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Creating Ambient Music

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Set of lessons designed to teach about creating ambient music.

Set of lessons designed to teach about creating ambient music.

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  • 1. Creating Ambient Music 9 Lessons for Grade 9 Focus: Taking Action By Peter Bodnarchuk
  • 2. Brainstorming List: 1. What is ambient music? 2. What isn’t ambient music? I’ve decided against this question. 3. Look at The Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a visual tool for our in-class ambient creation. 4. Applying form to ambient music. 5. Using GarageBand software to create your own ambient work. 6. Interpretive Dance and Tableau as a means of exploring ambient music for the purposes of developing your own visual work and musical composition.
  • 3. Introduction: The composer of ambient music generally exploits timbre (as opposed to melody orrhythm) as the underlying focus for developing the desired atmosphere of his or her intendedwork. This genre has grown from the groundbreaking works of masters like György Ligeti toencompass numerous derivative genres such as ambient house and nature inspired ambientmusic. This group of 9 lessons is intended for my grade 9 students. The conceptual focus of thispackage is Taking Action. I have chosen Creating Ambient Music as my overall inquiry questionto be based upon nine sub-inquiry questions. Herein my students will learn what this genre of music entails. This knowledge will inturn be utilized for the purposes of composing an in-class ambient work as well their ownindividual ambient work. The latter will be created using the software called GarageBand. Thisrecording device will allow my less experienced music students to create sounds from theavailable sound samples while my more advanced students can actually record themselves if sodesired. The result will be a fun, rewarding, educational experience for all involved.Please note: regular take home assessments will be made part of each lesson. Regular after classlab time for using GarageBand will be provided. I will personally attend each session to ensuremy students receive any assistance they may require. Additional in-class work periods will alsobe included between lessons 6-7 and 8-9. Lesson 7, Learning to use the software GarageBand tocreate your own ambient composition, will also require an additional teaching session.
  • 4. Music Education Learning Plan – Lesson 1 of 9Lesson Time Required: 50 minutesRequired Resources and Materials:Ambient music. (2008). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March16, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambient_musicAtmosphères. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March16, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmosph%C3%A8resBurkholder, J. P., Grout, D. J., & Palisca, C. V. (2006). A History of Western Music (7th ed.). New York: W. W. Norton.György Ligeti. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March16, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LigetiLigeti, G. (1971). Atmosphères (3rd revised ed.). Musical Score. Commissioned by the Südwestfunk: Baden-Baden.Milliseconde topographie. (2004-2007). Tricycle. DVD. n.p.: ekumen.Rattle, S. (1996). Leaving Home: Orchestral Music in the 20thcentury (Vol. 2: Rhythm). DVD. Leipzig: Arthaus-Musik.A DVD capable, internet accessible computer and corresponding projector.Various handouts: Assignments, rubrics, and assessment toolsGrade Level & Conceptual Focus: Gr. 9: Taking ActionKey Inquiry Question: What is ambient music?Arts Education Components Addressed:Cultural/Historical, Critical/Responsive, Creative/Productive
  • 5. Proposed Music Learning Outcomes & Indicators: 1. CH9.3 Investigate diversity of artistic ideas, styles, and media in contemporary arts expressions. Students will: a. Demonstrate an awareness of key historical developments in relation to contemporary arts expressions (i.e., the term contemporary typically includes arts expressions of the late 20th and 21st centuries). b. Extend knowledge of artistic styles across a range of cultural contexts. c. Investigate how function and purpose influence artistic decision making. 2. CH9.4 Create interdisciplinary arts expressions individually or through collaboration with peers, and examine the work of artists who create interdisciplinary expressions (e.g., sound and poetry, performance art, audio visual installations). Students will: a. Identify ways that various arts expressions combine more than one arts discipline. b. Examine the impact of technology on interdisciplinary art works (e.g., audio visual installations, performance art). c. Examine a variety of new and non-traditional art forms that integrate disciplines. d. Investigate connections that exist among the arts, and incorporate more than one art form into own work or collaborative project. 3. CR9.1 Respond to professional dance, drama, music, and visual art works through individual or collaborative inquiry and the creation of own arts expressions. Students will: a. Use individual or collaborative inquiry to develop questions and learn about a selected art expression. 4. CP9.8 Combine the elements of music and principles of composition to express unified musical ideas. a. Investigate ways that beat, accent, and metre can be used to create a specific “feel” in music. Note: in the case of ambient music these components are often blurred to some degree in favour of timbre or used in such a way that they create timbre, (ex. Ligeti’s Atmosphères).
