Epenthesis (2019, 12:25), with percussionist Ron Pelletier
This piece follows the lives of two timbral “communities”. One community consists of a small set of digitally-synthesized, processed, and manually-edited sound sequences (timbral progressions), while the other consists of families of improvised analog sound sequences, produced mostly on a trap drum kit, as well as the electro-acoustically processed versions of those analog sequences.
During the first couple of minutes the sequences in the synthesized world establish themselves. But over that course they also “attract“ or call out for other voices. So in the next stage, the established order has increasing encounters with the (electro)acoustic percussion community. The latter are inserted into established sequences, either replacing, smearing, or overlapping parts.
The languages of the two distinct communities have a few timbral similarities, so mimicry is the initial response to the “call”. And as the piece progresses the relatively stiff, micro-edited sequences nearly all fall away, having completed their mission of supplying patterns of timbral progressions.
In phonology, epenthesis occurs when a phoneme is added to an existing word. For example, in some dialects “drawing” becomes “drawring”. This often occurs naturally over time to ease pronunciation. In this case, epenthesis applies to the insertion of sounds (timbres and timbral progressions) into an already-established sound palette or community.
Here, epenthesis is not about easing pronunciation, rather it’s about increasing the listener’s engagement through the push and pull of variation and commonality.
Starting in 2016 an intense desire came over me to express in a musical way my shock and dismay with the political and societal skids we were experiencing. Although I tried to redirect my creativity towards less politically affected thinking (and worry), I couldn’t stop myself.
The best I could do with my angst was to bend it towards an oneiric trance-like undoing of the mounting tumult generated by the tyrannic and mad tendencies of POTUS #45 (aka “#3”).
I set my compositional endgame around a complete reset – tabula rasa – thinking that’s really what’s needed now. And to reach the knee, just before the reset occurs, the piece would project a time-lapsed metaphor for the angst-ridden period we’re in using revolving collisions at various densities and tempi.
Spanish Panoramas is a fixed-media composition based on an earlier “fixed + live” version, Spanish Panoramas – guided improvisations with SoundFisher, that was performed at the 2015 International Society for Music Information Retrieval Conference in Málaga, Spain. The composition consists of three sonic characters or storylines: (1) an anecdotal story told through the arrangement of unprocessed field recordings collected across Spain; (2) an abstract line consisting of overlapping sounds that were conjured up from a personal sound database supporting a retrieval method known as “query by sound”; (3) a third character made up of processed recordings of flamenco guitarists. The weaving together of these three lines knits a unique and whimsical travelogue of Spain. This fixed-media rendition is true to its more improvisational predecessor. The same vocabulary of sounds are utilized in both (see “Note” below). And both use the same “guide track” (storyline “1” above), however this fixed-media version better fed my cruel obsession with precision editing, and that makes the two renditions distinctly different yet the same.
Note: For some of the “anecdotal storyline” of the piece, field recordings of Spain, contributed to freesound.org by the following users, were included: 20020, 3bagbrew, antigonia, ariat, bram, carybarney, dobroide, falconbeard, kontest1, sergeeo, susoooo, and xserra.
The structure of this piece emerged from numerous improvisations on the materials. A natural cascade or linkage from section to section took hold, wherein some perceived property of the current section was held constant in the next section, but some other property was changed to its opposite extreme. In this way an arc for the piece developed. It goes something like this: Continuous broadband noise evolves into continuous narrow bands of pitched (or pitch-clustered) sound, which is then followed by discontinuous definite (and indefinite) pitched sound, and concludes with discontinuous unpitched/glitchy/noisy sound.
I began writing this piece in the last half of 2014 and finished it in January of 2015. The piece was provoked by my morning constitutional which occurred in the more urban settings of San Francisco, where I observed that the middle class had all but vanished. It is thus a play in which two characters of quite opposing natures collide directly into each other without any buffer whatsoever.The extremes result in a high-contrast soundscape.
If I have done the job right then after you’ve listened to the piece the title should be self-explanatory. That said… here is your map (or cheat sheet).
