Cluster Voicing & Open Cluster voicing


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When it comes to harmonizing your music, exploring captivating techniques can elevate your compositions to new heights. One such technique is the use of cluster voicings. These voicings can be employed effectively throughout an entire passage, especially in action-driven scores where they have a significant impact.

Cluster voicings offer a rich and dense harmonic texture, adding depth and intensity to your music. However, it’s crucial to orchestrate them with care to prevent the creation of a muddled and unclear sound. By paying attention to the finer details and ensuring each note is thoughtfully placed, cluster voicings can truly shine and bring a touch of brilliance to your musical composition.

So, if you’re looking to expand your creative horizons and infuse your compositions with an intriguing harmonic quality, consider exploring the world of cluster voicings. With their careful implementation, these voicings can transform your music and captivate your listeners.

Open Voicing vs Closed Voicing

Open (Chord) Voicing is an arranging method of placing chord tones in a range spanning wider than an octave. Open voicings are particularly useful when aiming for a clean and distinct sound. They offer a different texture that can lend itself beautifully to various musical genres and styles. With open voicings, each note can be heard clearly, contributing to a harmonically rich and balanced composition. Closed voicing, on the other hand, places chord tones together as densely as possible (like traditional major/minor triads stacked in 3rds). Open-voiced chords make use of larger intervals between the chord tones, resulting in a more resonant and open sound.

Cluster Voicing

Cluster voicings offer another way to build suspense. Traditionally, a cluster is a tightly spaced voicing with three or more adjacent notes (no more than 2nds apart). The closely spaced notes produce an ambiguous, discordant sound that works well for dramatic purposes. Some composers adopt cluster voicings as part of their compositional style.

In the below example, Horns play a sustained four-note tone cluster consisting of G♯, A, B, and C (①). Each note of the cluster is a whole-step (or half-step) away from the adjacent note. The feeling of tension is driven by the close proximity of the notes and the brass’s energizing tone. Dynamics also greatly contribute to the drama. Fortepiano followed by a crescendo is a quintessential volume shape for any suspenseful situation.

Cluster Voicing Example 1

While horns are a central feature, we add tremolo strings around them to complement the sound. Cello, Viola, and Vln. II are stacked in major 3rds (G♯ – C – E), forming a G♯+ chord. Contrabass doubles cello an octave below, and Vln. I plays a 7th interval, adding D on top. The violins’ wide voicing contrasts with the brass’s closed voicing (②), which helps differentiate the timbres of the strings and brass.

Open Cluster voicing

The example above explores a creative approach to tone clusters. The violins, viola, and cello play a series of chromatic notes (G, A♭, A, B♭). However, we displace each note by an octave. Unlike the horns in the previous piece, each string note is a minor 9th interval (an octave plus a semitone) above the previous one. Contrabass and cello are separated by a major 9th. Once again, the sul ponticello bowing technique adds an eerie, ghostly quality to the sound.

Instead of placing adjacent pitch classes next to each other, open cluster voicing spreads the notes between different octaves while still maintaining the dissonance it creates. Because the interval between the dissonances is larger, the voicing itself creates a less dense and more open sound, while still maintaining the dissonance associated with this voicing.


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