  • 6. b. Investigate ways that tempo, rhythm, melody, harmonic structure, or tonality can be used to express an idea or emotional quality in music. c. Demonstrate understanding of how music elements and composition principles create form and structure in music.Planned Learning Activities:This lesson will be comprised of: 1) A historical definition of the term ambient music. 2) A presentation of the composer György Ligeti and in-depth look at his composition Atmosphères as conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Specific focus will be on his use of timbre. The score for this work will also be passed around for the students to look over. This will give them an idea of what this music looks like in standard musical notation. This will also include an in-class discussion as to what the students heard and viewed as well as their own thoughts about the composition. 3) A DVD presentation of Milliseconde topographie’s work “She Under A Sherrington Tree.” 4) A maximum one page paper based on individual choice of the subgenres presented in the Wikipedia article “Ambient Music” or a subgenre assessment of the work entitled, “She Under A Sherrington Tree” will be assigned at the end of the class. The students choosing their own subgenre will also be asked to provide a musical example of it as part of the same homework assignment.Step-by-step Procedure: 1. The teacher will present an overview of the process of the nine lessons. a. Within the next 9 lessons we will learn: 1) what is ambient music, specifically the use of timbre to create a musical atmosphere 2) using visual images as a means of generating musical ideas for an ambient composition, 3) using form in ambient music, 4) create a recorded in-class ambient composition based upon the pictures in the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, 5) using tableau and interpretive dance to generate visual and musical ideas for our recorded in-class ambient composition so we can then create our own individual masterpieces, 6) creating your own visual image of our in-class ambient composition, 7) learning to use the software GarageBand to create your own ambient composition, 8) creating your own ambient work on GarageBand based upon the visual image you created, and 9) an in-class presentation of all individual images and compositions. Also mention that short take home assignments will be part of most classes.
  • 7. 2. The teacher will ask the students what they know about ambient music. What does this term mean?3. After an interactive moment the teacher will explain the definition of this genre to the students. a. “Ambient music is a musical genre that focuses largely on the timbre characteristics of sounds, often organized or performed to evoke an atmospheric, visual, or unobtrusive quality,” (Wikipedia, 2008, “Ambient Music”). b. The teacher should briefly draw the student’s attention to the other subgenres present in the “Ambient Music” article as they will be required to choose one subgenre as part of their homework assignment or describe what subgenre the work “She Under A Sherrington Tree” belongs in.4. The teacher will present György Ligeti and his contribution to ambient music. a. György Ligeti was born on May 28, 1923 to a Hungarian Jewish family in Transylvania, Romania and passed away on June 12, 2006 in Vienna. He received his first musical training at the conservatory at Clug in Romania (Wikipedia, n.d., “György Ligeti”). He eventually did ethnomusicology in Romanian folk music but a year later returned to Budapest to teach musical harmony, counterpoint, and analysis. He met several key avant-garde (which means experimental and innovative) figures and learned more contemporary musical styles and methods. He began producing instrumental works that often contained electronic sounding textures. As time passed he composed the landmark work Atmosphères.5. The teacher will play the aforementioned work found on track 6 of the DVD Leaving Home: Orchestral Music in the 20th century. a. The teacher will then discuss this work with the class, explaining how Ligeti composed this work using timbre and sound masses to create the desired “atmosphere”. Note: timbre is tone colour. Here the artist is using colour of sound to create the work. Instead of rhythm being the focus it is used as a means to create tone colour. Sound masses are a term coined by the composer Edgar Varèse. He “aimed to liberate composition from conventional melody, harmony, meter, regular pulse, recurrent beat, and traditional orchestration…sounds as such were the essential structural components of music. He imagined music as spatial, akin to an aural ballet in which what he called sound masses moved through musical space, changing and interacting,” (Burkholder, 2006. p. 884). If time permits (or if needed based on student questions) consider reading (Burkholder, p. 931, paragraph 1) to the class beginning with the sentence, “Atmosphères begins with fifty-six muted strings.”
  • 8. 6. After the DVD has been completed the teacher will pass around a copy of the musical score for this work and ask the students if they have any questions about the composition Atmosphères.7. After answering any questions the students might pose about Atmosphères the teacher will present track 1 of Milliseconde topographie’s Tricycle DVD entitled, “She Under A Sherrington Tree.” 8. The teacher will complete the lesson by handing out the take home assignment and corresponding rubric.
  • 9. Assignment for Lesson 1 In our class today we have studied the genre Ambient Music. You are now asked tochoose one subgenre of this style, provide a musical example of it, and compose a one pagereflection about your chosen style and musical excerpt. OR you may write a one page reflection about the in-class musical example “She UnderA Sherrington Tree.” You must provide evidence of what subgenre this work belongs to withinyour one page reflection.Make this assignment personal. It is not so much about being right or wrong but telling me yourthoughts and describing the work in your own words. Please understand that not all musicalworks fit into one category. Therefore, when choosing the subgenre be sure you can validateyour opinion with facts that correspond between the subgenre and your chosen work.Please visit:Ambient music. (2008). In Wikipedia. Retrieved March16, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambient_music for the focus of your paper.The work “She Under A Sherrington Tree” will be place on reserve in our school library. Thiswill be in-library use only.
