Selected Program Notes
I desire to take the listeners/participators on a journey where they actually enter the sound and are carried with it, experiencing it from the inside out in intimate detail. The sounds are almost tactile, visible, visceral. The visual components also journey into unique worlds. My music is based on location recordings where each sound is carefully selected because of its potential—its slow unfolding revealing great intricacies, and because of its inherent spatialization. All of my work is sound-driven: each grows and evolves as do crystals forming under the microscope.
38 continuous elements (including silence) 2003 (68:43)
This work was composed for an installation project titled Rock's Role (After Royanji), curated by Ron Kuivila and sponsored by Art in General. The installation at Art in General ran from April 24-June 26, 2004. This work consists of 38 elements of sound, including silence. These tracks intended to be played in continuous random mode throughout the exhibition.
38 continuous elements (including silence) consists of a series of sounds which are all acoustic in origin. Many have been so highly processed that they are no longer recognizable, others are still recognizable if one has heard these sounds in the way I have heard them. Since the original recordings range from familiar objects recorded in unusual ways to unfamiliar objects recorded in more orthodox ways, these sounds provide an aural path into an uncommon, or otherworldy world. I build imaginary acoustical environments (soundspaces or soundscapes), at times compressing a vast world into an intimate minute one, at times examining sounds microscopically with the intent of expanding them into a universe. Perspectives shift from microscopic to telescopic to wide angle, sometimes within the same sound element. Sometimes different perspectives are layered, creating multiple views simultaneously. This is all in an effort to encourage the listener to be so immersed in the sound that they experience the sound from the inside out.
Aeolian Confluence 1993 (10:45)
At ten year intervals I compose a flute piece. Aeolian Confluence is the third work in this series. The first section is sampled flute, which slowly builds and rises. The second and third sections use the SoundHack convolution algorithm, with flute samples as the exclusive sources. The final section is recorded live, with several overdubs, and uses additional samples only at the very end.
The piece deals with spatial concerns. The first section slowly rises, spreads, comes forward, then cascades down while rapidly receding; the second and third are very distant; the fourth section is very present, receding only at the very end.
Ahh-Ahh (ver 2.1) was composed in 1987. It is the music portion of a performance work, called Queue the Lizards, done in collaboration with video artist Ed Tannenbaum, and was the result of a National Endowment for the Arts Interdisciplinary Arts Grant. Very early in the collaboration, when we were first tossing around ideas, he mentioned that he would like to work with sounds of water, snakes, and whips (for gestural and spatial possibilities). He later denied saying anything of the kind.
Ahh-Ahh (ver 2.1) has as it's source material many forms of white noise, including (commercially ubiquitous) breathy vocal and unpitched but resonant flute sounds, snare drum, and pure white noise. Spatial location and modulation are of primary concern in this piece.
The video for Queue the Lizards was directed by Ed Tannenbaum and is a tape of a live performance in which Ed utilized his digital video processor and the Fairlight CVI (computer video instrument). All video processing of the live dancer was done in real time. In live performance additional music parts are played along with the digitally pre-recorded tracks.
Airwaves (realities) 1987 (10:32)
Airwaves (realities) attempts to convey a sense of the vast differences in perspective which individuals have regarding what is collectively termed "reality." One of the most striking close-at-hand illustrations is the contrast in the lives of the desert dwellers of Nevada and the San Francisco Bay Area urbanites. The diverging viewpoints are partially due to differences in population density and ethnic make-up, with the extreme physical contrast of the barrenness of the desert versus the lushness of the Bay Area being a significant contributing factor.
Airwaves can be presented with a video which I shot of rather static desert landscapes of Nevada. The starkness of these scenes in contrast to the sometimes active, at other times lush texture of the music, is intended to further highlight the differences between the cultures.
There are only two unprocessed "natural" sounds in this piece: the very beginning of the cars passing by and the two airplanes which fly over. All of the other sounds are derived from television and radio broadcasts, both major sources of "unrealities." These materials, most of which are dialog, are highly processed, resulting in a complete disassociation from their origin.
Apparent Horizon 1996 (11:49) (click to see/hear excerpt)
I started gathering the video images for Apparent Horizon six years prior to its completion. My original intent was to slowly reveal information in various landscapes by holding still on an image for several seconds, then zooming in or out or panning to reveal more detail, an unusual vista, rock formation, etc. It occurred to me that it also might be interesting to see what might be "revealed" from an overhead view. Since it was impractical to rent airplanes for this purpose, I decided to incorporate NASA footage taken by the Space Shuttle and Apollo series astronauts. It is at times difficult to distinguish earth views from space from those taken on the earth's surface.
Many of the earthbound shots are of rather "alien" landscapes — those where I, as a human being, don't really fit in — I'm the alien here. In these often desolate places the only sounds one hears are wind, insects, a scant number of birds and animals and a rare rainstorm. I decided to take our constant human chatter and transpose it into sounds somewhat reminiscent of nature's sounds in the landscapes to which they are attached or to transform them into somewhat "otherworldly" sounds. This was an attempt to convey an aural impression of the sensations I have experienced while in these earthbound landscapes and those sensations I imagine the astronauts might experience while viewing the earth from space. Sound sources consisted of transmissions from/through space and were from Space Shuttle and Apollo missions, satellite transmissions, and shortwave radio broadcasts. Often I chose sections that were full of static and distortion — signals which were reaching unintelligibility. There are Morse Code "crickets" at Bryce Canyon and static "rain" at the Canyonlands. Processing includes heavy equalization, convolving, extreme sample rate conversions and time compression/expansion. This is the third piece in a series of pieces which are based on transformations of human-made or generated sounds, the previous two being Airwaves (realities) and Liquid Metal.
Arctic Winds 2007 (9:52)
(where I've never been, but dream of)
Arctic Winds is sparse, with occasional frantic "windstorms" stirring up the vast frozen expanse. Everything is suspended, in near silence, with occasional forays dropping low into blasts of "wind." Each sound is crystallized, exaggerated, as in our dreams.
