Kirke Karja will defend her doctoral thesis on 20 December at 11.00 in room C-405 for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Music):

Protsessimuusika elementidest jazzmuusika kompositsioonis ja improvisatsioonis
(Process Music Elements in Jazz Composition and Improvisation)

Supervisor: professor Kerri Kotta, PhD (EAMT)

Opponent: Mihhail Gerts, PhD (Tallinn/Berlin)

The doctoral thesis is available HERE (in Estonian) and in print in the EAMT library.

This thesis explores how contemporary jazz music composition and improvisation participate in musical communication. More specifically, I observe structures that we can find in process music (music emerging from a process or multiple processes). To explore this topic, I used concepts developed by Fred Lerdahl: compositional grammar and listening grammar. Compositional grammar is what a composer intended while writing the piece. Listening grammar is what a listener hears and understands from the compositional grammar, interpreted subjectively by listeners to the degree allowed by their comprehension.

As a researcher, I am most interested in situations in which compositional grammar changes without affecting listening grammar, i.e. when composed and improvised parts of a musical piece appear in ways that extend beyond the listener’s ability to grasp musical structure.

I differentiate between composition and improvisation. In my work, the main difference between composition and improvisation is that when composing, I have the opportunity to work on and revise every musical detail as long as I need to until I am satisfied. When I am improvising, musical decisions take place in real time and there is no opportunity to edit afterwards.

In my compositions, I employ techniques borrowed from process music. Process music has a structure in which musical motifs and elements transform step-by-step, making sound events predictable. Processes are mainly found in rhythms and pitches, with most known techniques being additive and subtractive, phase, and polyphony of processes where different processes happen simultaneously yet independently of one another.

main research questions are derived from the logical connection of processes in composition and improvisation. These are:
1) How does one change compositional grammar in such a way that listening grammar will not change? In other words: if the listener has understood the „rules” within a piece of improvised music which contains certain processes, how can an improviser change those rules in such a way that the listener does not comprehend the change?
2) Is it possible to create different, even contrasting, musical ideas without losing elements of process music, and how? In other words: how does one avoid situations in which a musical piece becomes a monotonous musical fabric? Is it possible to guarantee that a musical piece will still contain surprises, tension, conflict, and solutions?

In order to answer these questions, it was necessary to find, create, and utilize tools to assist me.
[– – –]

During my research, I found that I want to use process techniques in my creative work in the future because:
1) There is an infinite number of opportunities and ways to use them.
2) If I use them polyphonically, it helps me create fascinating layers.
3) Since the process music is „writing itself”, addiction to inspiration is subsequently avoidable.

I also discovered that a greater understanding of compositional grammar and listening grammar inspires me to manipulate listeners’ perceptions. It lends itself and leads me to search for musical and situational opportunities which purposely confuse listeners. I found new meaning in music: instead of „performing” it (a result-orientated activity and a narrow-minded way of thinking about it), I now think of music as a „game”. Such an understanding allows it to exist as an engaging basis and medium for interaction between both creators and listeners as co-participants.

Photo: Renee Altrov