Joe Inkpen (PhD, Music and Performing Arts) presented his work at the second work in progress session this year, on 14th November 2017.

Joe’s PhD is focused on rhythm and more specifically temporal consonance and dissonance (coined by Conlon Nancarrow) in polytemporal composition. He describes polytemporal composition as composition involving multiple and simultaneous tempi across different parts.

His research comprises of compositions that are rhythmic experiments for solo instruments and ensembles. His mains concerns are: what constitutes as rhythm? How can music function rhythmically without a unified pulse? What are the implications of having conflicting pulses? How does it feel to the listener? And, how does the listener perceive structure in polytemporal composition?

Joe’s ideas lead into dialectical concepts: conflict and resolution, thesis and antithesis. His ambition is to combine thesis and antithesis to create a resolution. For example, a resolution could be a composition that has individual parts with conflicting pulses, arranged in a way that creates synchronisation.

For Joe, accessibility is important. He wants to create works that are easy to navigate and are not overly technical. He aims to do this by using layered simplicity to create complexity, with emphasis on the conflicting pulses. He finds that simplicity and repetition work well in polytemporal composition. More complex writing can make the performance sound messy and difficult to hear the rhythmic interest created by the varied tempi.

For Joe’s PhD, he has been researching teleology (goal directedness); in music, this could be moving towards an end point or climax. He has especially focused on the writings of Robert Fink on recombinant teleology and minimalist music, as Joe’s work uses certain minimalist compositional strategies.

Joe created a spreadsheet to calculate synchronised tempi. His first main composition was a solo guitar piece with a video that had a surprising psychoacoustic effect, as the part that you look at stands out. The composition is based on a 5:4 tapping riff that is split into four different tempi and played at different octaves.


Joe is interested in places of rhythmic unison and he uses this as a method to compose structure and engineer episodes of unison. This technique is used in one of his most recent works, The Disconnect (2017), written for two guitars and two drumkits. The instruments are separated into two duos of guitar and drumkit, with each duo having their own tempo.


Joe is taking his research further in his current work for the Leon String Quartet and guitar, using five different tempi. For future compositions, Joe aims to write for larger ensembles, to continue using video documentation to enhance the experience of the listener, to explore different levels of pulse and rhythm, and to use guitars that are setup so that they are running into one another’s pedal boards, thus creating another level of temporality.

You can listen to more of Joe’s work here.