The primary sound sources are dry ice and several sizes of ball bearings rolling across a variety of drumheads, attached and unattached. I started working on this piece when I had a 102 degree temperature coupled with chills for three days. I suspect that experiencing those internal extremes conjured up those beautiful arctic dreams and this somewhat over-the-top, playful piece.
BAM 2015 (9:37)
BAM uses impulse responses (IRs)captured in the sonically and visually intriguing Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) in early 2015. Architect Mario Ciamp created the architecture in the Brutalist style using non-resonant concrete to create galleries cantilevered over the large main floor of the building.
The sounds in this work are generated exclusively by a Moog IIIp analog synthesizer, with IRs used at the beginning, on the high frequency beat frequencies in the third section, and throughout the final section. Mixed to 8 discrete channels, this work sculpts the perceive space, continually contracting, expanding, and warping it.
Beyond, for Steven Miller 5/18/14 (6:21)
Beyond the boundaries of earth to the vastness of the universe.
Black Ice 2014 (10:00)
Although I’ve used bits and pieces of sounds I created using the Moog synthesizer in my recent work from time to time, I had an overwhelming urge to escape into the Moog IIIP studio at Mills College in mid-December to spend some quality time generating sounds to a pair of Sound Devices. It‘s fascinating to me just how flexible that instrument is.
As with any fine instrument, it fundamentally remains the same, but the way one approaches the instrument changes considerably over time. Its open architecture has allowed quite varied aesthetic and technical approaches to the instrument over the decades since it was first built.
This work is an exploration of space and time, and especially of depth and height. Layers frequently shift, as demonstrated in the beginning where crackling is so present—almost seeming to emanate from the listener. The underlay provides a distanced atmosphere, almost a nebula, that moves towards, through, then past the listener, passing through the crackles while modifying their molecular structure and turning them to mist as they slowly recede.
All of the sounds are generated by the Moog. Many are raw; some are further actively eq’d to provide a further dynamic quality to the work.
Brass Mirrors 2004 (8:39)
In the fall of 2003 I offered to temporarily store Lou Harrison's percussion instrument collection which he bequeathed to William Winant. When I made the offer I did it without the intent of recording these instruments, but as I kept going into the space where they were stored, they seemed to call out to be played; I could not resist recording them. The timbres and the beats within and between the various metal instruments, including brake drums, were quite alluring. In Brass Mirrors the only alterations that I made to these recordings was to reverse the sound files (mirrors). The swells in the second section remind me of a lake's surface, replete with layers of waves, with occasional flashes of reflected sunlight here and there from time to time. These flashes are the crossfades at the edit point (the strike) and intentionally bring out those initial transients which last only briefly after the surface has been struck.
breaks/motors 2001 (8:41)
One of my many jobs involves restoring/remastering recordings from the 1920s to the 1960s. One of the many fascinations I find in these recordings is in the breaks between movements, where I usually go to start working out equalization for hum, hiss, squeal, rumble, etc. removal. I took several of these "breaks," looped them in differing lengths, and emphasized the "unwanted" components for this piece. The other sound source came about when Brian Reinbolt asked me to look at a project he was working on which used a very tiny stepper motor. I loved the sound of this tiny motor and made extensive recordings of it. These two ideas sprang up around the same time, so I blended the two types of sound sources (with equalization, convolving, phase vocoding, and granular synthesis) into this composition. As with all my work, spatialization is a major interest. There is no active panning in this work as I recorded the motor at a very close distance and in enhanced stereo.
Close-ups 1999 (9:37)
As a child I had to investigate everything at an extremely close range—fully engaging all the senses. It's as if I needed to fuse with and become the object of my attention in order to fully comprehend it. This is the adult version, which also warps perspective by recording everything very close up. The nine natural sound sources, altered temporally and layered, but otherwise unprocessed, aren't always what they might at first appear to be.
Cloud Fields 2008 (12:00) (click to see/hear excerpt)
Ever since I was a kid delighting in the play of foot-high early-morning ground fog and snowflakes slowly streaming and skittering in intricate patterns in all directions across an asphalt road we were driving down, I’ve been fascinated by the complexity, mysteriousness, transitory nature, and sheer beauty of water vapor.
In this installation we’re surrounded by water vapor’s transitory imagery on the left, center, right, and back walls, and the ceiling. The sound is the sound that the images make and it is somewhat surprising. It is diffused over ten discrete speakers placed in relationship to their source images.
The incidental interactions between the images intrigue us as we are compelled to try to follow the complex ebbs and flows in all directions of these amorphous forms.
This work can be presented in two forms—as an installation with five discreet images and ten speakers or as a concert work in single channel video with five panes displaying the images arranged with left, center, and right images across, the ceiling image above the center image, and the back wall image below the center image.
Crystal 1982 (9:56) (click to see/hear excerpt)
Crystal was composed in 1982 using a Moog III synthesizer with extensive multi-tracking. Spatial location and modulation are important aspects of this work. Delicate timbral manipulation is also a major concern, with the harmonic spectrum of each voice in constant flux. Crystal is also a video work. The video portion was shot after the music was completed, and was edited to the music. The images consist of crystals forming in real time as viewed through a microscope.
Desertscapes, for two spatially separated a cappella choirs 1991 (c. 8:30)
Born and raised on the High Plains of Texas, I came to love the vastness of the landscape on the large scale and minute details on the small scale (cracks in parched earth, gullies, etc.). When I moved to California in 1970 I was delighted to find the desert still so close at hand.
The four images I described, of Pyramid Lake, Death Valley, Bryce Canyon and the Devil's Playground/Kelso Dunes, represent four beautiful desert areas, each with very precious and unique characteristics. It seemed right to have exclusively female voices in this piece: Sirens calling me back to these desert haunts.
It is important that the interplay between the two choirs be audible. The sound should wash across the space, fully involving/surrounding the listener in the vast frailty of desert space.
