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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pedagogical potential in the complexism learning process : a performer's journey through Brian Ferneyhough's "Bone Alphabet" (1992) Graham, Aaron


When performers decide to take on the substantial task of learning and performing a piece of music in the style known as complexism (more typically called “New Complexity”), they are faced with technical and interpretive challenges of a hyper-virtuosic nature. These demands are far beyond what is typically found in the majority of other musical contexts and therefore can be daunting to the performer. This thesis focuses on the pedagogical potentials inherent in the learning process of a complexist work. Included are interviews with major performers of this style of music and their insights into the benefits of such a specialized learning context. Following this, a detailed analysis is provided of my own experience learning and performing Brian Ferneyhough’s “Bone Alphabet,” (1992) a solo percussion work in this style, with supporting video demonstrations. This discussion is complemented by the presentation of strategies for performers to surmount the technical and interpretive difficulties found in complexism. Complexism and the choice to take it on have faced criticism over the years, with arguments being that the abundance of compositional material is too much for a performer to properly realize, attempts to prepare the works yield only approximations that sound like improvisations, and that the amount of time needed to prepare a work is not beneficial at all to the performer. However, my experience learning “Bone Alphabet,” and the processes and choices I was required to make as a student of this style have helped to inform and serve numerous aspects of my musicianship in other contexts, such as increased technical facility in executing complex rhythms and more thoughtful and rigorous score study and interpretation. Through an analysis of my own experience as well as expert testimonials regarding this unique musical context, this thesis will illuminate the pedagogical potentials inherent in the learning process for works of musical complexism. Supplementary materials available at: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/77295.

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