Reflections is a three-movement study that arose out of exploration into randomly generated symmetric odd/even signal wave tables for synthesis. The piece uses a number of different “reflected” table generation methods with each movement developed intuitively according to the sound qualities of the table methods. Each piece has some indeterminant qualities in form as well as sound, thus each rendering of the piece is its own unique performance.
“Wuji” was written for the Eastman Mobile Acousmonium (EMA), “an ensemble of individual custom-built loudspeakers” that is a project developed out of the Eastman Audio Research Studio, lead by Oliver Schneller. The piece is designed for any number of available speakers spatially distributed in a room. It is made up of multiple renderings of the primary single-channel source that is then mapped with one rendering per speaker.
In writing for EMA, one of the sonic experiences that came mind were memories of performing in instrumental ensembles and sitting there on stage within a field of sound. It has been many years now since I last performed in an ensemble, but I remember that sound world as a unique and wonderful experience, one not easily reproduced by typical speaker setups that might surround the periphery of the listener. It is my hope that the listener experiences this work by not only being surrounded by the sound but also within it.
Many thanks to Oliver Schneller and the members of EARS for the opportunity to compose for the EMA speaker ensemble.
“Wuji” was originally designed as a realtime work. The primary Csound CSD project uses limited amounts of indeterminacy to provide unique performances every render. The concept was first designed to be performed by multiple computers and/or mobile devices that would then be connected to various speakers spatially distributed in a room. However, as the nature of the hardware ensemble changed, it became easier to pre-generate multiple renders of the core project and provide them as a single 24-channel audio file. The 24-channel file would then be played back with each channel mapped to an available speaker.
To simulate the experience of the realtime rendering, the 24 single-channel renders were created, each unique by the nature of the indeterminacy in the CSD. A second 24chanmix CSD was developed to take each single-channel file and map it to one of the 24 channels. The channels were played in groups roughly 2 seconds apart from each other, with slight randomness used to offset the start times of the channels within the group. To cover about 8 seconds of group offsets, the channels were batched into four 6-channel groups. This matches the intended realtime performance to start groups of machines rendering about every two seconds and to simulate the slight imprecisions in trying to start separate machines at the same time.
For the 2-channel mix, the same 24 single-channel renders were used with a second 2chanmix CSD. The 2chanmix CSD uses the same offset time algorithm as the 24-channel mix (four 6-channel groups, roughly 2 seconds apart). Each channel is randomly panned within the stereo field and a random gain applied. The 2-channel mix is, at best, a rough approximation of the intended experience. The effect of listening to a heterogenous group of speakers–each with their own filtering characteristics, frequency responses, and directionality–performing sound and interacting with a room, and the freedom to walk around the roomas a listener, can not be adequately captured in a 2-channel mix. A better 2-channel mix that could account for some of these factors could certainly be done and may be revisited in the future.
A Makefile is provided that will, by default, render the 24 single-channel renders, render the 2-channel mix to WAV file, then process the WAV to create MP3, OGG, and FLAC versions. To build the 24-channel performance version, a separate Makefile target (make syi_wuji_24chanmix.wav) must be run manually. A “repl” target is also provided that will start the project using Csound with –port=10000, suitable for use with Vim csound-repl plugin. It will also define the REPL macro so that running the project CSD will not execute the main score generating command. This allows one to load the project then go about experimenting with live coding.
“Wuji” is made up of three sound groups: a justly-tuned major chord, an ascending and descending pattern of dyads in Bohlen-Pierce tuning (equal-tempered version), and a multi-LFO modulated “chaotic” sound. The first two groups use the same simple instrument made up of a sawtooth oscillator filtered by the moogladder 24/db lowpass filter. The chaotic sound was designed around a triangle wave oscillator filtered by the moogladder filter. The two tunings were chosen for their particular sonic qualities for both their respective materials alone as well as their rich interactions.
“Transit” was inspired by listening to the music of Terry Riley to create a work that involved long feedback delay lines. I began with a mental image of performers in a space working with electronics and worked to develop a virtual system to mimic what I had in mind. Once the setup was developed, I experimented with improvising material live and notating what felt right. I then continued this cycle of improvisation and notation to extend and develop the work.
“TimeSphere” is inspired by the idea that time is not infinite but bounded, like a sphere, and that there are inifinite possible projections through time within this sphere. (I don’t remember the exact origin of this thought, but I believe I may have derived it from Stephen Hawking’s idea of a closed universe in “Brief History of Time”.)
I’ve always found the world to be filled with many strata of time. Things move together, alone, and somewhere in between, moving from one time flow to another. The idea of a sphere of time in which the world moves was an inspiration for this work, and not interpreted literally. While composing this piece, I was very aware of the the interplay between rational development and the exploration of where intuition guided me.
“The Living Ocean” is a piece inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s “Solaris”. I was struck by the humans encounters with the living ocean on the planet, their fascination and draw into it, and their ultimate inability to rationalize and understand it. Their experiences often left them with more questions than answers, not only about the living ocean, but also themselves and the nature of their own existence.
For me, the story of “Solaris” holds many parallels to the experience of art that I search for when composing. Listening: drawn in, fascinated, the rational mind at rest, only an irrational experience is left. Afterwards: awe, questions about the work, questions for myself, curiosity.
I often find myself lost in reminiscences of the past, observing not only the the memories themselves but also the experience of remembering those times. I am fascinated by how the happenings of today become the memories of tomorrow, how the passage of time transforms these memories, and how our relationships to these life events change as time passes. This piece is but a small meditation on the journeys within the times of our lives.
This piece was composed using the equal-tempered version of the Bohlen-Pierce Scale.
For more information about the Bohlen-Pierce Symposium and scale:
This piece was premiered on March 8, 2007, at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
It is difficult sometimes for me to talk about pieces as to me they are less about a subject and more of an object in which to experience. Perhaps, though, I can mention some ideas that were on my mind when composing this work. The initial work came from exploring the Reson 6 instrument. When I found a sound I was drawn to, I studied and experimented with it, eventually discovering a way of building symmetrical chords from two related subchords that deeply interested me. As I continued to study these chords, I became increasingly attracted to their sound. After trying out a number of different paths to take with the form and with other material, I later found myself removing the different sounds and other musical ideas until there was just the chords and the whistle left. I found in the end that the two together really brought out the flavor of the other, achieving a lovely balance and character.
As is usual in my process, after finding some initial material there was a great degree of technical study of it, analyzing pitches, intervals, and relationships, and how working with these affected the sound of the piece and the experience of the music. That is only a part of the compositional process for me, however, and moving on is often more by feel and touch rather than by design.
Sitting here and listening to this piece, I find myself as close as I have ever been in finding a music that can be bright and colorful and yet at the same time be very serious. I have a found a great deal in this piece and hope others will find something in it for themselves.
Notes: On the Sensations of Tone marks the beginning of a new period of actively composing in my life. The years that have passed between the last finished piece and this one were filled with many musical explorations as well as many life experiences. The time spent establishing a career as a programmer, experiencing the world’s events, and simply living life has been rich and rewarding. The exploration of musical ideas has provided many lessons from which I feel I am only now beginning to understand within the context of my own music. It’s been an amazing journey to arrive at this piece, and I am looking forward to the music to come.