Analysing Pitch Structure in Late-Period Recordings of John Coltrane: Interstellar Space and Stellar Regions

O'Gallagher, John (2021) Analysing Pitch Structure in Late-Period Recordings of John Coltrane: Interstellar Space and Stellar Regions. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

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Abstract

The impact of the saxophonist and composer John Coltrane (1926–67) on music is remarkably broad and reflective of a philosophy dedicated to finding new means of expression. Coltrane’s earlier tonal and modal music and their cultural-historical contexts are already well-documented; however, Interstellar Space and Stellar Regions – produced just one week apart in the final six months of his life – are among his least interrogated works. The analytical core of this thesis investigates to what extent Coltrane’s performances on Interstellar Space and Stellar Regions, widely regarded merely as unstructured (free) improvisations, contain evidence of rigour and organised pitch structure. This research aims to challenge the ways that these last recordings are understood, prompting a new dialogue relating to the nature of his music and the nature of ‘free’ improvisation.

While Coltrane’s late-period music is often characterised as motivic, this thesis evidences the widespread presence of trichordal pitch-class sets as a crucial means for achieving unity and binding the motivic surface. Coltrane’s eclecticism and esoteric studies are also considered for their potential impact upon pitch structure (Chapter 2). The analysis is based on original transcriptions, utilising a blend of post-tonal, voice-leading, jazz harmonic and improvisational techniques, while focusing on Rahnian set theory as the primary methodology (Chapter 3). It is organised within three themes according to the music’s structural homogeneity or heterogeneity: trichordal and hexachordal determinacy (Chapter 4); emergent pc-sets and major-third cycles (Chapter 5); and pc-set generation, integration, and diversity (Chapter 6). The construct (013), revealed as a constant reference in ‘Iris’, acts as a structural precedent for other pc-set formations within Interstellar Space and Stellar Regions, and more broadly in other similar loci through Coltrane’s late period. This doctoral research establishes Coltrane’s improvisations as highly structured works of art, refuting the notion of free jazz as disordered or chaotic.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Dates:
DateEvent
30 March 2021Submitted
3 August 2021Accepted
Uncontrolled Keywords: John Coltrane, Free Jazz, Improvisation, Late Period, Recordings, Set Theory, Analysis, Post-Tonal Theory, Saxophone
Subjects: CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-02 - performing arts > CAH25-02-02 - music
Divisions: Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Depositing User: Jaycie Carter
Date Deposited: 27 Jul 2022 14:25
Last Modified: 27 Jul 2022 14:25
URI: http://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/id/eprint/13446

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