Peter Batchelor's Valley Flow Analysis

Analyst's name: 
Peter Batchelor
Year of analysis: 
Composition title: 
Valley Flow

This analysis of Denis Smalley’s Valley Flow was completed in 1997 very shortly after I completed my undergraduate degree. It is incomplete, and in retrospect there are plenty of flaws and inconsistencies, along with observations that seem with hindsight either naïve or frankly wrong. But I present it here as it constitutes a listening of the piece and one which reflects how I believed I experienced it at the time. While I have done a bit of editing prior to releasing it here, in essence it remains as it was.

The analysis concentrates principally on pitch relationships in the piece (coverage of the sound materials themselves and their relationships is rather bitty and might usefully be the subject of a complementary analysis). It borrows substantially from Schenkerian analytical practice – a highly reductive approach which proposes that successful tonal works should be reduce- able ultimately to a I-V-I Fundamental (harmonic) Structure. Trying to shoe-horn acousmatic music into such a structure is of course problematic, though I seem to have tried to here; certainly the analysis assumes that the piece conforms to some sort of diatonic pitch structure (though this is certainly not a claim made only by me about Smalley’s works (Rudi, 2003)). In any event, many of the principles of reduction in such an approach are sound—e.g. prolongation (demonstrating ‘how a background structure may be expanded step-by-step until it results in the succession of musical events on the surface of the composition itself’ (‘Schenkerian Analysis’, 2011), neighbour notes (methods of prolonging structure by inserting adjacent notes as ‘temporary embellishment’) etc—and certainly encouraged a deeper understanding of the piece.

Sound Materials

Programmaticism and imagery

The title evokes a vague image which is enhanced by the programme note. But even upon hearing the work without such ‘guidance’ as to the inspiration behind it, the listener’s thoughts may yet be drawn to visions of the appropriate environment. This is achieved by the following means.

  1. Evocation of natural sounds to induce concrete image of an object and manner of its behaviour (e.g. wind blowing, pebbles bounding or grating against each other);
  2. Less explicit, perhaps subconscious association of the behaviour of a sound with that of a natural source (even if it doesn’t sound directly like the object normally associated with such behaviour)—e.g. adjacent sounds ‘flowing’ into each other
  3. Drawing upon the psychological associations of ‘up’ and ‘down’ in the implication of physical contour—cinematic? Furthermore, falling events far outweigh rising. Notably, both ‘Valley’ and ‘Flow’ suggest downward motion. Where rising glissandi are employed, they chiefly evoke anticipation; downward gestures, by contrast, are more decisive.
  4. Inducing a sense of awe in the broadness of gesture, including the gradual changes in amplitude of an intense sound or series of sounds (e.g. the construction of layers of pitched material later on is often quite breath-taking)

Such sweeping sounds are clearly things that have become accepted within the electroacoustic world in their capacity to induce images of expansive vistas. Analogous instances are to be found in Andrew Lewis’s Ascent (1992) and Smalley’s own later work Névé (1993). Thus although this piece is clearly of quite a different style to that of Vortex (1982) which also involve fluid motion (Lewis 1987), there are still a number of similarities. Both embody the concept of up-down to a large degree. Fluidity (in the sense of ‘Flow’) is also evident in the manner in which some of the supposedly more ‘solid’ sounds (e.g. stony textures) flow into other sounds.

Categorisation of sound-types

Pitched material:

  • Sustained and clearly-pitched material, frequently pseudo-brassaged—evocative of mountainous contours or of liquid ‘flow’, given the gradual, sweeping evolution of such material (either by moving pitches (i.e. glissandi) or by changing amplitude on one pitch).
  • Collection of short, clearly-pitched events (static or glissandoing), oftend configured in apparently descending patterns.

Cacophonous textures:

  • These are all somehow evocative of elemental materials (wood, water, stone) or states/behaviours (fire crackling, wind blowing, thunder rumbling). These often evolve (‘flow’?) out of each other (N.B. grainy textures may be, by means of filtering, made wind-like.

Articulative gestures:

  1. Dry, wooden-sounding knocks, predominantly low-frequency
  2. Pulsations—WOWOWO-sounding—both pitched and non-pitched but generally low-frequency
  3. Rapidly rising or falling noise-like gesture (occasionally pitched, as at 11’46), predominantly low-frequency
  4. Abrupt, brief manifestations of the cacophonous textures (or their components—e.g. sharp crack from fire-like sounds, 13’36) described above.
  5. Rattle
  6. Sharp-toned falling brassage from notes c’’ and g ’
  7. Low-frequency triton fall (articulative, but to what purpose?)
  8. High-frequency twinkling effects

Pitch Analysis

Rather than resorting to conventional analytical terms with their inherent connotations of traditional tonal music, in the following text the terms ‘Principal’, ‘Region’, and ‘Transition’ (capitalised for clarity) replace concepts such as key and modulation as strategies of pitch focus or movement. I use the terms ‘passers’ and ‘neighbours’ to denote pitches of short- term significance that occur within the context of large-scale Principals (c.f. neighbour notes). Capitalised letters (e.g. G, D E etc) denote Principals (i.e. pitch focus areas—c.f. keys) while lower-case letters denote pitches within those Principals. Register is denoted by apostrophes (e.g. d’’).

