Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Trinity Menu Trinity Search

You are here Postgraduate Structure > Semester 1

Module Name: Contemporary Composition 1
ECTS weighting: 5 
Contact Hours: 22 hours lectures/workshops
Self-study – approximately 70 hours
Module Coordinator: Dr. Ann Cleare


Contemporary Composition 1 is a one-semester course taken by the MPhil students on the Music and Media Technologies (MMT) programme. This module is intended for those interested in gaining an understanding of the key developments and compositional techniques from significant figures in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Composition, working within the fields of electronic music as well as acoustic.

This module seeks to encourage the exploration of music aesthetics, and to enable participants to come to a greater awareness of composition principles through the analysis of a variety of works, exploring the interactions between sound, art, and technology in the last century.


The module is intended to enable students to critically assess and assimilate approaches taken within the most significant stylistic shifts throughout the development of music from the past one hundred years, giving a broad overview. Students are encouraged to review, analyse and learn creative techniques from composers and works looked at in the course. They are encouraged to enhance their approach to composition based on work they have looked at in class. Based on a familiarity with work, approaches and techniques covered in the module, this module is in preparation for the following semester - Contemporary Composition 2: Practice, where students are encouraged to develop their own approach and style in creating compositions incorporating the creative use of technology.

On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:

  • Analyse, describe and identify techniques and technologies used by composers
  • Gain an awareness and critical perspective on historical developments and compositional techniques which have had a significant impact on new music


Sept 14, 2-4pm - Music and its Others: Silence, Sound, Noise
an introduction to musical aesthetics and its relationship to technology

Sept 21, 2-4pm - Radicalised Parameters: Pitch, Harmony, and Rhythm of the Twentieth Century
serialism; consonance/dissonance; polyrhythms

Sept 28, 2-4pm - Timbre: Magnifying Sonority
microtonality; distortion; sonic morphology

Oct 5, 2-4pm - Texture: Layering
spectrum; instrumental synthesis; sonic densities

Oct 19, 10am-noon - Musical Spaces
architecture/place; sculpture; temporality

Oct 19, 2-4pm – Some ISMs of Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Music
Tonality; Atonality; Serialism; Experimentalism; Minimalism; Spectralism; New Complexity; Musique Concrète Instrumentale

Nov 7/8/9 - Individual Tutorials for Assignment 1
due on November 16

Nov 16, 2-4pm - Haptic Bodies: Touching Music
Laurie Anderson’s O Superman; Pamela Z’s Voci; Lauren Hayes & Haptic Technology; Installations ofNolan Lem; Sound Sculptures of Marianthi Papalexandri Alexandri

Nov 23, 2-4pm - The Expanding Stage: Seeing Music
Jennifer Walshe’s The Total Mountain; Stefan Prin’s Generation Kill; Alex Schubert’s Supramodal Parser

Nov 30, 10am-noon - Theatre/Opera: Choreographing Music
Jessie Marino’s Rot Blau; Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape; Ashley Fure’s The Force of Things; Steven Kauzo Takasugi’s Sideshow; Clara Iannotta’s skull ark, upturned with no mast

Nov 30, 2-4pm - Sonic Fictions: What will Music be in the Future?
theories from science-fiction, climate-fiction, the post-human world, and various thought experiments - Joanna Demers: Drone and Apocalypse: An exhibit catalog for the end of the world; Kodwo Eshun: More Brilliant than The Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction; G. Douglas Barrett: After Sound: Toward a Critical Music


  • Cage, John (1961) Silence: Lectures and Writings. Wesleyan Press.
  • Cox, Christoph and Warner, Daniel (Revised edition 2017) Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music. London: Continuum.
  • Demers, Joanna (2010) Listening through the Noise: The Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music. Oxford University Press.
  • Eshun, Kodwo (1998) More Brilliant than The Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction. London: Quartet Books.
  • Gottschalk, Jennie (2016) Experimental Music Since 1970. Bloomsbury Academic Press.
  • Holmes, Thom (2012), Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music and Culture, New York: Routledge.
  • Rutherford-Johnson, Tim (2017) Music after the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture since 1989. University of California Press.
  • Schaeffer, Pierre (2013) In Search of a Concrete Music, trans. North, C. and Dock, J., University of California Press.
  • Van Eck, Cathy (2017) Between Air and Electricity: Microphones and Loudspeakers as Musical Instruments. Bloomsbury Academic USA.
  • Voegelin, Salome (2010) Listening to Noise and Silence: Toward a Philosophy of Sound Art. Continnuum Press.

Written and listening material will be also assigned in lectures each week.


Students will be introduced to concepts and repertoire through various audio, video, literary, and score-based resources. Materials will be introduced, discussed, and class activities will explore these ideas further

Students are expected to actively participate in class discussion and activities, prepare weekly assignments and a half-semester assignment, and complete a written audiovisual exam analysing resources related to class topics and repertoire


  • enthusiastic class participation (10%)
  • short written/composed reflections, submitted weekly, on a prescribed element of a listening /reading/composition assignments, uploaded to a shared online space 24 hours before class, to be read by all in preparation for the next day’s class. These weekly exercises should be compiled and submitted as a portfolio at the end of semester, due on December 14th, 1pm (20%)
  • half-semester assignment: curate a hypothetical concert based around one of the themes of our classes so far (Music & its Others/ Radicalising Parameters/Timbre/Musical Spaces etc..). With unlimited resources and budget, create a programme of exciting and diverse works to take place in a setting of your choice. Non-conventional concert settings are both accepted and encouraged. Write a 1000-word introduction/programme note for this concert, outlining the aesthetic thinking and decisions behind the repertoire (compositional features) and presentation (performance context/presentation, production, role of the audience). Due at the start of class on November 16th, 2pm (20%)
  • written audiovisual examination: identify audio/visual/literary/score works introduced during the course, demonstrating an awareness and critical understanding of key ideas and repertoire of the last century. Date? (50%)


The CAPSL survey is used but feedback is usually also freely given by students