Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Norma Coates


This dissertation is primarily concerned with developing an understanding of how the use of pre-recorded digital audio shapes and augments conventional notions of counterpoint. It outlines a theoretical framework for analyzing the contrapuntal elements in electronically and digitally composed musics, specifically music mashups, and Glenn Gould’s Solitude Trilogy ‘contrapuntal radio’ works. Conventional studies of counterpoint encompass sixteenth- through early twentieth-century modernist and neo- classical materials but stop there. Composition by magnetic tape and computer software using pre-existing recorded audio offers the potential for a new study of music that displays clear contrapuntal elements but lacks the analytical models to outline the underlying musical systems. Central to these investigations is the assertion that counterpoint operates not only within the sphere of art music but also in the compositional logic of non-musical sound works (radio documentary) and in the harmonic and melodic underpinnings of popular music.

The first chapter examines technological and cultural developments that contribute to the formation of digital contrapuntal music. The second and third chapters outline the traditional musical elements—harmony, form, and texture—of contrapuntal radio and mashups, respectively. Chapter Four explores how counterpoint exists in the sonic space of the stereo or mono sound field. Chapter Five presents the notion of program as a useful concept for analyzing interaction between lyric samples to form original narratives. These two final chapters present the original contributions from contrapuntal radio and mashups to a study of counterpoint.

In each of these chapters, counterpoint forms the basis for how we perceive the underlying systems of musical works composed by traditional counterpoint or by assembling pre-existing recorded audio. The connection between the old and new is important, as one does not supplant but augment the other. As such, counterpoint is a fluid musical concept, rather than a fixed system of rules governing composition in a narrow musical palette.

Included in

Musicology Commons