A Portfolio of original compositions (Barry O'Halpin)

  • Barry O'Halpin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Written for various forces, the portfolio works discussed in this commentary share an overarching interest in non-human natural phenomena – both biotic and abiotic – as sources of an untempered, uncanny musicality to be mimetically absorbed into my practice using a post-spectral approach. Existing spectral methods are first adapted with relative austerity into the compositional interplay of manuscript, Logic audio demo, Pure Data, Sibelius score and instrumental improvisation. The chamber quintet Difference Fumes builds harmonic palettes from combination-tone and harmonic series phenomena, while Stonemired for 8 musicians & electronics harnesses the sonified atomic spectra of chemical elements using spectral analysis and acoustic instrumental resynthesis. Similar techniques are then brought into more heterogeneous aesthetic and technical discourses, exploring interactions of: mimetic and non-mimetic materials; microtonality and equal temperament; systems and spontaneity. Vargvarde chorally resynthesises wolf and frog choruses, colliding with one other and with contrasting pitch materials. Hox, for bass flute and drums, sets a transcribed wasp song amongst cellular, asymmetrical grooves informed by jazz, experimental rock and electronica. Two solo electric guitar works with microtonal scordatura enable post-spectral exploration in an idiomatic composer-performer mode: Grave Goods pursues microtonally-inflected melodicism and maximal resonance, and Stridula is a concentrated investigation of the percussive and timbral potentials of a lesser-used harmonics technique, also featuring mimesis of beetle stridulation. The portfolio culminates in the four-movement ensemble work Wingform. Extracting a wealth of materials from a short mosquito-swarm sample, it combines the earlier systematic mimetic spectrality with the later technical and stylistic hybridity. The solo guitar works serve as ‘connective tissue’, with materials transplanted into Wingform where their idiomatic post-spectral harmonic and timbral investigations shape the surrounding ensemble writing. The portfolio seeks to make an original contribution to artistic research through this fusion of mimetic spectrality, aesthetic hybridity and highly idiomatic electric guitar writing. 

The open access version of this thesis comprises: 

(i) a portfolio of original compositions (pp. 299 -509 redacted). This includes an extensive commentary. Note that some scores are redacted for copyright reasons

(ii) zip files of supplementary audio and video content &

(iii) zip files of recordings and video content (restricted to Pure users only)

Some scores of composition are not available online in Pure. Note that some audio and visual content from the thesis is not available open access currently owing to copyright reasons. If you wish to further discuss this, or obtain a possible private copy, please contact the author. Email: barryohalpin@gmail.com

Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorSimon Mawhinney (Supervisor) & Piers Hellawell (Supervisor)


  • Music composition
  • post-spectral
  • electric guitar
  • hybridity
  • mimetic
  • bioacoustic
  • ensemble
  • contemporary music
  • experimental music
  • microtonality

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