TANTO MEGLIO    Thomes & Phases circle technique (acoustic live 1979)








Fundamental principles

A brief introduction to the basic methods of the compositional technique known as Thomes & Phases.
The technique(s) of Thomes & Phases (previously "Thomes & Opposites" ), was originally laid out in 1979 and allows for the integration of tonal and atonal material into a single, dynamic musical language.

The following - an exact transcription (with minor modifications) of the original text -  lays out the basic technique and principles of what is now termed the “Circle” method. (Subsequent extensions and elaborations have produced additionally the “Block” method and “Combination” method.  The three methods now constitute the full version of Thomes and Phases). 




THOME: a horizontal series of consecutive pitches. These are the three original thomes, designated “a”, “b” and “d”. 

EXTENSION: the transposition of the original thome onto the pitch levels of each consecutive note of the original.

SET: the group of identical thomes obtained through extension. There are three sets - one from each of the originals.

RETROGRADE/ INVERTED/ RETRO-INVERTED THOMES. The familiar methods of Serial technique may be applied if desired. (See notes at end).

(EXPANSION: the combination of two or more thomes in their original, retro, inverted, or retro-inverted forms.  CONTRACTION: the modification of the combined (expanded) thomes, resulting in a final structure in which none of the pitches occurs more than once. )


PHASE: the principal musical statement or structure into which thomic material enters. There are three types of phase, designated “A”,”B” and “D”.

“A” PHASE: the musical statement which presents material from one of the thomes sets in relation to a tonal centre or tonal centres.

“B” PHASE: the musical statement which presents material from one of the thomes sets without reference to a tonal centre - atonally.(See notes at end).

“D”PHASE: the musical statement which presents material from one of the thomes sets in a manner intermediate between the respective tonality and atonality of the “A” and “B” phases.

LINE: the statement of consecutive phases in the form “A”-”D”-”B”-”D”-“A”-”D”-”B”-”D”- etc..

CYCLE: the time taken by the line to use up all the thomes.

COINCIDENCE (orders of): the relationship between thomes and phases, lasting for one cycle, in which each of the three phases uses material from only one of the thome sets, such that all three thomes sets are employed. There are three orders of coincidence:
1st order: ”a”- “A” : “b” - “B”  :  “d” - “D”
2nd order: ”d”- “A” : “a” - “B”  :  “b” - “D”
3rd order: ”b”- “A” : “d” - “B”  :  “a” - “D”

SIMULTANEOUS PHASE: the joining of one phase to another so that both occur simultaneously.

FAULT: the interruption of the line by a simultaneous phase at the end of one cycle.

ROTATION: the change of thome/phase coincidence as the result of a fault.


THOMES “a” and “b”

The number of pitches is entirely arbitrary, but in practice usually consists of between about five and ten for each thome. The nature of the thome, it’s shape, content, etc., is governed by no organizational principle in particular, that is, consistently by the chromatic series or by a tonally based idea, or predetermined arithmetical formula, but may be arrived at by any such method or combination of methods, or by chance or improvisation.


This is usually obtained by special means, namely by applying contraction, expansion, retrogression, inversion, retro-inversion or any combination of these to the “a” and “b” thomes. The creation of the “d” thome by this process will, of necessity, involve changes in the note sequences of the other thomes, resulting in the permanent alteration of their final structure.


Once established, each original thome is extended to form a set, each set containing as many  thomes as the number of notes of the original. A “d” thome, for example, consisting of eight notes will produce a set of eight thomes. Each thome in a set will be numbered, 1 - n, number one being the original. Generally, during one cycle, thomes will be taken and used in their numerical order.


There exists a great variety of practical means whereby the subtle quality of tonality can manifest. Any of the special types of tonal language which developed subsequent to the establishment of equal temperament and the laws of classical harmony and counterpoint may be regarded as a valid base upon which to organize “A” phase material.


This “borderline” phase will sometimes appear to take the form of a complex, highly chromatic harmonic progression. Ideally, however, its operation amid the flow of the line should be undetectable.


It will be apparent from the above observations regarding the phases, that the formal structure is a fluid effect. The continuous interplay between tonal and atonal phases  produces an overall condition of constant flux. Through the manifestation of the length of phase, overlapping and spacing of phases or other quantities of duration (rhythmic or other spatial projection of events), the delicate and mutable relationship between the phases is revealed. As with consonance and dissonance in tonal music, it is the tension between tonality and atonality that is important, rather than the states themselves. There is only one principle of formal development, namely, that the line divides into cycles of coincidence by simultaneous phases, faults and rotations.

2)  FORM  (QUALITY/QUANTITY) : the following definitions are approximate; they are given in order to help clarify the historical origin of atonality and its relation to tonality.


1) POLARITY: the first type of absolute quality, whose nature is defined by a single motivation that it must seek that polarity whose nature is diametrically opposite to its own.

2) UNITY/UNIT: the quality whose nature is defined as that in which the motivation of polarity is fulfilled.

3) FORM: the manifestation in quantity of the unit, its nature being defined by the single motivation that it becomes, by continuation, the polarity whose nature is diametrically opposite to that of the unit.

4) CONTINUATION (D) : the act or motion of becoming, or the formal capacity for multiplication by duplication of the unit in quantity.  

5) PRIME QUANTITIES : time and space. (Though time is, strictly speaking, created by and is a function of objects and their movements in space, it should be regarded, for the present, as having a quantitative existence).


Tonality is composed of the two polarities; consonance and dissonance. In order that the motivation of consonance and dissonance may be fulfilled, tonality must manifest formally - in quantity. The form in which tonality manifests, time and space, duplicates as duration and pitch, thence as rhythm and scales, etc., etc.. Each duplication multiplying the form. This is continuation, the method by which the form becomes.  In each continuation, the quantities manifest a formal nature in which consonance appears to have assumed - or be in the act of assuming - the character of dissonance, and vice versa.  The greater the multiplicity of the formal nature, the less the apparent difference between consonance and dissonance. In this way, consonance and dissonance fulfill their motivation. Put another way; in order to fulfill their motivation, the polarities (consonance and dissonance) must cause the duplication and multiplication of the quantities in which they manifest. Eventually, the form manifests a nature in which consonance and dissonance are no longer distinguishable from one another. When this occurs, tonality ceases to exist, since its polarities, being indistinguishable, cannot have opposite natures or motivation. If tonality is that quality of existence whose nature is defined as being that in which the motivation of consonance and dissonance is fulfilled, then form, by manifesting a nature which is not composed of these polarities, has itself become a polarity whose nature is diametrically opposed to that of tonality, spontaneously creating a new unit (“Newtonality”) composed of the polarities tonality and its diametric opposite, atonality.

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