Chapter 19. Arrangement and Substance

A poem is a little machine of words.


Composition in Other Disciplines

WHY COMPOSITION? TO COMPOSE something is to arrange it, to relate all its parts, and to determine its substance. It’s a great way of thinking about how we handle context, because context is all about how we understand relationships between elements. Composition is an important concept in just about every field of human creation, which makes it a useful way to think about cross-channel, ambient environments that can involve so many different kinds of media and information. Let’s take a look at some of them:


The combination of elements such as tone, theme, setting, and voice within a structure, such as the classical essay framework of “Introduction—Body—Conclusion,” or the way the narrative arc of a plot gives structure to a novel. At a more granular level, composition has to do with sentence structure and parts of speech. Poems, too, have compositional elements—from the established forms of sonnets and sestinas to the smaller formal techniques of free-verse line-breaking and semantic improvisation.


For music, composition is its “musical form.” It’s the structure or plan of a piece of music: its arrangement of repetitions and differences and structural patterns. What makes a Rondo different from a Sonata, and what makes them both different from a live improvised jazz performance, is the structural decisions made manifest ...

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