New voice: Adam Scott Neal


Adam Scott Neal describes a recent work ~

Tidal (2012) is a work for piano and fixed media.

The fixed media portion was made in Pure Data with filtered noise. The tones play chords from upper partials of the harmonic series (based on the piano’s low C). When these chords are in equal temperament, they match with the piano, but when they are in just intonation, they “wobble” with the piano (i.e. they are sometimes considerably out of tune), and form “difference tones” in the bass register. These are tones that are not actually played; the frequency between two tones is interpreted by your brain as a lower tone.

This piece is essentially in sonata-allegro form. The difference tones form the background tonal structure, but the ‘surface’ chords might not seem related. Essentially, we still have a I-V-I progression in C Major, but it goes into E-flat minor, C# minor, and other areas. That is all very technical, but the piano part is still basically working out of two themes like classical sonatas.




Adam Scott Neal (b. 1981, Atlanta) is a composer whose work embraces a range of artistic engagement including acoustic and electroacoustic composition, video, electronics hardware, and improvisation. His dissertation proposes ‘object-oriented composition,’ which bases musical decisions on the capabilities and connotations of musical instruments.

He is a PhD fellow at the University of Florida, where he studies with James Paul Sain, Paul Koonce, and Paul Richards. He also teaches undergraduate music technology courses and has served as President of the UF chapter of the Society of Composers, Inc. Previously, Adam studied with Robert Scott Thompson at Georgia State University, earning a BM in music technology and an MM in composition. Following this, he earned an MA in sonic arts from Queen’s University Belfast, where he studied with Pedro Rebelo.

Adam has enjoyed over 100 performances of his music in 23 states, as well as the UK, Canada, China, Italy, Mexico, Slovenia, and Switzerland. His music has appeared on the following festivals, among others: June in Buffalo, soundSCAPE, New York Electroacoustic Music Festival, Florida Electroacoustic Music Festival, Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium, Harvest Moon, and Electronic Music Midwest. He has organized numerous contemporary music concerts in academic and non-academic settings, including those for Atlanta-based Terminus Ensemble, of which he is Co-Artistic Director.


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

My brothers and I used to make a lot of experimental cassette tape “albums” when we were young (early 1990s). We discovered by accident that our tape recorder’s pause button would make the tape roll faster when you held it down half-way. When you played it back, the sounds would be at half-speed. Another recorder would do the same, but sputter, resulting in a bubbly, underwater effect. A lot of our recordings were goofy, with a significant amount of toilet humor (we were kids, after all). I had already been taking piano lessons for a couple years by then, but I can easily point to this discovery as a significant influence on my work today.

If relevant, which composer(s) have been the most influential regarding your own work? If the answer is “none”, please explain. Has it changed over time?

As cliché as it may sound, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Queen. Most of all, my interest music technology comes from these groups. But I think my melodic sensibility and eclectic tastes obviously stem from the Beatles and Queen, while my predilection for slow tempi, stasis, and emphasis on atmosphere is considerably influenced by Pink Floyd.

On the classical side of things, my big influences include: John Cage, George Crumb, Claude Debussy, Brian Eno, Morton Feldman, and Anton Webern.

Can you describe your working process, i.e. do you use computer notation software, if so, do you find that it inhibits your process at all, do you have a regular schedule for writing? What other technology, if any, do you use?

I am extremely busy as a PhD student so I don’t have a regular writing schedule. Much of my time at present is taken up with writing prose (the music composition dissertation at the University of Florida is primarily a research document with a related composition). I have always preferred to sketch out most of my pieces in pencil first. I may make some editorial decisions later, but mostly the computer notation process is just notation. I write down lists of events, textures, ideas, etc. that I would like to hear in the piece, and I make doodles to give myself a basic structure. I improvise at the piano a lot. I used Sibelius for notation for a long time but in the past 3 years or so I have moved exclusively to Lilypond.

On electroacoustic and video works, I follow similar intuitive process. I ‘improvise’ on the computer to generate a lot of test material that gradually guides how I shape these works. I mainly use open source tools on Ubuntu (Linux) — Ardour, Audacity, and Pure Data for audio, Kdenlive for video. I have recently gotten into circuit bending and making/playing small toys and gadgets as well.


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