Music to your Ears

by YPU Admin on December 20, 2019. Tags: Humanities, instrumental composition, music, music composition, PhD, and vocal composition


My name is Maria Palapanidou and I am a second-year PhD student in Instrumental/Vocal Music Composition. My research is about structuring music in a three-dimensional environment with the help of specific software. I draw various curved surfaces, colourful shapes, and rectangular planes on a virtual three-dimensional space to visualise musical parameters, such as which instrument will play first, second etc. or how loud or soft the dynamics will be. This aggregate ‘3D image’ of the shapes and planes is then used as a compositional tool to translate this image into a traditional musical score.

In Depth…

For me, doing a PhD in Music is a dream come true. I have always wanted to continue my Music studies to a postgraduate level. In order to do so, I did a Bachelors Degree in Piano Performance at the University of Macedonia in Greece, and I completed a Masters Degree in Instrumental/Vocal Music Composition at the University of Manchester. As my research is led by my own practice, it is ultimately important to myself as a developing composer and musician. It focuses on the way I understand time, space, shapes and their connection, and how I translate them into a piece of music.

However, this 3D tool I am using can have further applications in education and musical analysis. Three-dimensional visualisations can be a very helpful when explaining or describing musical terms such as register (high or low pitches), tempo (how fast or how slow) and form (the number of different sections and their order). In addition, I am currently searching how this ‘3D image’ can be used to help people with hearing loss understand what a piece of music ‘looks like’ without needing to detect vibrations.

'In this piece, the performers 'walk' inside a virtual maze and improvise on their instruments according to the shapes and colours they see on the walls'

Most of my time, as a full-time student, includes composing music, listening to other composers’ pieces, reading articles relevant to my research, attending composition workshops and research forums, and collaborating with other musicians to organise concerts and rehearsals of my pieces. Being aware of current trends in composition, new instrumental techniques and new technology, as well as, receiving feedback from the players are a very important part of a composer’s life.

What is more, as a pianist, I work with other composers by performing their pieces and giving them feedback on notation and pianistic techniques. This double identity (composer-performer) allows me to understand both sides of musical creation, and helps me realise how to use notation to communicate a complicated thought through the musical symbols with precision.

'Sketching the four sections of a string quartet piece (two Violins, one Viola, and one Violoncello) in three dimensions' 

Going Further

My research has a connection to architectonic features (space, height, structure, surface, material and colours). One of the most important musicians to establish this field was a Greek composer named Iannis Xenakis ( He worked a lot with computer based music, as well as literally translating an architectonic sketch into music. Some of his very characteristic works are:

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