Distant Thunder 2003 (10:48)
For me this work conjures up images of being in the desert while watching distant thunderstorms roll across the sky, accompanied by the unforgettable sweet smell of desert rain. These storms are particularly beautiful as the rain clouds build, break apart, and reform, sending tendrils of rain down, most of which evaporate long before they touch the desert floor.
My original intention was to use the sounds of a resonant floor furnace and various adhesive tapes slowly unrolling as the primary sound sources, but after recording the furnace, I boiled water for tea, and could not resist recording the sonic patterns that emerged. I did use the sound of the furnace, but the tape unrolling was used only to impart natural spatialization through convolution with other, more stationary sources.
Effervescence 2008 (5:30) (click to see/hear excerpt)
I’ve always been fascinated by the sound of liquids fizzing and bubbles popping. When recording these sounds for my audio work, Fizz, in 2004, I noticed that the bubbles being produced were extraordinarily interesting not just for their sound, but also for their beauty, varying shapes and sizes, reflections, complex, erratic, and unpredictable behavior, and varying rates of upward motion. I was especially intrigued in that the transparency of the bubbles allowed smaller bubbles to be seen dancing within larger bubbles. The activity slows fairly quickly in the unfolding of the process, yet the images on the multiple surfaces remain detailed and complex, with constant interplay and surprises. The sound is the sound that the images make.
This is a world that is familiar to us aurally and to some extent visually, but here we are drawn much more closely and deeply into exploration of this miniature world.
This work can be presented in two forms—as an installation with five discreet images and ten speakers or as a concert work in single channel video with five panes displaying the images arranged with left, center, and right images across, the ceiling image above the center image, and the back wall image below the center image.
fff, for solo flute 2006 (c. 6:14)
I developed this, at times rambunctious, at times extremely delicate, work through improvisation. My primary intent was to explore the capabilities of the flute using extended flute techniques while leaving open the possibility for yet further development of these techniques. The timeline is somewhat flexible, and only the types of extended techniques are specified in the timeline, not specifically each specific action. This is a live solo piece, without electronic modification of any kind.
FIZZ 2004 (10:18)
There were two sounds that primarily sparked this piece. The first was a barely audible disequilibrium in a toilet tank. This almost inaudible sound was cyclic, but constantly changing, with a faint rising squeak that occurred at the valve where the rod attaches, coupled with trickling water going down the refill pipe, so there was a squeak, trickle, squeak, trickle sequence. I stretched this out using granular synthesis and layered the results. There is an ebb and flow that naturally flows across the channels. It's the long section that occurs after the rhythmic high pass filtered faulty faucet valve that begins the piece. Disk drives on/off spiral us out of that section into a gratis section in which a malfunction in my system caused the loud cyclic low frequency feedback. This is accompanied by fizz, a sound which I've always loved but never got a good recording of until a student, Alison Johnson, brought in a wonderful recording of fizzing. She divulged her method to me, sparking this piece. The fizz and the feedback are totally unprocessed other than slight equalization. Although some sounds may be somewhat identifiable, hopefully the listener will explore the piece purely for its sonic content.
Fluid Dynamics 2002 (11:48)
My original intent for this piece was to use two very rhythmical sounds which I had recorded—a raucous faulty faucet in the men's washroom near a Concert Hall and a gently squeaking gas service regulator outside of Lisser Hall, both on the Mills College campus. As the piece developed, though, the rhythmic elements were set aside as the more subtle sound of gas traveling through the pipes and the softer purring sound that the faucet made on its way to the clacking rhythm took over. To these sources I added the sound of a large steel ball and a small brass ball bearing being propelled across a wooden floor, a spare MCI tape machine part rolling in a circular pattern on a linotype sheet, and a roll of very thin brass sheeting gently swaying. The other main sound is that of a large steel ball rolling down two strings of a miniature koto-like instrument I bought at Cost Plus many years ago. Paul Dresher's use of a ball bearing rolling on his string instrument (quadrachord) in his work Sound Stage reminded me of this fascinating sound, and I could not resist using a highly processed version of it in the final section of the piece.
The sources are processed using phase vocoding, convolution, granular synthesis, equalization, and extensive layering, and although a residual attachment to the original sounds remain, their origins are at times rather obscured. The spatialization is natural. Static sources are convolved against naturally moving sources so that they take on the spatialization characteristics of the moving sources.
These sounds held such fascination for me in the intricacies of their timbres, the smallest perturbations being so audible in the loudest and in the softest sounds. The dynamic potential is almost visceral for me. It is as if the listener is inside of these entities, exploring every detail from the inside out rather than being an outsider looking/listening in.
Glassy Metals 2009 (10:00)
A continuation of my fascination with the sounds of metal objects, Glassy Metals explores the sounds of tungsten filaments in burned out incandescent light bulbs, magnetic (iron oxide) tape rushing across a head stack, small ball bearings, ball chains of various sizes, sheet metal, tiny gear motors, bikes, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit which permeates the sonic landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area), freight trains, and various other metal objects.
Some sounds are used in their raw state; others, such as the BART train, which now sounds like the wind, are transformed beyond recognition. Selecting only small portions of the spectrums of several sources and layering them results in new constructs with constantly fluctuating details. The ending exaggerates these perturbations, as sources emerge from the texture and fold back in as if they are fluttering insects hovering close to us briefly, then flitting away, only to return later. Although several sources are cyclic, none are precisely so, nor are they synchronous with other sources combined in the layers, so apparent synchronous relationships occur briefly, then drift apart.
Glassy Metals takes its title from non-crystalline (amorphous) metallic materials.
Holding Pattern, for piano and three EBows 2001 (c. 3:52)
When Sarah Cahill approached me with the prospect of composing a work for piano in tribute to Ruth Crawford Seeger, particularly in reference to the 9 Preludes which Sarah had just recorded, I was intrigued. Ruth Crawford Seeger's interest in timbre, particularly as represented in Preludes 6 and 9, spurred this brief work. This delicate timbral exploration's last sustained notes are those that begin Prelude 6. The Mystico marking of Prelude 6 and the Tranquillo of Prelude 9 are reflected in the character of Holding Pattern.
