microtiming & composition

MICROTIMING is millisecond-level measurements of sound unfolding through time.

Composing with microtiming begins by taking millisecond-level measurements of the rhythm in a recorded performance. Based on these proportions, a transcription of the sounds into music notation can then be made. This new musical object can then be manipulated, reorganized and otherwise altered, and new music can be composed above, below, before, after, and inside the source (a contemporary echo of Medieval and Renaissance cantus firmus techniques).

This way of composing has links to painting and photography, where an artist captures and transforms existing objects in a new medium. 

The use of microtiming as a compositional material was pioneered by Richard Beaudoin in early 2009, during  conversations with Dr. Olivier Senn, Professor at the Hochschule Luzern, Switzerland.

An example of these rhythm measurements is shown above, where nested squares are used to illustrate the duration, in milliseconds, between each event in measures 13-16 of Martha Argerich's 1975 Deutsche Grammophon recording of Chopin's Prélude in E minor, Op. 28, no 4. [Image above from Senn, Kilchenmann and Camp « A Turbulent Acceleration into the Stretto ». Dissonance 120, 2012.] The software here is the Luzern Audio Recording Analyzer [LARA].

selected works based on microtiming:


Another woman of another kind
seven stories for flute and eight voices on texts by Paul Griffiths
based on a microtiming of Chase's recording of Edgard Varèse's 1936 solo flute work Density 21.5
composed for Claire Chase & Roomful of Teeth

VARESE incipit.png


All of the following works are based on a microtiming of a fragment from Thelonious Monk's improvisation on "Body and Soul" [Remake Take 3] recorded at Columbia Records, 30th Street Studio, New York City, on 31 October 1962 and released in 1998 on the CD Monk Alone: The Complete Columbia Solo Studio Recordings 1962-1968 [C2K 65495]:

Costruzione Legittima I — Now anything can hang at any angle for solo piano

I tell you I mean it for solo piano

It looks like the ending for bass clarinet and marimba

You know I'm yours for solo violoncello

THELONIOUS MONK — excerpt from an improvisation on  Body & Soul  (Krieger 1995)


these works are based on a microtiming of Glenn Gould's recording of Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces, op. 19 [1913], made at 30th Street Studio, New York, on 28-29 September 1965, and include the sounds of Gould's creaking chair and vocalizations as part of the microtiming:

NEW YORK MIKROPHON for four musicians (2015)

NACHZEICHNEN/TRACING for solo violoncello (2017, work-in-progress)

SCHOENBERG — from  Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke , 0p. 19, I


BACCHANTE for solo violoncello

SUPERSTITION for eight unaccompanied voices

These works are based on a microtiming of Debussy's 1913 Welte-Mignon recording of his own prelude "... Danseuses de Delphes". The prelude itself was inspired by Debussy's viewing of a replica of the Acanthus Column in the Louvre, in which three bacchantes — females followers of Bacchus — are sculpted atop a central column. 

DEBUSSY — "...Danseuses de Delphes" from  Préludes , première livre


based on a microtiming of Maurizio Pollini's 1976 recording of Webern's Variationen für Klavier, Op. 27

I. Neuordnung nach Dauern (Reorganization according to Duration)
II. Bewegungen in Zeitlupe (Movements on Slow-motion, or Magnified Time)
III. Neuordnung nach Lautstärken (Reorganization according to Volume)

WEBERN — Variationen für Klavier, op. 27, II


THE ARTIST AND HIS MODEL, a series of six works
Lineage: Robert Burns’ 18th-century poem “Lassie w’ the lint-white locks” inspired Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle’s 19th-century poem “La fille aux cheveux de lin”, which Claude Debussy set to music in an unpublished 1882 song. Debussy later borrowed the title of Leconte de Lisle’s poem (and the key of his early song) for his piano prélude “... La fille aux cheveux de lin”, published in 1910 as No. 8 from Book 1 of his Préludes. Alfred Cortot recorded the work in London on 2 July 1931, and in 1991 this recording was re-issued on compact disc as Biddulph LHW 006. The Artist and his Model I-VI are all based on precise micro-temporal measurements of Cortot's recording. These measurements were carried out by the composer, graciously assisted by Olivier Senn, at Harvard University during the summer months of 2010.

The Artist and his Model I — La fille floutée for solo piano

The Artist and his Model II — La durée sans contacts s'affaiblit for string quartet

The Artist and his Model III — La fille rythmée for solo percussion

The Artist and his Model IV — La tradition française for clarinet and piano

The Artist and his Model V — Brûlage 3 versions: solo soprano saxophone, clarinet, or oboe

The Artist and his Model VI — La fille dérivée for sextet

Costruzione Legittima II — Ladies and Gentlemen for piano four-hands
based on the same microtiming as the series The Artist and his Model, composed after Der Zeichner des liegenden Weibes by Dürer, ca. 1527

DEBUSSY — "...La fille aux cheveux de lin" from  Préludes , première livre

CHOPIN — Prélude no. 4 in E minor from  Préludes , op. 28


EBENBILD for fourteen musicians
based on a microtiming of Pablo Casals' 1936 recording of the Sarabande from Bach's Suite in D minor for solo violoncello, BWV 1008. Ebenbild: the physical or visual equivalent of something that cannot be seen; an exemplar; colloquially used to mean 'spitting image'.

BACH — Sarabande from BWV 1008

writings about the music

28 February 2018 — In-depth interview "Le micro-timing de Richard Beaudoin" published at Classicagenda (also available in translation

Tim Rutherford-Johnson's book: Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture since 1989 [University of California Press, 2017]

Danick Trottier's article: Richard Beaudoin et la méthode du microminutage [Dissonance, Issue 130, 2015]

David Bard-Schwarz's book: An Introduction to Electronic Art Through the Teaching of Jacques Lacan : Strangest Thing [Routledge, 2014]

Danick Trottier interview: Conceiving Musical Photorealism—An Interview with Richard Beaudoin [Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 51/1, 2013]

Neil Heyde and Richard Beaudoin's article: The Handless Watch: On Composing and Performing Flutter echoes [CeReNeM journal and Divergence Press, 2012]

Andrew Kania and Richard Beaudoin's article: A Musical Photograph? [Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 70/1: 115-127, 2012]

Richard Beaudoin's article: You’re There and You’re Not There: Musical Borrowing and Cavell’s ‘Way’ [Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 54/1, 91-105, 2010]