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"Strings in Stress"

Title Strings in Stress
ComposerF.G.J. Absil
Instrum.Studio Orchestra
DateNovember 2013
StyleFilm Music
KeyAtonal, E-Mixolydian
Tempo60 BPM


A musical score excerpt
  • Clarinet 1-2, Bass clarinet 1-2, Bassoon 1-2-3, Contrabassoon;
  • Piano;
  • String section: Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Cello, Contrabass;
  • Synthesizer 1 (Warm Pad), Synthesizer 2 (Piccolo lead), Synthesizer 3 (Glockenspiel), Synthesizer 4 (Bass), Synthesizer 5 (Woodblock percussion), Sound effects (Modulated noise).


This slow tempo piece is an exercise in film music, combining acoustic and electronic instruments. The form is A-B-A'-Coda.

The harmonic structures are based on four pitch-class (PC) sets: O9(5-35) [122230], O2(6-32) [143250], I3(6-27) [225222], and I2(7-26) [344532]. The cardinal numbers are 5-6-6-7: i.e., the number of pitches in the set is increasing, as is the number of dissonant intervals (the interval vector is shown in square brackets). See the PC set tools on this website for pitch representation, transformations and overlap.

The closest tonal equivalents of these PC structures are: A6/9/E-G6/9-B7alt/C-G7b9/B. This suggests modal structures in the key of E, which is the basis of the 12/8 blues that appears in the middle section and returns in the coda.

Based on this source material, in the score we find:

  • [Introduction, A, B] (m 1-6, 8-13 and 16-21) Transformations of the PC sets (transpositions and inversion) in sustained strings, with variable density (adding voices). The transformations yield dissonant chromatic neighbouring notes. The piano interludes, based on the same structures, comment in shorter note values.
  • [C, F] (m. 26-31 and 52-59). Sustained chords in extremely low woodwinds; note the two bass clarinets, three bassoons and contrabassoon. This is a timbre, used regularly by film music composer Bernard Herrmann. As a counterpoint, two solo violins play vary rapid, quasi-glissando ascending and descending scales.
  • [D, E] (m. 32-51) At the same tempo we hear two choruses of a slow shuffle blues in E major. In the first statement the electronic instruments dominate the timbre: synthesizer bass, pad, glockenspiel (in the distance) and woodblock-like percussion (with tempo-synchronised echo-delays, supporting the 8th note shuffle groove). The second chorus adds tremolo strings, occasional bass line doublings in the bass clarinet and contrabassoon, synthesizer arpeggios and light piano ad lib accents.
  • [G] (m. 59-77) The return of the sustained string chords, in 8-part divisi setting, with percussion support (the woodblock is suggesting the triplet 8th groove).
  • A sound effects track uses various noise sources: narrow- and wideband, with both frequency and amplitude modulation, and rhythmic pulsations.