HUM 1973 (9:06)
This piece was loosely scored and worked out in greater detail as I was playing/recording it in 1973. The 8-track tape machine I was using was full of hum, and that, coupled with the amount of humming that the flutist is required to do, suggested the title for the piece. The piece is written for seven flutes. It may be performed live, with condenser microphones and amplification, or as a single flutist (with condenser microphone and amplification) playing along with the tape. This new recording is missing the electronically generated hum, but there is still a considerable amount of humming coming from the flutist. The piece explores the instrument's wide timbral capabilities and enhances its dynamic range by the player's carefully "working" the microphone.
HUM 2, for eight spatially separated trombones 2000 (7:00) for Abbie Conant
When writing this multi-track work for trombone I could not help but to see the tie-ins to my work of 27 years prior, HUM. That work is scored for one live flutist and six taped flute parts (although it could be performed live with seven performers) which should be diffused around the performance space. HUM 2 is scored for eight live trombones, although it can be performed by one trombone plus seven taped parts, and the players (or speakers) should also be diffused around the performance space. The piece deals with expansion/contraction and involves spatial deployment of the eight performers or eight or four speakers. Ideally one should not be able to distinguish the live performer from the taped parts when performed using the tape version. The piece takes advantage of surround capability with sounds traveling around, through, and across the space (all built into scoring of the piece), with many instances of extended techniques and delicate pitch alterations (of 2-7 Hz). If the listener is in a good listening position, the space should contract—to appear to come very close (as all eight trombones get very loud) and expand outward (as all eight trombones get very soft). The expansion/contraction also takes place in the frequency domain as pitches converge and diverge and in the amplitude domain with an extreme dynamic range. This work is virtuosic. I composed the work for the trombonist, Abbie Conant, whose superb capabilities are explored in the work.
All spatialization for HUM 2 is built into the scoring of the work. For instance, the beginning starts with trombone 8 (left front) playing a slow swell on a middle C. Half way through trombone 1 (center front) plays a slow swell on the same note while slowly rising in pitch from 2-7 Hz as trombone 8 fades. This slow natural panning continues clockwise around the space in a circle, all while the pitch slowly rises, producing slow beats between the players. There are symbols in the first three pages of the score which indicate the direction of travel, just to make sure that the setup is correct. Spatial pairings and various groupings occur throughout the piece, and on pages 11-12 events coordinate across the space to produce clear trajectories.
Inflections 1968 (c. 4:30)
Inflections is a solo flute work which explores space/spaciousness. The spaces in between events are equal in importance to the sounds produced by the flutist. Each sound is a "precious" entity—as if each is an irregular pearl in a string of pearls. The intervening silence acts as the thread that binds them together.
It's Elemental 2004 (6:38)
This piece was composed in response to a call from Phonography for works of under seven minutes duration in which recorded sounds were to be used with no layering, processing, crossfades, or editing permitted. Since these are all techniques that I use extensively, I thought I would take on this difficult challenge. The sounds consist of my floor furnace turning on while the mics were placed within the furnace housing, the sound of a Jacob's ladder which I built, tape unrolling, water boiling in a stainless steel pan, a gas service regulator with frogs contributing from a distant pond, and a faulty washer in a sink's valve.
Liquid Amber 2008 (12:01) (click to see/hear excerpt)
Liquid Amber's images and sounds are about texture—images that compel me to physically reach out and touch them in real life and on-screen, just as I am drawn to reach up to try to touch a star in the desert's black velvet night sky. The sounds are physical, tactile, visceral as well, produced by my touching various objects (skin, fabric, wood, metal, water, etc.). There are only a few exceptions, as when I used synchronized sound in the fast water sequences. When I shot those scenes the spray of the water on my face and tumultuous sound were so very physical that the images still conjure those sensations for me. There is a faint voice on occasion—vocal cords set into vibration by air.
This is not an attempt to add sound effects to the visuals although certainly many sounds relate directly to the image. But the perspective is intentionally skewed as these images have great depth with layers that change in texture, so certain sounds detail the surfaces, others reflect the image's deep interior.
The images are of nature or illustrate nature's effects on man-made objects such as a sheet of copper and an old ship. The title derives from the Liquid Amber tree that provided the ending for this work.
Liquid Metal 1994 (10:49) (click to see/hear excerpt)
I took up canoeing in an effort to "experience nature" and to build up my upper body. I became fascinated with the water patterns visible at such a close-up range. The water had an intimate kind of beauty, very different from water viewed from a greater distance. I captured images for two years before finally sequencing them. It was only in the editing that I fully realized that water actually turns out to be rather colorless (the dictionary definition)— especially at close range and especially with the almost constant cloud cover we experienced. The video has no processing whatsoever.
The "nature" that I ended up experiencing in large part had to do with human nature. I would have loved to have paddled the California waterways hearing only the sounds of birds, water, etc., but instead much of the sound consisted of Harley Davidsons roaring down a canyon road adjacent to the river, helicopters, the Blue Angels, various prop planes, a train screeching harmonics as it went through turns in a canyon, remote-controlled model airplanes, cars driving over a bridge, jetskis and motorboats with and without waterskiers attached. The music is derived from those sounds, with only a few exceptions (seagulls, falls, wind and waves lapping against the shore).
I wanted to transform those undesirable "natural sounds" into sounds I would probably not mind hearing— or wouldn't mind hearing in my head while canoeing. I used convolving, phase vocoding, extensive layering and extreme equalizations to accomplish the transformations. Spatialization is a major concern in this piece.
Minutia 0 - 13, for one to three pianos 1996 (0-12 minutes)
Minutia 0 - 13 is a fully notated piece consisting of 14 separate pages that can be played in any order. The pages vary in duration from 0 - 60 seconds. The performers may repeat any page up to three times consecutively or non-consecutively.
When a request was put out over the internet for a 60-second piano piece, it seemed a good opportunity to write a larger work that could be flexible in duration. The total time for this piece is specified at 0 - 12 minutes. The optimum performance involves three spatially-deployed pianos. This piece explores the piano's sonorities, coincidences during performance, performance/listening/reactive skills on the part of the performers and time/space.