On a sound production level the composition is about additive, subtractive, and what I’ll loosely call “replacement” synthesis. On aesthetic, spiritual, and therapeutic levels Emancipation is about the limit of our capacities to ingest and process information, as well as about the forces that compete for our information-processing powers and ultimately threaten us with sensory overload.
The structure of this piece has a distinct and steady evolution over its course, save for the minuscule foreshadowing at the onset. It begins with a uniform distribution of many sounds; their bandwidth and average register, for example, as well as the natures of the sounds that comprise the vocabulary of the piece, create a uniform, dense, and rich (white noise like) environment.
The greatest originality, in the sense of Information Theory, is in the opening sections, where one must try the greatest number of tests — do the most processing — in order to divine a message from the environment. This is because the sounds are evenly distributed or equiprobable.
As the piece evolves, some messages are clearly deciphered and poke their way through the dense fabric. Acoustically this is due only to subtle subtractions, or an overall narrowing of the distribution of sounds.
But in the third section where they suddenly become apparent, the messages just as suddenly fade because the very vocabulary of sounds goes through a radical replacement process: pitched sinusoids replace some of the broader bands of “white noise.” As a result our orientation bobs and weaves; comes and goes.
And in the final section, waiting for us, there is an aural epiphany — an emancipation. Here the task of navigating the information environment becomes effortless and relaxed. It is easy to decipher. A sigh of relief comes from simplicity and understanding…. But nothing lasts forever and indeed so much is cyclical. Now, the foreshadowed beginning makes sense.
Post from Rajasthan (2005, revised 2011) is a brief, abstract audio travelogue. It is a rendering of my wanderings around Rajasthan, India spanning a week before and after the year 2000 Millennium. It moves at a walking (sometimes brisk) pace through the territories and cultures it explores. This 2011 version adds another layer here and there onto the original, composed in 2005.
Couplings (2012,6:35) Independent and distinct threads of sound come into contact, or “couple,” at the exact instants at which they strongly exhibit either complementary or common sonic attributes. These are transient moments in which the different sounds might have been been one. Initially these couplings are expressed abruptly, as if a switch was encountered that forced a change in the sounds’ established courses or behaviors. Approximately midway into the piece the coupling takes the form of a fusion of these sounds, creating a new and singular sound that is defined by the combination of the input sounds’ dominant, or most perceptible, attributes. This marks a unifying moment in the piece and continues to define the work until the near-end, at which point some of the components detach and separate from the fused sound and reestablish their presence and independence.
The project takes the form of a site-specific and very compact sound installation, consisting of multiple sound playback devices (“players”), each of which responds to a hand-held remote control unit. Each player is associated with a particular physical zone within the small gallery space, and each player is programmed with a distinctive collection of sounds that will be most audible within that player’s physical zone.
The “remotes” can be used by up to 8 people at a time to start, pause, skip, choose sounds, and control the volume of the individual players. The playfulness of the sounds and the remote controllability of the players will invite participation, particularly by children. But one goal of this piece to entertain anyone attending the gallery, even if no one chooses to take the controls.
The piece is written for and inspired by my father, who will turn 101 this year. On a narrative level Timepiece (Berlin, September, 2010) is about the passage of time and, more specifically, lifetimes. Many of the sounds in the piece denote time. For example, clocks and clock-like sounds signify the counting and passage of time, while the chimes also mark time, but in slightly larger chunks, and the sounds of children, while playful, become strong reminders that “youth-time” is fleeting. Clocks, chimes, children…, these are some of the sounds that make up the “terrestrial” plane – one of three spatial and symbolic planes on which the piece unfolds.
The other two planes are the so-called “celestial” and the “subterranean.” The celestial plane takes place above the listener, as much as is possible, using the gallery’s acoustically-optimized fixed loudspeaker installation, while the subterranean happens below, in a stairway leading down to the cellar. The terrestrial plane consists of sounds from this life and from this Earth. These are concrete sounds, as mentioned above, and many serve to mark time. The celestial world, which is projected from the ceiling, is painted with extremely high frequencies and barely audible materials – more audible to children, perhaps, than to adults — creating a sheen or a faint glistening that radiates over the entire space. Lastly, the subterranean sound world spews forth lower-register and guttural sounds.