Transitions between Principals

Drones are difficult to stop convincingly; the same is true of pitch centres. Once they’ve become established, it’s hard to end them without inducing a feeling of unnatural cut-off. Thus Smalley employs various means to effect the appropriate transitions from one pitch Principal to another.



G ➔ D

  • Confusion caused by non-pitched material from 1’50-2’30
    • d is part of g resonance anyway
    • d is ‘confirmed’ by the ‘modal’ cacophony at 3’26

D ➔ E♭/A

  • D resonance is expected to continue, particularly after the E➔A bit at 3’36 (interesting that these pitches herald the next section)
  • Instead of moving directly back to a D resonance, eH’’ is interpolated which glissandos to d’’, along with a b’ to a’ gliss. This fulfils the expectation while simultaneously preparing both the EH (and A) of the following Region. The tortured metallic sounds of 4’06 to 4’24 serve to enhance the ambiguity of this transitional section, fluctuating vaguely between the two pitches. Further glissandi—one at 4’08 (from eJ’ to e’); the other beginning at 4’29 (a gradual glissando that descends to settle on e’’’)—drag the pitch yet further into E

E/A ➔ E/A

  • Same transitional tactic as before: e’’ to e’’ and b’ to a’ glissandi, preparing for the shift upwards
  • It is interesting that in the section 7’02-7’41, the pitch intervals are used for both sets of pitches, thus (from top to bottom (excluding d’)).

aJ’’ ➔ eJ’’ ➔ a     vs      f’ ➔ c ➔ gJ

4th  tt  (3rd)  4th  tt

  • Passer on Fat 7’42 descending (from the gJ bit (the importance of which I’ve not yet decided)) back to E

E♮  ➔ G/C

  • Pause with non-pitched articulative gesture (8’07) allows a complete change of sound and Principal
  • Continuing D softens any ‘blow’
  • G and g articulative pulsations used to confirm the G/C Region—this particularly so after the neighbours of F (neighbour to G (8’42)) and E (neighbour to D (9’29)), both clearly articulated by dramatic fising gestures (and in the latter also by a pulsation on e like that of the G sounds noted above)
  • The 4th/tt pattern manifests itself again from c.10’20 with the g’’/c’’g’ relationship

D transition to A/C♯

  • Works on similar basis again as the D ➔ E/A and E/A ➔ E/AG transitions. The cG’ is prepared at 11’32 although at this point it appears as a neighbout tone to d’’. It re-enters unobtrusively, along with the a’, as the d’’ dies out at c.11’50.

Importance of where short glisses are glissing to and from

There are recognisable pitches at the ends of each short glissando, but the end that seems important is the one at which the main pitches are heard. The main example is the recurring ‘falling brassage’ which involves a gliss of c.1 semitone from c’’ and g’. In its first instance, at 1’33 the g appears to fall onto the main pitch of the section (i.e. g’) even though the latter is not directly heard—the ear’s expectation makes its own allusion to that effect. Similarly, at 6’17, the c might be seen to be falling onto the a’. When the same figure is heard later on, however, it holds different significance: the c’’ and g pitches preside at this point therefore the glissando appears to be falling away from the Principal notes of the section.

The g’/c’’ falling brassage that appears sporadically throughout the first eight minutes gradually assumes significance from 8’18 onwards—tentatively at first, then more convincingly, until the same event occurring at 10’41 is supported by a steady gG’/c’’ drone.


Structure of the various sound-types has not been addressed for the purposes of this analysis. With regard to pitch, however, there is a very clear structure:

From this we can identify

  • a pseudo-arch structure
  • a homogenous set of pitches
  • a decreasing intervals between Principal constituents (returning to 5th interval at end):
(5th) (tt) (tt) (3rd) (3rd) (5th)
perfect ➔ tritone ➔ third ➔ perfect
  • intervallic relationships: frequent use of perfect intervals and tritones within pitch agglomerations. Even the final ‘chord’ comprises perfect and tritone intervals.
  • Reference is frequently made to D throughout the piece. Its universal presence lends a sense of continuity, not only facilitating the transitions between the potentially incompatible Principals, but also preventing the music from moving very far away from the G Principality with which the piece began.

(thus, in effect, the piece goes I-V-I; Schenker would have been delighted!) 



LEWIS, A. (1987) ‘Motion and the Analysis of Electro-Acoustic Music: Denis Smalley's Vortex’. Electroacoustic Music - Journal of the Electroacoustic Music Association of Great Britain, 3 (3), pp 16-22. London: EAM.

RUDI, P. (2003) ‘Spectro-morphological Diatonicism: Unlocking Style and Tonality in the Works of Denis Smalley Through Aural Analysis’. eContact! 6.4. [Online]. Available at: ‘Schenkerian Analysis’ (2011) Wikipedia. Available at: (Accessed: 11 Mar 2011)

SMALLEY, D. (1992) ‘Valley Flow’. In Impacts Interieurs. [CD liner notes]. Montreal: empreintes Digitales.