When two or three players are playing, it is almost as if the noise of daily life was going on in compressed form. A player produces some noise, only to be overtaken by noise from another. Some of these noises are sharp, short impulses (kids playing basketball, car doors slamming, someone hammering, doors being knocked on) and others are sustained efforts (helicopters flying over, cars slowly passing by, lawnmowers), and often the subtle, quiet sounds are drowned out by the din of human activity.
Molecular Nanotechnology 2005 (5:55)
The future mechanical world I chose to explore in this work is the miniaturized world of molecular nanotechnology. These tiniest of machines working at the molecular level will eventually be capable of such tasks as monitoring health, delivering drugs to specific sites, maintaining the body, and making repairs. This piece is a voyage of possibilities, somewhat sequential, but without a literal narrative.
Motor Rhythms 2005 (10:15)
Motor Rhythms uses six tiny DC servo motors as its primary sound source. My partner, Brian Reinbolt, developed a rhythmic sequence for the sextet for an installation he was working on and generously consented to let me record them. I deployed the six motors in two semicircles for maximum interplay across the channels and miked them very closely to further enhance the stereo field. Although most of the time they are processed beyond recognition, the motors are briefly revealed in their raw state as they travel dramatically to the forefront two-fifths through the work. The linked skeletal ticks which fly overhead punctuate the spatialization, elongating via resonant equalization, then convolution with the harmonics of the final feedback section, eventually blurring into sustained resonances. Motor Rhythms occasionally teeters on the brink of disaster, sounding as if it's about to fragment or rip apart from internal pressure.
All horizontal spatializiation is entirely the result of the original placement of the microphones. Depth and vertical spatialization are also carefully articulated and a fundamental concern of the piece—expanding, shrinking, stretching, and warping the architecture of the acoustic space.
Of All, for solo flute 2003 (4:14)
When flutist Nina Assimakopoulos approached me to write a solo flute piece for her project title "LITERARY BASED WORKS BY TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY AMERICAN WOMEN COMPOSERS" I was intrigued. I immediately ran through the names of a number of poets in my mind, and landed on Emily Dickinson. I asked my partner if he had a book of her poems, which he did, and when I first opened the book it opened to the page containing this poem. I marked this particular poem, then read through the entire book, only to return to this poem as being the perfect poem on which to base this piece. It is a poem about the wind, in which the first line reads: "Of all the sounds despatched abroad." Each line of the score is a literal representation of the poem. I would read a verse, then work with the ideas and images that Dickinson evoked, finalize the line, then move on to the next verse and interpret that verse in sound, and so on. It's the pure, natural, reflective sense of Dickinson's poem that I'm trying to portray in this work. I should note that this piece fulfills my intent to write a flute work every ten years starting with HUM (1973), then Scirocco (1983), Aeolian Confluence (1993), then two solo works, Of All and Reflections. (2003).
Phase Transitions 1989 (10:30)
The sound source for Phase Transitions was exclusively that of the Roland D50 (550) linear synthesizer. This device seems to have been manufactured to fit the needs of "beautiful music," Hollywood film scores, and commercial advertisement music beds. Phase Transitions is an attempt to make this very interesting instrument sound as atypical as possible--loud, definitely "not beautiful," a little raucous. Since it is not possible to dynamically filter the PCM sounds on the D50, the "surf section" in the middle of the piece was sampled D50, dynamically filtered using the Ensoniq Mirage. To build up the density desired, I made a considerable number of stereo "pre-mixes" from the 16 track to the PCM recorder, and subsequently layered several of the premixes, resulting in a combining of fifty-four tracks in the densest section.
Musically the piece is based on the idea of phase transitions--the area of transition where matter changes from one state to another--such as from non-magnetized to magnetized, or liquid to solid. The transitions within sections move at differing rates per section, as do the transitions from one section to the next, just as different types of matter have very different dynamics of change through various states.
Ping and Pong 2003 (30:00 + 30:00)
Ping and Pong originated out of a call from Chris Cutler for his Out of the Blue Radio project, which was broadcast daily from 23:30-00:00 London time on Resonance FM, 104.4 FM from July 1, 2002 to July 1, 2003. In this call he asked for an unedited real-time location recording recorded anywhere in the world between 23:30-00:00 GMT, which was 3:30-4:00 PM when I recorded these works on 12/13/02 and 12/14/02. I had planned to record something very northern Californian such as the redwood forest, but the only time I had available to do this project was during a time when it was raining non-stop, making it impossible to record the subtle sounds of the forest. I opted instead to put a galvanized steel pail on my front porch and let it fill with rainwater. I tossed in my two hydrophones and turned on my DAT machine at precisely 3:30 and turned it off at 4:00. In this recording there are many layers of activity, including some very sharp high frequency sizzling sounds as the raindrops struck the surface, combined with the deeper tuned resonances of the pail as the larger droplets hit the edges of the pail and others drove deeper below the surface. Aside from these layers, the rhythmic interplay is of main interest. It was still raining the following day, so I inverted the pail and placed two condensor air mics inside the pail and recorded the sound of the raindrops hitting the bottom of the pail, resulting in a more consistent, but still nuanced sound with rhythmic variability. The resonant frequencies of the pail are more exaggerated in this version, and one hears some sounds of the environment processed through this Helmholtz resonator (the pail) as well.
Quicksilver 2011 (11:00) (click to see/hear excerpt)
In the late night water droplets on my car's windshield remind me of the beauty of liquid mercury which alluringly beads and flows so sinuously while reflecting light as if it were a silvered mirror. Liquid, snaking smoke spills upwards.