The physical structure and layout of the sound zones, and their players, and the sounds that are audible in and from each zone will help to direct the walk of the listener through the space. Although a listener’s path of motion through the space will influence their experience of the piece, there is no “one way” to proceed. All paths through and around the small space will be equally valid and will permit a unique but hopefully fulfilling and thought-provoking experience. This, of course, is the overall goal of the installation, Timepiece (Berlin, September, 2010).
[Voiceover talent: Cheyenne Buzzelli, Alex Keagle, Charlie Keagle, and Annika Steeley.]
Combustible (2008-09, 9:30)
Squelch (2005-06, 14:10)
Cycle (2004, 7:22) After 30 years of composing and exploring diverse styles, Cycle is another of my little mutants. This deviant takes the form of so-called “Spectral Music”. The source sounds for Cycle are drawn almost exclusively from
After Cycle’s initiation – the “breath of life” – the sound at any point in the piece could be classified in one of two states; either in-formation (fluid, evolving) or ossified (a solid block). Transients are introduced that either pulverize, absorb, or cause the current solid to diffuse rapidly. These transients also act as catalysts, influencing the evolution of the next formation.
Note from Patzcuaro (2003, 4:17)
We open on a small church social; the church having a rather boisterous cricket within its congregation. The last half of the piece is drawn from recordings of a strolling mariachi group who, after several minutes of tuning up, rendered our request for Una Vez Nada Mas beautifully, as my wife and I sipped cervezas at a taco stand by the Lake. The middle section utilizes heavily processed versions of some of the original field recordings and is intended to paint some impressions of my 24 hour stay in this lovely town.
An artistically licensed (loose knit) plaid, woven from disparate sonic threads, broadly grouped by bandwidth and density — from pure sine tones to white noise, from continuous to particulate. Many switchbacks occur and the threads doubleback on themselves as the fabric materializes. But the end reveals the patternês loop point, and the plaid is complete. This piece is dedicated to Debra.
Things Frankie Heard (2002, 12:23)
Our first reaction to this proposition might
Sonic events that we too often take for granted,
The proposition — to hear like a cat — was
I didn?t attempt to play with the outer bounds of our frequency range
The sounds I put under the microscope are
Most of all this piece is about (and for)
J-Wake (2001, 12:45)
This disintegration process is a continuum.
This piece is dedicated to the memory of a
five haiku (2000, 20:38)
Written over a two-year period, each of the
old day, café
thoughts and smoke drift out the window
onto the streets below
big city glowing
fingers of light poke through
billowing fog mist
bright day car
bakes in the sun
a pin dropping, sounds
shattering the silence that
cradles the sleeping drunk
a frog leaps in
five haiku is electroacoustic music. The raw materials include
Maroc (1998, 21:13) is an audio
The piece represents roughly one day in the
1. Night train from Casablanca
2. A thousand welcomes/Alf-marhabat
3. Outdoor reception/The Pond
4. First call to prayer
5. Door’s open: rocked innocent & pure
6. Inculture shock
7. Second call
8. a’maze’in’ Medinas (Fez & Chaouen)
9. Third call
10. A twist in the maze — mint tea & kif
11. Square ecstacy (Marrakesh)
12. And so it goes, In’sha-Allah
13. Last call
14. And on it goes, Allah willing
All of these raw recordings were digitized
To My Son Parker, Asleep in the Next Room
Parker is an awesome and apocalyptic poem,
But more than an epic, this poem is a prayer
I would like to thank Vic Bedoian for graciously
Source sounds for this piece consist of natural
Japanese Postcard (1995, 14:18)
Three Studies for Pedal Steel (1995,
The forms for the pieces are quite simple
The composer acknowledges Peter Siegel
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Header image by Scott Steelman (www.steelmanstudio.com)