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Friday, May 13, 2016

New recordings of very different pieces!

I had the pleasure of working on two incredibly different composition projects this Winter and Spring, allowing me, on the surface, to explore extreme ends of two completely opposite aesthetics.  A listener might have difficulty imagining one composer as responsible for both pieces, which, I suppose, makes me difficult to "brand."  However, I refuse to pigeonhole myself in a particular stylistic or aesthetic camp, and I relish the opportunity to work with sound in multiple ways.  If you don't like one piece, listen to the other!

Cerebral Hyphomycosis (2016) was premiered at UC San Diego by cellist Tyler J. Borden.  You can watch the video here (with footage by SALT Arts Documentation, and post-production video editing by me):

This is a duet for live cellist, and a virtual cellist that is reconstructed from a database of video clips, using a technique that might be called "lo-fi plundergraphic audiovisual concatenative synthesis."  As the live cellist plays, his pitch is analyzed and used to look up the location of other pitches played in the database, one of which is selected and looped.  Each pitch on the live cello, with a generous margin of error, triggers a specific pitch from the database.  For instance, any time the live cellist plays between a low C and C#, a B an octave above is triggered in the virtual cellist.  A variety of intervals are available between the live and virtual cellists using this fixed pitch transform, which is maintained throughout the piece, and used to generate the harmonic material.   The database of video clips is drawn from music that is primarily monophonic (in this case the J.S. Bach Cello Suite in G Major), and harmonically dissimilar to Cerebral Hyphomycosis.

Flieg, Kindlein, Flieg (2016) was premiered by Amasong, Champaign-Urbana's Premiere Lesbian/Feminist Chorus.  It is based on the music and text of the traditional German lullaby Schlaf, Kindlein, Schlaf, and a traditional parody of that lullaby's text, Maik√§efer Flieg (many thanks to Petra Watzke for suggesting this source material, and for her translation assistance!).  As the text moves from the lullaby to the parody, the music responds to the parody's depictions of war and flight through paralysis, fragmentation, and dissonant harmonic material. After religious visions, sinister black hounds, and obsessive fugue states, the music and text return to a place that has been shattered, but where a dream of "home" remains.

Despite their surface-level differences, fundamentally, both pieces arise from a contrapuntal impulse, but with extremely different rules governing the behavior of musical voices, and extremely different timbres determined by performing forces and electronic processing.  The choral piece slowly distorts a folk lullaby with chromatic, but tonally informed voice-leading.  The cello piece is essentially two part counterpoint, with a pitch resolution in quarter-tones, and an additional third part generated by ring modulation.  Both pieces also capture and reconfigure pre-existing music: the lullaby used in the choral piece is a well known folk tune in Germany, while the cello piece synthesizes something reminiscent of Ferneyhough's Time and Motion Study by procedurally assembling fragments of J.S. Bach.

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