shifts between the approaches of Boulez & Stockhausen on one side and Feldman & Cage on the other. Or, similarly, between hard bop on one side, and artists like Carla Bley and Ornette Coleman on the other. I will claim that it's differences from the two previous categories depicts the borderland between modernism and experimentalism in post WW2 “avant” music. 


These last two post tonal approaches to harmony became the main battle ground of this project’s aim at mapping out harmony as a catalogue. They are omnipresent via the Complexion Minatures series, on the album Fosterchild and in the repertoire of Emerald of Resonance - and will be dealt with in more detail respectively:

* to the right (Harmony as free intervals), and

* on the Context Page (Harmony as vertical translations of post tonal horizontal logics).



[1] For limitation reasons, the approach on the albums Chiasm & Ecstatic Embrace is not explained in detail in this exposition. Shortly, the concept of ”Harmony as imitations or inclusions of sounds from outside the strictly harmonic realm” is about using the piano in an improvised context to filter and amplify existing overtones in the sounds coming from either the other musicians or from the room.

[2] ”John Cage is not formula. And I learned a lot from Cage where he taught me the distinction between conceptualization and formula. But the minute you don’t get in formula, you’re considered a third-world artist” in Morton Feldman: Speaking of Music - Conversation with Charles Amirkhanian at the Exploratorium's Speaking of Music series, San Francisco, January 30, 1986 - Transcribed by Alex Grimley.


Project Overview       Texture      Harmony      Context      Output and conclusions

Mapping of “Harmony as free intervals” - The Complexion Miniatures

I think of this strand of the project as a systematic, if not outright hypostatic mapping of intervallic-harmonic possibilities. It can be imagined it as a Faustian search for the ”complete list of possible combinations of 3-5 voices” – expressed as an art work. These days it is extremely out of fashion to call any work or any approach a-historic, but I will insist, on a structural level, not an aesthetical level, that the mapping I set out to do was more concerned with possible combinations than with which sounds were heard before and which not so much.

In any case, I constructed a meta-system for composing a large series of pieces. For now I have labelled this series The Complexion Miniatures. The pieces are different from each other in terms of what harmonic material they contain. Each piece is intended to have an internal coherence of harmonic structures. But most importantly (from a purely structural point of view, that is), the way the pieces are different from each other make the complete series function as a map of all possible combinations of 3-5 pitches, across registers, etc. 

Depending on what level of structural redundance is considered identical, this could become a life long quest (5 notes on the piano can be chosen in just above 39 million ways). It was never the intension to cover all of that, but to some extend I wanted to investigate how my music would sound if all possibilities could be dealt with as consonance. 

To use sounds previously considered dissonances in ways that make them appear as consonant to the listener is of course a main thread in 20th century, and in certain ways an old ambition. It is sufficiently old for Walter Piston, in his 1947 book Counterpoint, to conclude that the inclusion of dissonance into the harmonic realm had worked to the disadvantage of counterpoint, by removing the contrast between disagreement and agreement in the music.[1] However, it is my belief that this series does not sound obviously as the music of neither its structural nor its aesthetical ancestors.


Most of the Miniatures have names from crystals. Not so much because of the cultural allusion from crystals to magic, though that does not hurt. More so because they are all highly symmetrical in their inner workings, as if compressed for millions of years and thus becoming crystallised, whether the first material was of organic or of mineral origin.


I have considered thoroughly how much to reveal about the exact inner workings of the whole Complexion Miniatures series. I am not convinced that art and music will benefit from the whole concept being laid out lucidly, for many reasons. I have many years of experience with creating music based on a wish to create sounds that resonate with the listener, whether or not the listener realizes what kinds of process is behind the audible sounds. Often (when sufficiently wise) I have chosen to not let the public know the complete story. With the disclaimer that some readers might find that a thorough explanation risks devaluating the mystic sound that the series has, I have chosen to share a handful of documents, that show some of the inner workings behind this series of compositions. If the reader is her/himself a composer, beware that my exact method is of little relevance as a tool, unless the resulting sounding properties of the music from this approach are exactly the ones wanted. Based on the documents shared here, the music should upon close reading reveal its structural inner workings quite clearly. If not, you can ask me, if we meet one day…


The series so far include the pieces in the list to the right, released or performed, listed with the ensemble that performed them, and the year of their composition.

I considered finding a way to release all of this material as one recorded statement, but I deem that this would not make sense in an album format, not even a box set. The pieces point in different directions, mainly depending on which band perform them. However, an upcoming book release with the complete sheet music of 20 compositions from the Complexion Miniatures Series is currently being edited and engraved. The compositions shared in this exposition are in a pre-engraving layout.

[1] “The development of harmony in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries worked to the disadvantage of counterpoint. Composers became predominantly interested in the vertical sonorities, whether these had been created by contrapuntal means or built by superposition of intervals. Gradually all contrapuntal dissonances became harmonic dissonances and the forward tendency of dissonance was much weakened, and at times entirely lost.

Hence by the growth of harmonic dissonance one of the important elements of disagreement, that between a melody and its harmony, became comparatively ineffective. The nonharmonic tones themselves became chord members. It is a commonplace in speaking of early twentieth century harmony to explain a chord as being partly composed of unresolved nonharmonic tones.” – Walter Piston, Counterpoint, Norton, 1947.

Complexion Miniatures - examples:

On top of the already released pieces from the series (Opal, Turquoise, Agate, from "Dear Earthling"), below you will find audio from a number of extra compositions in the series. Note: these audio bites are documentations, not final mixes, and the performances most likely will not be the final version to be released. 

Quartz (excerpt), by Emerald, The Lake Radio live broadcast, 2021

Beryl (excerpt), by Emerald, premix, studio rec. 2021

Amber (excerpt)by Resonance, WDR live radio broadcast, Köln, 2019

Malachite (excerpt)by Emerald, The Lake Radio live broadcast, 2021

Amethyst (excerpt), by Fosterchild, live rec, Dusseldorf, 2020

Emerald (secunda vista version), by Emerald, premix, studio rec. 2021

Ruby (excerpt), by Emerald, premix, studio rec. 2021