Wolinski, Paul (2019) Decomposition Theory: A Practice-Based Study of Popular Music Composition Strategies. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

Bands as social and cultural forces primarily release albums and go on tour. These well
established, popular forms for recording, presenting and performing music seem
somewhat antiquated, similar now to how bands acted fifty years ago. This means that
bands are not necessarily able to properly embrace new musical potentials that open up
as technology evolves.

The goal of this study is to establish how new forms of expression and alternative modes
of composition can be utilised by bands and solo artists working in the commercial popular
music industry. It aims to do this through a practice-based exploration that specifically
embraces unique or unconventional approaches to composition in the context of popular

The algorithmic and interactive strategies for music making that are focussed on in this
study have been well covered in the academic literature, as have critical histories
surrounding the evolution of popular music over the last century, up to and including its
current moment. However, so far nobody has explored how emerging technologies might
be applied to popular music forms from the perspective of an active participant working at
a professional level in the music industry. This is what makes this study unique and

To answer these questions, this study describes a new methodology. Decomposition
Theory is a critically aware approach to music-making that sees composition as a
dialectical process based around constructing musical and audio-visual systems that have
the ability to generate endless musical potentialities. Established forms for popular music,
such as songs, albums or live performances, can then be ‘decomposed’ from these
systems. This is demonstrated through a collection of practice-based research at differing
scales, from custom algorithmic functions generating individual phrases and rhythms at the
micro scale, to large, audio-visual live performances, infinitely-long generative video game
soundtracks, and new means of disseminating musical and audio-visual projects digitally
at the macro scale. A theoretical grounding for the methodology is included in this
accompanying written commentary.

This study finds that by bands putting Decomposition Theory into practice — that is by
developing a new critical awareness to their own working practice, and viewing
composition as a dialectical process rather than measuring it through completed musical
productions — they need not be tied to established popular musical forms, but can
discover new modes of reflection, composition, and alternative means for disseminating
their work.

FINAL THESIS - Wolinski.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

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