Grainy images shot in near darkness are accompanied by gritty, crunchy, sizzling, sputtering sound gathered from sand on a drumhead (reminiscent of cars passing by in the rain), matches being lit, ice melting, etc. Fingers gently gliding across closed cell foam backpacking insulating padding evoke the sizzle of extinguishing a flame with wet fingertips. A bathtub draining, a floor furnace, whirling XLR cables and tubes (wind) provide more resonant sources. The final section reminded me of celestial nebulae and I couldn't resist using sonifications of data collected by the Radio and Plasma Wave Science instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft on its way to Saturn and Jupiter and other instruments aboard other craft obtained from Dr. Don Gurnett, University of Iowa, with his permission. Processed beyond recognition, Jovian and Earth whistlers and choruses provide the sole sound source for that section.
Looking at rarely noticed, barely visible images in our lives, Quicksilver finds elegance and mystery in reflected car lights in raindrops on a windshield at night, the sunlight reflecting in a two-inch wide area of a draining bathtub, and the frail tendrils of burning incense.
Raw Data 1998 (6:30)
This piece was composed in response to Koji Marutani's request for pieces for his End ID CD (Digital Narcis label). The theme was to address the technological advances that occurred in the 20th Century in some way. I used shortwave broadcasts as the sole source for this piece. There is only one small section which has processing, the rest being raw, unprocessed data (sound) direct from the shortwave radio, so it is full of static, distortion, clicks, pops and all sorts of wonderful, but usually undesirable artifacts. This open window to the world, with all its noise, seems to make the world bigger and more precious/precarious than it would were every broadcast received with perfect digital clarity. The piece moves from communication that was in use in the early 20th Century (Morse code transmissions) to the present (which uses the medium of shortwave and various media—CD's, reel to reel tapes, cassettes, minidiscs, etc. as sources). As all these types of signals from around the world are available in many languages (including Morse Code) concurrently in shortwave broadcasts, it's as if the entire 20th Century were compressed in time/space.
ReCycle 2004 (8:32)
ReCycle uses my recordings of a refrigerator, a freezer, a floor furnace, ice melting, water boiling, a Jacob's ladder I built, a faulty faucet, and noise between pieces in old 78 recordings. Some of these sounds have large cycles such as the refrigerator, freezer and floor furnace cycling on and off, but there are also cyclic patterns within their "on-times." The Jacob's ladder has an irregular cycle. The faulty water faucet, the penultimate sound in the piece, and the looped noise between pieces from an old recording at the very end have the most consistent rhythmic cycles. The "Re" in the title comes from both the use of the sounds of my re-frigerator, and the recycling of unused source materials from some of my previous works, including Distant Thunder, Fluid Dynamics, and System Test (fire and ice).
Reflections, for solo flute 2003 (c. 5:41)
Reflections is a work for solo flute which was commissioned by the National Flute Association for their 2004 High School Competition. The timing for this request was perfect, as every ten years I write a flute piece and since my last flute work was Aeolian Confluence from 2/8/93, it was time to write another. The title for this work stems from the many internal reflections in the work—there are many phrases which echo or reflect the immediately preceding phrase. Reflections also occur on a larger scale throughout the work, with varied reflections of previous phrases. The nature of the sounds is also reminiscent of reflections on the water, with slight perturbations in an otherwise glassy surface modulating the reflections. The final reference is the use of the same first four notes for this piece that I used for Inflections, a solo flute work which I wrote in 1968. There are occasional extended flute techniques woven into the fabric of this work, and they should flow naturally and easily within the work.
I should note that this piece fulfills my intent to write a flute work every ten years starting with HUM (1973), then Scirocco (1983), Aeolian Confluence (1993), then two solo works, Of All and Reflections (2003). Reflections is dedicated to Walfrid Kujala.
Resonant Places 1992 (10:53)
Resonant Places was composed over a two-year period. It consists of natural sounds recorded in various resonant spaces found on location in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the naturally occurring resonant frequencies are emphasized by equalization and/or digital signal processing and some sections of the piece are slightly supplemented with synthesizers. I used natural sounds which already occurred in a resonant space or which could be recorded through various resonators which were to be found at that specific location. The city's ambience recorded through vents in the house and the freeway and trains recorded through sewer pipes are two such examples.
The resonant sounds/spaces consisted of a swivel chair with casters rolling across an oak floor (the first sounds in the piece), a tightly sealed hallway which changed frequencies as doors throughout the building opened and closed, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in a BART tunnel, two widely separated stove vents inside a single house, the ocean through mailing tubes, and train and freeway sounds through sewer pipes in an industrial area of West Berkeley. As the piece progresses the sense of space collapses and expands depending on the original resonant body locations and microphone placement within these bodies. The transitions tend to lift the listener out of the aural space and to deposit them into another, completely different space.
ROAR 2012 (9:42)
Wind through a silver tube, the touch of the human breath—ROAR is an exploration of three dimensional space where the architected expanse is continually contracting, expanding, and being reshaped. Sounds come so close that theyre almost internalized by the listener, then collapse far back into the cosmos. There is a natural ebb and flow across, around, and through the space, as if a windstorm is on its way, arrives, wreaks havoc, then recedes into the far distance. Mixed to 8 channels, 4 channels, and stereo, this work can also be performed live with 8 flutists with 8 condenser mics and 8 speakers. It can also be performed in a variety of configurations with live and pre-recorded flutes.
Lighting for this work was originally designed for a work created long ago titled Allusions, for special lighting, abstract film, dancers, and four-channel tape. In ROAR the multiple shadows reflect the multiple flute parts that comprise the work. The ending of ROAR touches back to three of my previous works for flute: HUM,Scirocco, and Aeolian Confluence.
Santa Fe 2006
Santa Fe is an 8-CD installation for the Atrium Sound Space, Benildus Hall, College of Santa Fe. The 8 CDs were placed in 2 CD players on random play, with discrete four-channel diffusion. In selecting sounds from for Santa Fe I primarily used sounds that are evocative of the beautiful landscape, skies, weather, and wildlife in and around Santa Fe. The sound sources are quite varied and are so highly processed that they take on new meaning in this context. There are some exceptions, such as one CD of very recognizable sounds, and two CDs derived from an installation piece (Fountain) which use water droplets from a small fountain to trigger synthesized sounds, so the fountain in effect becomes the performer. The sounds, although not of natural origin, are driven by nature.
