Thursday, June 17, 2010

Origins of the "StormSound Cycle"

This is an excerpt from a journal I wrote seven years ago – just if anyone’s curious about how this nine-hour piece got started. I’ve added a couple of explanations [in brackets] where necessary; and note that I now have music-editing software on my own computer.

Went over to Seattle Pacific University [I was a grad student there] to do some recording. The idea was to try to get the Eco Slab Gong piece recorded, and try out another conceptual piece, Nature Lives in Motion.

Eco Slab Gong didn’t work. The nature sounds, courtesy of Randy Storm, were supposed to resonate the metal sheet, the sounds of which would be picked up by the engineer’s sensitive mikes as an interesting percussion sound. So, brought the metal slab in from the car, unwrapped it from its cardboard. Sliced my finger on the edge of the metal. No blood. Set up the metal on the balloons, allowing it to freely vibrate. Set the headphones on it, cranked up the volume of Randy’s nature recordings. Set up the mikes, a mere mm. from the metal slab. Everything was working but. Failed. Nature sounds too loud or reverberations too quiet. Tried another set of louder headphones, hanging from a mike stand and themselves only a mere mm. from the metal. Again everything was working but. Failed. Randy’s recordings too loud period. There wasn’t a way to even anything out. Oh well. “Experimental” music is just that: experimental. Some experiments don’t work.

So we [the engineer and I] tried the other concept. We loaded two of Randy’s completed CD’s which I’d always liked these because of their arrangements (the sounds are put together almost like music in themselves, complete with recurring motifs – types of birdcalls, etc. – and an interesting overall shape). The concept was to take these recordings – already masterpieces in themselves – and overlay them, one atop the other, and then stretch them out into at least double of their length by elongating the individual sounds (without lowering their pitch – possible with a computer – I may decide later to raise the pitch of selected sections.). The result should be a “spacey aural fabric” (old Miles Davis reviewer) that is suggestive of natural sounds but difficult to pin down exactly because of the altered time frame.

Some experimental music doesn’t work. This worked marvelously. The sounds stretched into a fantastic tapestry of sound, vaguely strange and alien, vaguely familiar, and (after the harsher sounds near the beginning, made from stretched wolf-howls) quite relaxing. There is a section of water running that’s particularly interesting – the individual “drops” in the flow are audible, almost as bamboo wind chimes and tiny voices muttering in an unknown language. Overlaid with this are a few deep wooden sounds of branches breaking under a heavy snowfall – slowed down, these become resonant percussion. Thunder slowed down shows definite “notes”; Tolkien’s “drums in the deep” but not as frightening. Frogs and crickets become a whole Latin percussion band with shakers and maracas – playing polyrhythms that the human mind can’t comprehend. I took the CD home and listened to it several times, loaded it into the computer, and listened to it several times again – I’m listening to it as I write this. Can’t stop listening to it.

Meaning, of course, what I’ve commented on before. Nature (sounds made by things made by God) is the best composer, and nothing is truly random. The overlaying of these sounds was done in an essentially aleatory manner (though the original length of each section was planned by Randy on the original CDs) – but it resulted in a large-scale composition that is far more than the sum of its parts.

The result gives me the idea for a lengthy piece of music in the manner of FTOFTS and SoundScrolls (thus it could form a huge trilogy with these two works). It is the first piece I will have written that doesn’t have a part for piano in it. [FTOFTS, “From the Oceans’ From the Stars” and “SoundScrolls” are two large-scale compositions for “live” instruments and prerecorded sounds. FTOFTS – which I don’t pronounce “eff-tofts” but just “f’tofts” – is the oldest, dating from a music class I took at the University of Washington in 1983.]

“First of all, let me explain that, if you’ve come here to listen to Mozart or Chopin, you will probably be disappointed. This piece is not classical in the narrow sense. But if you’ve come for a sound adventure, or if you like the music of John Cage, George Crumb, LaMonte Young, Toru Takemitsu, or Phill Niblock, then you’ll probably enjoy this. I will warn you in advance, though, as it says on your programs – this piece is nearly two and a half hours long. I you have to leave the auditorium, please try to do so return quietly.

"Now, the piece is titled ‘Nature Lives in Motion’. It is one of a series of three large-scale pieces using pre-recorded sounds and percussion, in addition to various other instruments. The other instrument is, in this case, a ‘cello. The percussion is divided into two groups, for two players: metal and wood. These are ‘natural’ materials representing the inorganic and the organic, respectively.

“The meaning of the piece is not only the ‘movement’ of nature, but the movement – the vibration – that produces sound. It is about sound – it is not just sound, but it is about sound. Specifically, it is about the meaning of sound. Nature is full of sound, and the ultimate purpose of that sound, I believe, is praising God. This music is, then, about nature praising its Creator. Much of what you will hear is either joyous (bird calls – exuberant) or meditative, as in prayer. But you will hear some other sounds too, particularly near the beginning – there are some harsh sounds in nature as there is harshness in nature. This world has become corrupted, and has violence and pain. Near the end of the piece, all the various sounds will come together harmoniously for a while – a yearning for the perfect world without its Darwinian elements – as this world was meant to be.

“So, with no further ado, sit back, and let’s enjoy a performance of ‘Nature Lives in Motion’. Thank you.”

The percussion and ‘cello parts will be graphically notated, in the manner of the Cage “number pieces”, with lengthy time-spans (up to three minutes) for each sound, which are single sounds that respond to the sounds on the tape, or drones that do not. The “harmonious” part near the end is merely an overlaying of two-note motives, in the manner of the repeated birds and frogs that are on the tape at this time. There are long silences in all of the parts, filled in by the pre-recorded sounds.

[After writing this, I started adding to it, and “Nature Lives in Motion” became just the first movement of an all-day piece. It grew without bounds, so to speak, until I finally put a limit on it by simply saying to myself, “The number of pieces in this cycle is now set. Any new pieces I write in a similar style will be by themselves, or be part of a ‘Second StormSound Cycle’ – which may at some point come into existence.” That’s where it is now. And there are a lot of other sounds that I added to the prerecorded part of “Nature Lives in Motion” as well.]

No comments:

Post a Comment