DPhil Submission : Critical Writing and Portfolio of Works

Welcome to the web submission of my DPhil (PhD) in Music Composition (see for hard copy). This page includes my acknowledgements, the abstract for the paper as well as a general introduction to the materials included and a step-by-step method for proceeding through the work.

Enjoy exploring the submission,

– Huw Catchpole-Davies 2015



This study contributes to practical discussions on the composition of dynamic music for video games from the composer’s perspective. Creating greater levels of immersion in players is used as a justification for the proposals of the thesis. It lays down foundational aesthetic elements in order to proceed with a logical methodology. The aim of this paper is to build upon, and further hybridise, two techniques used by composers and by video game designers to increase further the reactive agility and memorability of the music for the player. Each chapter of this paper explores a different technique for joining two (possibly disparate) types of gameplay, or gamestates, with appropriate continuous music. In each, I discuss a particular musical engine capable of implementing continuous music.

Chapter One will discuss a branching-music engine, which uses a precomposed musical mosaic (or musical pixels) to create a linear score with the potential to diverge at appropriate moments accompanying onscreen action. I use the case study of the Final Fantasy battle system to show how the implementation of a branching-music engine could assist in maintaining the continuity of gameplay experience that current disjointed scores, which appear in many games, create. To aid this argument I have implemented a branching-music engine, using the graphical object oriented programming environment MaxMSP, in the style of the battle music composed by Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of the early Final Fantasy series. The reader can find this in the accompanying demonstrations patch.

In Chapter Two I consider how a generative-music engine can also implement a continuous music and also address some of the limitations of the branching-music engine. Further I describe a technique for an effective generative music for video games that creates musical ‘personalities’ that can mimic a particular style of music for a limited period of time. Crucially, this engine is able to transition between any two personalities to create musical coincidence with the game. GMGEn (Game Music Generation Engine) is a program I have created in MaxMSP to act as an example of this concept. GMGEn is available in the Demonstrations_Application.

Chapter Three will discuss potential limitations of the branching music engine described in Chapter One and the generative music engine described in Chapter Two, and highlights how these issues can be solved by way of a third engine, which hybridises both. As this engine has an indeterminate musical state it is termed the intermittent-music engine. I go on to discuss the implementation of this engine in two different game scenarios and how emergent structures of this music will appear. The final outcome is to formulate a new compositional approach delivering dynamic music, which accompanies the onscreen action with greater agility than currently present in the field, increasing the memorability and therefore the immersive effect of the video-game music.



First, I would like to thank Dan Hulme and Duncan Williams for their technical aid.

Thanks to all the friends who have supported me knowingly or unknowingly during this project: Martin Evans, Kate Kennedy, Jamie Frost, Tomi Johnson, Jess Goodman, Paul Fineran, Pauline Souleau, Liz Mowforth, Liselotte Snijders, Stew McCain, Philippa Dand, Lizzie Sandis, Ally Paddock, Hannah Ryley, Jason Preece, Jim Cust, Henry Cust, Mike Taylor, Seb Fernando, Dan Jeffries, Nick DiBerardino, Nigel McBride, Chris Williams, Mike Evans, Tom Barnes, Aaron Pugh, James Harding, Dave Morgan, Jenny McParland, Sam Fernando, Nick Caplan, Frank Sloan, Catriona Munro, Tom Smart, Katie Oakham, Pete Jefferies, Kim Crangle and Lucy Nolan. Without you all, I could not have completed this.

Thanks to my loving family and especially to my brilliant sister, Emma, who has helped me clarify many of the issues I had taken for granted in the paper.

Katie Reeves’s rallying words, her unwavering time and consideration as well as her gracious sharing of her gifted writing techniques have helped me progress through the most difficult moments of this project.

Words cannot express my gratitude to my Mum. Her endless, endless help during this doctorate is simply a theme for the endless, endless support she has given me, and continues to give me, throughout my whole life.


