for solo flute
(variable, ca. 7')
Variable form compositions permit multiple orderings of its sections and can thus be used to study preferences in musical form. This study uses a contemporary piece with variable form (created by the author, a composer-researcher) to investigate 1) perceived similarity of musical material and 2) preferences in creating large-scale forms. The composition, titled Negentropy, is a stand-alone concert piece for solo flute, intended to double as a music perception task. It is divided into 9 sections (between 25 and 55 seconds each) that can be variably sequenced, resulting in just under a million possible unique sequences. Participants (7 professional composers and 7 non-musicians) characterized each of the 9 sections, then sorted the sections into groups based on musical similarity, and then ordered the sections (omitting up to 3) into their own “compositions”.Preliminary results reveal that in the sorting task divergent sections were reliably placed into the same groups, suggesting that listeners prioritized surface similarities in their classifications rather than form-bearing dimensions, such as structural organization. Data from the sequencing task reveal an unexpected agreement between composers’ and non-musicians’ sequences. 71% of participants chose a sequence with a symmetrical compositional structure consisting of tender, contemplative outer sections and energetic, rhythmic inner sections. That is, composers and non-musicians alike preferred an arch form ordering. It was anticipated that composers would choose more unconventional sequences. In contrast, the two flautists that have performed the piece thus far chose non-traditional forms, thereby implying that increased familiarity with the musical material, rather than musical experience, may result in more daring structural decisions. In sum, the Negentropy project contributes to our understanding of preference in large-scale musical form, and presents an integration of scientific inquiry with contemporary musical composition.