Scirocco 1983 (10:18)
Scirocco is a piece for live flute and digital delay with pre-recorded tape. The tape portion is composed exclusively of flute processed through a digital delay. Multiphonics, whistle tones, and humming while playing are some of the techniques used to create complex timbres. Dense textures were built by layering up to thirty-two tracks of processed flute. Scirocco is reminiscent of HUM, another multi-tracked, although unprocessed, flute piece composed ten years earlier.
Sferics 2016 (10:10)
Sferics are electromagnetic waves caused by lightning occurring in the opposite hemisphere that propagate via the Earth-ionosphere waveguide. If the energy enters the magnetosphere it bounces multiple times, with high frequencies traveling faster than lower frequencies, resulting in downward sweeps rather than the crackles produced by sferics. Proton whistlers rise in frequency. These electromagnetic phenomena, along with tweeks, produce frequencies that lie within the human audio range, and can be converted to audio using VLF (very low frequency) receivers.
Both Voyager 1 and 2 plasma wave instruments detected whistler-like activity as they passed Jupiter in1979. It seemed appropriate to celebrate Juno’s 2016 arrival at Jupiter by composing a work using recordings of whistlers available from NASA as well as sferics captured by my VLF receivers. These fascinating sounds are noisy—often full of static, crackling, popping, grittiness, choppiness, and irregular fluctuations. It struck me that they were very similar to sounds produced by the white and pink noise generators from the Moog IIIP and Aries synthesizers and my shortwave radios, which I also used in this work. I time-stretched many whistlers up to 20 times their original duration, allowing them to more slowly rip the fabric of space and time.
Shh, for two separated groups of performers 2009: version for six performers (ob cl, sax, vln, va, vc) and version for nine performers (fl, ob, cl, sax, tpt, trb, vln, va, and vc) with conductor (4:00)
Shh’s breathy gestures reflect the wind traveling through the space. The trajectory moves back and forth across the two groups of performers as it wafts out through the audience. High shimmering night sounds and the sounds of branches clicking together as gusts of wind blow through an imagined grove of trees conjure auditory and visual memories of other places. The score is a graphic score that incorporates improvised sections. Timbre, amplitude, timing, and durations are notated, but not focused pitch in this primarily unpitched work. This work was commissioned by sfSound in 2009 for performance by the sfSoundGroup in 20
Solar Wind 1983 (9:47)
Solar Wind is an electronic piece based on synthesized audio representations of bow shock interactions of Saturn and Venus with the solar wind as observed by Voyager, Voyager-2 and the Pioneer-Venus Orbiter. The source tape was generously supplied by the project director of the plasma wave instrument, Fred Scarf, of TRW, for NASA. The plasma wave instrument detects phenomena associated with solar wind interactions in space. The instrument, placed aboard this spacecraft, gathers information and analyzes it using a sixteen-channel spectrum analyzer. The data is transmitted to Earth and drives a computer which controls the amplitude of a sixteen-voice music synthesizer. In some bow shock interactions the actual frequencies of the phenomena are replicated; in others, some frequency shifting was necessary. Time compression is set to a 480:1 ratio. The final sequence of the composition uses the source tape with minimal manipulation. The middle section of the piece (bow shock sequence) uses the source tape, but heavily modified. The remaining segments are loosely based on the source tape.
Songs of Flight, for soprano and piano 1988
Song of Flight (the tern) (4:15)
Song of Flight (the robe) (4:38)
In keeping with the visual imagery of Gary Snyder's two poems, Straits of Malacca 24 Oct 1957 and The Feathered Robe, these settings seek to complement the pure, rather stark narrative delivery of the text with a piano accompaniment which seems to shadow the voice at times, and to gently surround the voice at other times. It is an effort to extract the listener from her/his current surroundings and to move her/him into the timelessness that the poetry evokes.
STATIC 2013 (9:50)
Conceived as an immersive four-channel environment, STATIC presents an episodic journey, ripping through the fabric of imagined time and space, encountering exotic entities and environments in its travels. Sources include radio emissions detected by the Cassini Radio and Plasma Wave Science instrument aboard the Cassini spacecraft and plasma wave oscillations detected by Voyager's Plasma Wave Instrument. Some data are compressed in time and pitch shifted to a range audible to humans, and I further processed most beyond recognition. Other sources include shortwave transmissions, a throbbing faulty faucet, a squeaking fan transformed into Morse code, a crackling mixer output, and white noise generated by a Moog 3P analog synthesizer processed through its fixed filter bank. Static pervades most of these sources, tying them together in this space adventure best experienced in darkness.
Dr. Don Gurnett, of the University of Iowa, generously supplied the sonifications from the Cassini and Voyager spacecrafts used in this work.
Stretching the Boiling Point 2006 (4:12)
Contorting boiling water to a slow, smooth journey across space, bubbles crackling, then the physical stretching of the bubble's surface echoed many times over across time—the theme of this gentle, brief foray is water. Minute detail of water is revealed in the very close miking of the sound sources, and is further revealed as the recorded sounds are stretched and segmented in time via granular synthesis.
Subterranean Network 1986 (11:21)
Subterranean Network, commissioned by Hartt School of Music, is an electronic work which seeks to evoke a sense of the experience of the tunnel fighting in Cu Chi during the Vietnam War. These tunnels, from which the Viet Cong fought much of the war, were dark, narrow, poorly ventilated hell holes, filled with booby traps and inconceivable real and psychological terrors which plagued the American soldiers, known as tunnel rats, whose duty it was to explore them. These men, if not killed by booby traps, snakes, spiders or scorpiions, were in constant threat of ambush in the tunnels.
Surface Tension 2010 (9:50)
Beneath the water's edge in the tidal wetlands, a lively sonic world far beyond human's limited hearing range flourishes. Using hydrophones, I captured some of these sounds, including sea creatures, ripples, bubbles, and sand, shells, and pebbles carried by wave motion. I lashed the hydrophones to a long bamboo pole, capturing the howling wind resonating through the cables and pole. Some sources are revealed as they originally sounded; others are highly processed. There are other sounds, including a whistling metal rack attached to the bed of a pickup truck speeding across a San Francisco Bay Area bridge, cicadas, and a whirling Euler's disk, which forms the final section.