General Introduction to the Materials

Due to the multimedia nature of the materials submitted for this thesis I have created two full versions of the entire submission. One version takes the form of a website (dphil.huwcatchpoledavies.com) where all the multimedia elements can be displayed inline with text. The internet has evolved in part to accommodate the need to share such varied forms of media and entertainment in a widely viewable and standardised format. My thesis contained music, video, critical writing, scores, programme notes and even interactive applications. To submit these materials in hard copy requires: a CD of recordings, a DVD of Videos and Interactive applications, a paper copy of the critical writing, paper copies of the scores, paper copies of the programme notes for the musical works. As can be seen from listing these items, this is an encumbering array of material. While critical writing, scores and programme notes are standard for a thesis for a DPhil in Music Composition, my interactive application and video-game music subject matter demanded the submission of DVD materials also to form an archivable version of the thesis. Submitting these materials as a website I was able to: publish text for the critical writing and the programme notes; publish digital copies of scores; publish audio files and embed a web-player in line with text; publish video files and embed a web-player in line with text; post links to the interactive application and provide video instructions in line with text. In short, submitting as a website provides a seamless and simplified submission procedure, and it was therefore my opinion that this method of submission made the thesis more presentable for the examiners. At confirmation of status I presented this idea to my examiners (Robert Saxton and Jason Stanyek) and it was met with positivity allowing me to proceed with it further. Also, the examiners at the final viva have shown praise for this method of presentation. It is for these reasons that I see the web version of this thesis as its definitive form. It is to be noted that this choice of providing an extra way of presenting the thesis came with the burden of acquiring extra web development skills in order to achieve this for ease of communication. This necessarily cost time in both the original production and subsequent updating of materials post correction, which are not required for the typical submission. My production of the original website was in an effort to bring my submission inline with modern media and ways in which information is now communicated. While it is understandable these requirements are not yet in print at the University of Oxford, I believe they will become increasingly necessary for interdisciplinary research moving forward and am grateful for the examiners positivity toward this form of submission. For clarity, with access to the website, no hard (physical) copy need be examined as the ‘hard’ copy exists to satisfy standard submission criteria and not as the optimum method for communication of a thesis including varied media. The web submission is therefore an additional copy of all the materials presented in the paper/DVD/CD (physical) version of the submission.

In light of the above, this introduction provides an inventory of materials and a step-by-step guide as how to navigate the thesis for both the soft (web) copy and the hard (physical) copy.



The rest of this introduction will guide the reader through the course of the thesis. I will explain how to navigate all of the submitted materials and will show how evidence for the assertions being made are backed up by what has been submitted.


The reader should then proceed to explore the thesis proper beginning with the Critical Writing. Reading from cover to cover takes the reader through all technical research points made and references both the video explanations and Demonstration_Application at the appropriate locations. Technical advice, should it be required, on how to open the Demonstrations_Application can be found in the demonstrations and information (in short: double click on the application icon).

The introduction discusses the state of the video game industry, the state of the academic study of video games and the state of the academic study of video-game music.

Chapter 1 discusses the early Final Fantasy battle system and its music. Referenced in this chapter is the video demonstration of the typical Final Fantasy battle-overworld transition demonstrated with gameplay from Final Fantasy VII. I also demonstrate the branching music engine discussed in this chapter in the Demonstrations_Application Tab 1 and 2. The former shows an example of the musical engine governing the music in the early Final Fantasy battle system where the latter shows a method of increasing the immersive capacity of the music on the listener by use of a triggered branching music engine, which is described earlier in the chapter.

Chapter 2 discusses the mechanics and methods used in building a generative music engine capable of creating static time-spaces of a particular musical character (I term these musical personalities). This generative music engine is also able to transition between any two personalities upon any game trigger. Demonstrations pertaining to the arguments made can be found in the Demonstrations_Application under Tab 3 and 4. Tab 5 shows a complete working prototype of GMGEn, and allows the reader to listen to the static state of a musical personality and also allows the reader to trigger a transition to a new musical personality. These demonstrations are explicit examples of the assertions I make in the text of the critical writing.

