UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Music in nature, nature in music : sounding the environment in contemporary composition Kinnear, Tyler


This thesis examines nature as both a concept and source material in contemporary music. Composers reinforce, revise, and challenge existing conceptualizations of nature through their engagement with natural settings, live or recorded environmental sounds, and/or non-sounding environmental information. How composers understand nature informs the ways in which they employ aspects of the physical world in their music. This study explores the interplay between nature-as-concept and nature-as-source-material in art-based walks, outdoor music, electroacoustic composition, and concert-hall pieces. Through analysis of works representative of these wide-ranging genres, this thesis offers a critical assessment of how nature is imagined in a contemporary musical context. The concept of a continuum is used as both a structural and theoretical tool in this study. A gradual transition from real-world encounters with nature to an abstracted experience of it is made over the course of the thesis. The works discussed in Chapter Two exist as lightly edited recordings made by artists during an outdoor walk/improvisation. The outdoor theatre piece considered in Chapter Three takes place at a lake and draws on that environment in several ways during a performance. The two electroacoustic compositions investigated in Chapter Four combine unmodified and modified nature sounds. The natural world is still present in the concert-hall works discussed in Chapter Five, but recorded nature sounds are combined with live instrumental music based on environmental properties and processes. In addition, this thesis traces four themes across works. These are technology, human presence, myth, and the transformation of the environment. The works under consideration demonstrate a range of approaches to composing with and conceptualizing nature. Some of the works comment on environmental issues, such as noise pollution and climate change. Others aim to drive understanding beyond the limits of human perception; that is, to open up new psychological spaces. In different ways, the works under focus illuminate the relationship between humans and the natural world. By stimulating discourse around how we think about nature, these pieces encourage critical thought regarding our place as humans in the physical environment.

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