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So I'm writing an orchestral composition, and it is supposed to sound aggressive and violent, however I'm not sure how one can accomplish this. At first I assumed it would have a fast tempo, and would have a lot of rhythmic percussion and brass, but whenever I implement these things, the results are... unsatisfying. It ends up sounding "bombastic" and not "aggressive" or "violent". Even though those terms correlate with eachother, their connotations are much different. What makes this even harder is that I'm still in the process of writing the beginning of the piece, which is supposed to be just as aggressive and violent, and it can't be a slow building-up intro, because that wouldn't really sound aggressive or violent, so then I assume I would just have to jump into it without an intro, but in that case it just sounds awkward...

Perhaps I'm putting too many limits on myself, but I really commit to a theme when writing a piece, unfortunately xD. Are there any basic (or complex if you'd like) pointers you would be able to give me for writing this piece?

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    Listen to a lot of Vivaldi. Try the Concerto Grosso for Cellos in G Minor. Very aggressive. Yo-Yo Ma has a great recording on iTunes. Concerto Grosso in B Minor, even Winter. All great aggressive works. – General Nuisance May 28 '16 at 3:45
  • Here's that cello concerto: youtube.com/watch?v=j1-q4CarwpA Notice that the key is minor, and the piece itself is very baroque sounding. Shape the sound; shape it like a knife ;-) – General Nuisance May 28 '16 at 3:55
  • Dies Irae by various composers and Britten's War Requiem might be worth a peek. – thrig May 28 '16 at 15:01
  • Listen to Vaughan Williams' 4th symphony (the whole piece really, but particularly the very first and very last phrases). If that doesn't give you ideas, I don't know what will. – Kilian Foth May 28 '16 at 16:09
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This is a bit difficult to answer, since one person's aggressive might very well be another's bombastic, but see if any of these techniques strike your fancy:

  1. Liberal usage of dissonance and/or nonharmonic tones
  2. Instead of just rhythmic percussion/brass, try interspersing more ongoing rhythmic lines (or even pure polyrhythms) throughout all of the instruments
  3. If you've got a pretty standard melody line going over all of these rhythmic elements, ditch the majority of that, too.
  4. On the opposite end of the spectrum, instead of focusing on rhythms, literally give everyone a different melodic line at the same time (polyphony), and let the swirling mass of musical chaos begin!
  5. Find music that YOU like and think sounds aggressive and analyze why you like it.
  • I love this answer. Really, Vivaldi did a lot of this. I actually want to try some of this stuff... One thing that Vivaldi did a lot (I like Vivaldi...) is the use of a simple rhythm but many different notes at the same time (think Winter, about 3/4s through the song, almost sounds like icicles) and this is very pretty. – General Nuisance May 28 '16 at 6:57
  • I find this song seems to be quite aggressive for what I would want, and I have a general idea of why, but I don't know the specifics (especially since it's a soundtrack song): youtube.com/watch?v=4_t2ReB9Hok. The reason I want to write an aggressive piece is because I want to write something that describes the color "red", a very aggressive, violent, and passionate color. I'm not sure if I should've revealed that or not, if that would help answer my question. If so, I'll edit it in the original post. – Sam Jun 25 '16 at 4:15
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Aggression might be confused for bombast, as you say, when you use certain timbres and textures. But aggression doesn't always have to be 'big' and 'brassy'; it can come in many other forms, it can even be subtle (or passive-aggressive, if you will!).

Perhaps you could go the opposite way to thick texture and multiple timbres, why not strip down the instrumentation and use a fugue structure. This way, a particularly aggressive theme can be driven home through repetition, albeit in modified forms. This variation keeps it interesting, but having the same theme appear in different voices can also be unsettling and aggressive.

You could also try and make the harmony disjunct or 'angular' (like the score to Psycho, consider also the limited scoring here, just string orchestra!). Shostakovich's fugue in G# minor is disjunct in some parts and is also a great example of fugal writing (as is the whole series of Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues, with great ideas covering a whole range of emotions and feelings).

Or you could focus on using rhythm to imply aggression; consider Metastasis or Persephassa by Xenakis.

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If you want music to sound "violent" or "aggressive," you first have to ask, "what are violence and aggression like?" You need what the philosophers call an "image schema," some kind of image of motion in space and time that calls up violence. Is it wildly swinging, like a windmilling fighter? Or short, wicked jabs? Does it happen fast? Or slow and remorselessly? Once you have the mental image, then you can begin to transfer it to music, using some of the great suggestions above. It may be that images of chaos and disorder (lots of different parts, musical dissonance so the notes clash, complex polyrhythms) are what you want. But you might want tense, menacing music (mostly quiet, with sudden short outbursts; silence, followed by loud attacks), or steady, machine-like rhythms.

One compendium for orchestral violence is Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring: listen to the "Dance of the Young Men" or the finale "Sacrificial Dance," and just copy the bits you like. Hey, it worked for John Williams!

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