Constant motion drives this work. Space is expanded, contracted, explored to its farthest boundaries, with trajectories swirling and sweeping across both the "under" waterscape and the "over" landscape.
Sweet Dreams 1999 (10:34)
I have always been fascinated by richness of environmental sounds. After years of using heavily processed environmental sounds (to the point where they are no longer recognizable) as the sonic basis for many of my works I decided to compose a piece using only unprocessed (although cleaned up) environmental sounds. As a thread to tie these sounds which I've collected for almost thirty years together I decided to use those sounds which wake me or keep me awake nights. Of interest to me is how some sounds seem to stay in the background and others become unnaturally present in the darkness. I've emphasized these perceptual anomalies, as well as exaggerated the spatialization in this work. The piece is intended to played over speakers, but listening in headphones will make the spatial and proximity effects even more apparent. I recorded all but one sound myself—I could not resist putting in one "baa" from the cloned sheep, Dolly.
Some of the recordings I used for this piece were made as far back as 1972. Wanting to make technically better quality recordings of some of these early soures, I went back to the same source locations I had used before. I most often found them to now be intolerably noisy. The increased air traffic, freeway traffic, and human intrusion on what were once quiet locations made it impossible to capture clean sounds: the bird menagerie was filled with air traffic and the airplanes had so much air traffic and cars so constant it was difficult to isolate the sounds. Everything was difficult to record cleanly and it took an enormous amount of editing and cleaning up of the background noise to make the location recordings usable. In many instances I ended up using the original recordings.
System Test (fire and ice) 2001 (11:21) (click to see/hear excerpt)
This work, which primarily uses my recordings of Jacob's ladders, ice melting, and papers sliding against each other as the sources, is a rather dramatic piece, which I attribute to the dynamic/dramatic character of the Jacob's ladder. There is such a powerful intensity in the discharges, accompanied by wonderful sizzling, hissing, crackling sounds, and powerful low frequencies; danger is always present. The sources are convolved, stretched, granulated, eq'd and further processed many times over, then whirled into this intense piece. There is also a visual component for this work, using four electroluminiscent wired "imagers" in a very dark presentation space.
Through the Looking Glass 2015 (12:50) (click to see/hear excerpt)
I've always been fascinated by water patterns, explored in this video through the looking glass of a camera lens which takes me closer or farther than I can reach while standing on shore, wading, swimming, or paddling a canoe. The magnification that the lens provides allows me to capture what I can't observe with my own eyes due to the physical obstructions, capabilities, or disruptions in the patterns that adding my body to the water creates. The patterns are illusive, changing in an instant due to variations in wind, light, currents, distance, and/or camera angle.
I wanted to capture patterns of rainfall, but the severe drought of 2015 in the San Francisco Bay Area prevented it, so the focus turned to bodies of water. Point Reyes' Tomales Bay, Walker Creek, and North Beach, the ocean at Oxnard, Briones Reservoir, Petaluma River, and the bay's harbors and surrounding areas became the primary sources.
The sounds I wished to hear in these locations were very delicate and were overwhelmed by sounds of helicopters, motorcycles, trucks, cars, trains, BART, and constant planes. I transformed the sounds of these and other human generated sounds into sounds that reflected the"natural" environment that I captured on video The images are just as they were captured, without processing.
My earlier visual work Liquid Metal also focused on water patterns and the intrusion of human-created sounds into the wilds.
Wet 2012 (9:12)
The sounds that comprise this piece are sounds of water that I've recorded over the last few years, including sounds I've recorded using my Offshore Acoustics hydrophones. Wet begins with fizzing, then turns to dry ice bubbling in water. At 1:47 I use hydrophone recordings from the shallows of Tomales Bay, in northern California. After more dry ice bubbling, percussive rain falling on an inverted galvanized steel bucket placed on my porch appears. I then layer additional percussive sound captured with hydrophones placed in the same bucket turned right side up as rain collects within it. The ending is a recording I made of a faulty washer in a faucet in the Music Building's men's room of the college where I teach. The sound was audible at quite a distance since it shook the pipes so hard. Sadly, it's now been replaced.
All of these sounds are just as they were recorded, without equalization or processing of any kind and only minor editing, although at times I built up multiple layers of sounds.White Night 1984 (9:58)
The source material for White Night consists of digital delay processing of spoken names or portions of names of fellow artists. These fragments set up micro-rhythms which interlock, then slowly shift phase. Because the source fragments are essentially static in regard to texture, pitch and timbre, the composition is built on subtle rhythmic interactions among combinations of fragments, with amplitude and density determining the overall structure White Night is a French expression for a sleepless night of the type characterized by the mind's relentless repetition of thoughts.
White Turbulence 2000 (4:29)
When I first started thinking about this piece, I thought it might be interesting to have water as a unifying theme. I recorded many sounds involving water with microphones and hydrophones and processed them using phase vocoding, convolving, and extreme equalization. As I started putting the piece together, I thought it might be playful to incorporate some obvious quadraphonic effects (the convolved airplane at the beginning) in addition to the more subtle spatialization techniques I used such as continuously varying phase relationships. Other sounds include waves lapping against the shore, an old toilet tank slowly filling with water, a brass ball spinning very fast in a stainless steel bowl with a small amount of water, etc. There is a mix of recognizable (although processed) sounds and sounds processed beyond recognition. While working on this piece I recalled the difficulty of layering complex sounds which were spatially oriented with other complex sounds of another spatial orientation. The space tends to become confused or to simply collapse when layering the sounds. This piece is therefore reminiscent of many of my early quadraphonic pieces (1973-1985) which are more episodic rather than thickly layered.
This quadraphonic work was commissioned by Starkland, and the Immersion DVD-A/DVD-V on which it appears with twelve other composers is exclusively for high resolution surround sound.