  • 10. Music Education Learning Plan – Lesson 2 of 9Lesson Time Required: 50 minutesRequired Resources and Materials:Allsburg, C. V. (1984). The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Milliseconde topographie. (2004-2007). Tricycle. DVD. n.p.: ekumen.Any and all available classroom instruments. This would ideally include a piano and a guitar,and a synthesizer of some type. The final three instruments are personally owned so availabilityis excellent.A DVD capable, internet accessible computer and corresponding projector.Various handouts: Assignments, rubrics, and assessment toolsGrade Level & Conceptual Focus: Gr. 9: Taking ActionKey Inquiry Question: How do you use visual images as a means of generating musical ideasfor an ambient composition?Arts Education Components Addressed:Cultural/Historical, Critical/Responsive, Creative/ProductiveProposed Music Learning Outcomes & Indicators: 1. CR9.1 Respond to professional dance, drama, music, and visual art works through individual or collaborative inquiry and the creation of own arts expressions. Students will: a. Use individual or collaborative inquiry to develop questions and learn about a selected art expression. b. Create own work in response to a selected professional arts expression, and describe how the new work is inspired or influenced by the original. 2. CH9.3 Investigate diversity of artistic ideas, styles, and media in contemporary arts expressions. Students will:
  • 11. a. Demonstrate an awareness of key historical developments in relation to contemporary arts expressions (i.e., the term contemporary typically includes arts expressions of the late 20th and 21st centuries). b. Extend knowledge of artistic styles across a range of cultural contexts. c. Investigate how function and purpose influence artistic decision making.3. CH9.4 Create interdisciplinary arts expressions individually or through collaboration with peers, and examine the work of artists who create interdisciplinary expressions (e.g., sound and poetry, performance art, audio visual installations). Students will: a. Identify ways that various arts expressions combine more than one arts discipline. b. Examine the impact of technology on interdisciplinary art works (e.g., audio visual installations, performance art). c. Examine a variety of new and non-traditional art forms that integrate disciplines. d. Investigate connections that exist among the arts, and incorporate more than one art form into own work or collaborative project.4. CP 9.7 Use voice, instruments, and technologies to express musical ideas. Students will: a. Create and improvise with an instrument of choice. b. Experiment with the voice and instruments by creating and imitating sounds. c. Demonstrate capability with electronic and technological mediums of musical expression (e.g. computer-generated sound/music). Note: A synthesizer will be used as the technological medium.5. CP9.8 Combine the elements of music and principles of composition to express unified musical ideas. Students will: a. Pose questions to initiate and guide inquiry into how best to combine elements of music and principles of composition to express musical ideas (e.g., How could we combine the rhythms that we’ve learned to create a Latin feel in this piece?). b. Investigate ways that beat, accent, and metre can be used to create a specific “feel” in music.
  • 12. c. Investigate ways that tempo, rhythm, melody, harmonic structure, or tonality can be used to express an idea or emotional quality in music. d. Demonstrate understanding of how music elements and composition principles create form and structure in music. 6. CP9.9 Compose and perform sound compositions to express perspectives and raise awareness about a topic of concern to youth. Students will: a. Generate musical ideas from both internal and external sources, developing these ideas to achieve meaning and expression. b. Compose music using digital technologies where possible (e.g., electronic keyboards, online composing, mixing, and editing tools).Planned Learning Activities: 1) Students will revisit the Milliseconde topographie DVD Tricycle and watch “This Is A Portrait” and “Orchid” as a completion of the three movement work entitled, Treeology. This will provide an excellent example of how audio and visual be used together to create a stunning composition and will in turn foster thoughtful discussion. 2) Students will then be presented with The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, presented from <www.youtube.com>. After watching this short clip they will be asked to choose between three pictures from the book upon which the class will build a composition from. 3) Students will be asked the mood and the story that the picture suggests. Then will then be asked how would they musically represent the mood, story, and feelings of the picture to create an appropriate atmosphere that an audience could understand. 4) Students will experiment with their voices, and various available instruments to create their intended ambient work. This improvisation will be kept short and will not focus on musical form, only on timbre and texture.Step-by-step Procedure: 1. The teacher will play the Milliseconde topographie DVD Tricycle and watch “This Is A Portrait” and “Orchid” as a completion of the three movement work entitled, Treeology. 2. The teacher will then ask the students about what they saw and heard. How does this combination of audio and video create the ambient work we have just enjoyed? What was the artist trying to convey? How did they do that? How did the sounds enhance the visual and vice versa? This to be an interactive discussion between the entire class.
  • 13. 3. The teacher will then play The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, presented from <www.youtube.com>.4. The teacher will then ask them to choose between three pictures from the story, namely: Uninvited Guests, Another Place, Another Time, and Under the Rug. This will be for the purpose of our in-class ambient composition.5. After the students have chosen their picture to work from the teacher will again ask some thought provoking questions for class discussion and consideration. What is the mood of the picture? What do you think is the storyline of the picture? How would musically represent the mood and storyline of the picture to create an appropriate atmosphere that an audience could understand?5) Finally the students will begin to experiment with their voices, and various available instruments to create their intended ambient work. This improvisation will be kept short and will not focus on musical form, only on timbre and texture and trying to represent the picture in a musical manner.6. The teacher will close the lesson with a take home assignment.
  • 14. Assignment for Lesson 2For homework:You are asked to begin thinking about three different sounds that would each represent amusical beginning, middle, and end to the chosen class picture from the book TheMysteries of Harris Burdick. These three sounds can be anything appropriate but theymust possible within our classroom setting. This assignment is not for marks but it will beconsidered as part of your class participation grade.

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