The demonstrations are artistically explored further in the digital works of the portfolio of compositions. The Generative Triptych of Percussive Music (MUSIC SYSTEMS) found within the InteractivePortfolo_Application is one such example, and explores the notion of larger forms of structure with indeterminate microcosms. The Generative Triptych of Percussive Music (MUSIC SYSTEMS) therefore acts as a proof of concept regarding the assertions made about generative rhythm and structure in a work of indeterminate nature. Further the work Deus Est Machina (NARRATIVE SYSTEMS), which exploits the GMGEn instrument, provides a proof of concept for the working engine, the concept of the generative musical personality and the transitioning path finding mechanics presented in the second chapter of the thesis. Starfields (FLIGHT SYSTEMS) combines the work of the first two chapters of the thesis in creating an interactive audio experience applying many of the techniques discussed. For example Starfields (FLIGHT SYSTEMS) uses harmonic-clouds, generative rhythm and melody, large-scale definable structures with microcosmic indeterminacy and musical (and artificial intelligence) personalities. Starfields (FLIGHT SYSTEMS) achieves this in a work that also has the textural element of interactivity as one of the methods used to create musical juxtapositions. All the works of the digital portfolio are thereby proof for, or explorations of, the concepts highlighted and discussed throughout the course of the critical writing.

Chapter 3 discussed the concept of an intermittent music engine which is a combination and cooperation of the branching and generative engines explored (and prototyped) during chapter one and two of the critical writing. In this chapter, I argue that the intermittent engine coupled with a composer understanding the design of this engine, might act as a prevalent combination of techniques used in the composition of new continuous dynamic musics for video games.


Following on from the critical writing portion of the submission I would guide the reader to continue with Appendix A. The appendix explores the impetus for the works in the portfolio of music and further gives explanations and connections between my research interests, aesthetic and technical considerations, and my conceptual aims for each work submitted.


Before opening of either application, the contents of the DVD should be moved to your local hard drive. The tutorial for this is included in the ‘How To’ video should the reader be unfamiliar with this process. Further, if the reader is unfamiliar with opening, interacting, or uncomfortable with naturally exploring either the InteractivePortfolio_Application or Demonstrations_Application applications, I suggest the reader view the ‘How to’ video, which explains how to open and access the applications. The video also gives a demonstration of the interface in both instances. Typically, double-clicking the application icon will open the applications. These applications work on Apple computers.


The reader is then guided towards the portfolio of musical works. Before beginning each work the reader is advised to absorb the information provided in the video program notes and scores. While most of the information in the video program notes can be read in hard (physical) copy as a preface to each of the scores, it is not possible to include all of the demonstrable material efficiently in this format. The video programme notes allow a more assimilable format for the demonstration of interface, user interaction and compositional mechanisms inherent in the content of the musical portfolio.

Starting with the digital portfolio I recommend starting the tutorial on the first load of the portfolio. This explains the full controls available and even includes new features brought in during the corrections process. This tutorial will explain to the user where controls are and what they do. It will do this from a perspective within the fictional universe of the narrative. As the portfolio is interactive, the reader is now allowed the freedom to explore as they please; however, I will include a suggested path.

Begin exploring the interactive portfolio by selecting the FLIGHT SYSTEMS tab from the main systems control at the top of the interface. This will bring up the subsystem interface for the work Starfields. The engines can then be engaged beginning the work. During the work the user will be able to interact with the music using the slider on the right hand side of the interface. This slider will adjust many different parts of the musical parameters at any one moment. These parameters include many different methods of control over the textural intensity of the work. The effect of the THROTTLE slider can be viewed in the bottom right of the interface at any time. Methods used in the composition of this work are explored in the critical writing. For example the early sections heavily use the idea of harmonic-clouds. The underlying rhythm uses methods discussed relating to generative rhythm and large-scale structure during chapter 2 of the critical writing. Methods of generating melodic content, discussed in the critical writing, are also used later in the work during the 9th and 10th sections outlined in the video and text programme notes. In the latest version of the work there are also points where the user will begin MiniGames. These MiniGames are new areas of musical control and user interaction. They take the form of simple games some of which must be completed before progression occurs. The MiniGames were included to add further interaction and musical control for the user as well as provide reinforcement to the fictional narrative, which in previous versions remained hidden from the view of the player. This narrative has now been made more explicit while still allowing some ambiguous areas of hypothetical scenario for an inclined user. Also added in this version of Starfields is the graphical score. This acts as the navigational display inside the fictional world of the portfolio. Once Starfields has been completed I suggest the next tab in the main system control: MUSIC SYSTEMS.

