modus operandi 


Zig when they think you’ll zag. Creation’s Rule Number Two
What’s Number One? (…)
Zag when they think you’ll zig


How to use MESSIAEN’s colors in ‘jazz’ improvisation and composition?

Focus: experimenting with logics of correspondences and cohesive and non-exclusive languages, that creatively combines concepts in a non-hierarchical and non-fixed manner, rational and irrational, from the brain through the heart to real life. A study of permeability (how materials merge, interpenetrate, illuminate, neutralize, collide), and hybridization, observing how the harmonic models developed by MESSIAEN shine in related ‘jazz’ systems. Attachment and connection process: exploring common grounds to generate new connections between MESSIAEN’s colors and the major-minor tonal system, and other related systems.

Colors / Permeability / Expanding / Compositions / Workout / Demos

colors’ lists MESSIAEN’s main harmonic colors and explores them from various perspectives, they come into play in the following chapters:

permeability’: tonal blossoms (read tonal impressionism) and tonal presences (read disjoint tonal subsets) are brought into play (read MOLT/tonal system/gravity). 

expanding’ (just a few of the many paths)

compositions’ (the playground)

– workout / demos’ (practice) 

(while trying to stay close to this structure, ideas explored in one chapter often find their deployment elsewhere)



The 7 MOLT 

objective criteria (how the 7 MOLT / 33 transpositions / 22 ‘marked’ modes are constructed) and subjective criteria (other approaches and perspectives)

MOLT identity 

detailed analysis of each of the 7 modes used by MESSIAEN: examples, intervallic identities, tonal subsets, main characteristics,…

complementary modes M7 

mode 7 is a chromatic scale minus one tritone / sharpening the space: mode 7 is generated by the combination of 2 subsets-modes

M7 in hybrid modes 

two other options to explore the mode 7: a subset mode + two added notes / a melakarta mode + a triad.

MOLT with added note

explanation + repertoire of the 132 existing modes ‘with added note’.

modal signatures

applying the concept of tonal signatures to MOLT, minimal sets of notes unique to a given mode are listed, compared to other transpositions of this mode, and compared to the transpositions of all other modes / ‘modal signatures’ outline the DNA of a mode by listing its unique subsets.


the principle of common notes creates an uninterrupted chain of modulations to explore the vast territory of MOLT.

other chord colors

repertoire of other harmonic colors often used by MESSIAEN


tonal impressionism 

the MOLT is in the atmosphere of several tonalities at once, without polytonality – the composer being free to give predominance to one tonality or let the tonal impression float’: some examples of tonal blossoms in MESSIAEN’s music, relevant insights drawn from the source.

MOLT / tonal system / gravities

disjoint tonal subsets : modes are generated by the union of two (or three) referenced tonal chords.

MOLT / tonal system / gravities : V7 – V7-I

some ideas for using MOLT in a referenced tonal environment, oscillating between reason and intuition.



12-tone : modes and chromatic total :

how MESSIAEN used series: examples and reading keys.

12 TONE : complementary modes :

#(M ∪ M’) = 12, #(M \ M’) = 4,   #(M ∩ M’) = 4,  #(M’ \ M) = 4  / a pretty cool method to navigate the dodecaphonic language without (too much) headache.

12 tone : 7 variations around SANDOR VERESS’s string trio :

perspectives on the dodecaphonic nucleus of SANDOR VERESS’s TRIO PER ARCHI through 7 variations: playing with the initial series and prime forms (permutations / matrix), reconfigurations and rearrangements of melodic and rhythmic cells, reharmonizations, modal translations and MOLT-focused encodings, transpositions, mirrors, shifts, enlargements, reductions, zoom, shot/countershot, etc… with an ‘impressionistic’ approach: free inspiration, intuition, and letting go / here, the use of MOLT modal language blends into the mass, one among many ingredients in play.

MOLT / tonal signatures :

MALIK MEZZADRI (aka MAGIC MALIK ), French flutist and composer, developed a classification system he called ‘tonal signatures’ (signatures tonales) / it could be defined as follows: reducing each of the 3 modes of the major-minor tonal system to a minimum set of notes, without modulating them on the horizontal axis (the 3 modes: major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor) and on the vertical axis (the 12 chromatic transpositions), thus obtaining a finite number of 7 tonal signatures (x 12 transpositions): one TS for the major mode (M), three TS for the harmonic minor mode (h1, h2, and h3), and three TS for the melodic minor mode (m1, m2, and m3) / what could happen when you bring together 84 TS and 33 MOLT in the same playground?



Wide open experimentations: raw materials mix, overlap, collide, and come into play in a myriad of configurations and different states: density, complexity, readability, lightness, abundance, disintegration, clarity, transparency, abstraction, slow pace, indeterminacy, etc… I mixed and tried to resonate all these ideas with reason and intuition / some pieces are studies, trials, embryos, others are more complex… / depending on their degree of randomness, some pieces can take very different directions: the score and the constraints are the reference / the propositions are malleable and inscribed in the moment, the written is a welcoming environment, opening spaces for improvisation, curious about its own potential for metamorphosis and ready to travel elsewhere / principles of indeterminacy: subjected to chance, some arrangements will reveal an improbable result / I’ve stayed far away from MESSIAEN’s melodic encyclopedia: no sampling at the source, little mimicry, melodies mostly derive from voice leading or are the result of harmonic, intervallic or serial constraints / a few borrowings from his rhythmic language: non-retrogradable rhythms, talas, principles of augmentation and diminution (they are mentioned in the analyses) / the compositions presented here are a subjective reflection of the various subjects tackled, channeled into a modus operandi and related to a certain aesthetic / nothing prevents them from being sailed along and put into situation in other styles and contexts: the material presented is intended to be flexible, greedy and permeable.

The modus operandi of each composition is explained and put into context, with detailed analysis of the materials ‘brought into play’ / the midi files are not an end in themselves, they illustrate the analysis, dig deeper and detail the different parts, they give the opportunity to hear different elements or an image of the whole / and the in extenso theoretical blather are also transposed into real life with real recordings by real musicians

workout / demos 

V7-I demos

the demos show, without filter, the sonic abstraction that could result from a rational formatting of the V7-I cadence through the prism of MATL: the ‘artistic blur’ results from a random symbiosis between the coherence of a system and the ‘subjective’ feeling of the person who visits it.

demos intersections 

demos recordings exploring the logic and colours of complementary modes

demos complementary modes M7 

the interval contours of mode 7 revealed in a series of 13 modal binomials set in context and explored by three master improvisers: MALIK MEZZADRI, NELSON VERAS and JOZEF DUMOULIN / their comments, shared and transcribed ‘on the spot’, illustrate the multiplicity of possible approaches to the same modal material, between constraint, instinct and freedom.

daily routine 

this casebook is not a repertory of exercises, and those noted here are given as examples: they are presented in such a way that everyone can draw inspiration from them to create their own, according to their taste and needs.



the MOLTexplorer programme is closely linked to this casebook: created in collaboration with mathematician/musician FRÉDÉRIC FAURE from the University of GRENOBLE, it feeds the research process in a continuous flow: idea-concept / translation into algorithm / implementation in MOLTexplorer / generation of materials / testing and contextualisation improvisation-composition-exercises / trial and error / recycling and regeneration / … MOLTexplorer calculates and lists exhaustive sets, and these can sometimes be disorientating in their scope: the work presented here illustrates some of the paths taken at the start of a list: rational analysis and the consequences of subjective choices from among the multitude / MOLTexplorer doesn’t invent anything: it sheds light, and it’s up to the user to connect the results : if asked the right questions, MOLTexpolorer can become a generator of wild creative ideas.