Selecting the MUSIC SYSTEMS tab will bring up the subsystem interface for the Generative Triptych of Percussive Music. Here you will find three different versions of the same digital instrument used in the composition of these works. Clicking on any GENERATE button will generate and play a new work for that version of the instrument. In the new version post corrections there is now the ability to COMPOSE YOUR OWN composition where the reader is given access to the composing parameters that were available to me during the composition of the structured works. In these COMPOSE YOUR OWN versions the user is given 36 bars in which to adjust parameters. I have preset a work for each version of the digital instruments that will be loaded on startup. In other words, selecting COMPOSE YOUR OWN and then clicking GENERATE will play these preset works and allow the reader to follow along with the score in an aid to familiarisation of the mechanics of composing for these instruments. Once familiar, the user can adjust the parameters and begin the generation of the composition by pressing the GENERATE button which will now use the new parameters set by the reader. Works for all versions of this instrument are designed to illustrate macrocosmic personalities across multiple playings while remaining microcosmically indeterminate. Once the reader has finished exploring the compositional possibilities behind the digital instrument of the Generative Triptych of Percussive Music I suggest moving onto the last work in the digital portfolio.

Selecting the NARRATIVE SYSTEMS from the main systems menu at the top of the screen brings up the Deus Est Machina subsystem interface. Clicking on the BEGIN ADVENTURE button at the bottom of the screen starts the text-based narrative and also GMGEn’s ‘STARS’ musical personality. The text will scroll onto the screen and be readable by the user at their leisure. Once a section of text has completed there will be a CONTINUE button towards the bottom of the text display. This should be clicked when the user is ready to continue with the next section of text. GMGEn will accompany some of these continuation shifts with a transitional period of music. This transitional period will combine elements from the outgoing personality with that of the incoming personality. As the cascade of musical elements occurs the musical style of the first personality is blended with that of the second until the second aurally takes over completely, providing the new musical state for the work. During some points in the work the reader will be able to choose some directions for exploration by clicking on one tab towards the bottom of the text portion of the screen. The version of this work post corrections employs a voiceless narrator, which previously negatively competed with the musical content generated by GMGEn. Further, interactive elements have made this a simple text-based adventure as opposed to a narrative path generated solely by the artificial intelligence. In other words, the narrative path is now partly chosen by the user. On completion of the Interactive Portfolio the reader should move to the acoustic works submitted.

Abiogenesis and Traversing the Centuries have been included in this submission to show the beginnings of my aesthetic and methodological experimentations into the techniques I expanded upon during the thesis. In Abiogenesis, I used pitch-class sets to generate the harmonic content I would use in subsections of the music. This generative method enabled my choices to be bound by the pitch-class set thus affording the harmony of those sections a consistency due to the set’s limitation of included pitches. This would become the harmonic-cloud technique I discuss in the critical writing and use in the digital works. Traversing the Centuries shows the exploration of the microscopic detail of the work, by directly excavating the music of the opening over three iterations during the work. This fascination with the micro- vs macro of a work would feature in the general way I would explore generative processes and the creation of musical personalities in the critical writing. Further, the composition of this work directly influenced my ideas on the ‘softness’ of a score and the fluxing capabilities of the composing process. This terminology is discussed further in the program notes on this work.