The Short Story behind Manifold

Jesse Langen and I have worked together off and on since 1994. We met in Chicago as students. Jesse performed Summer and a Half and left such an impression on me that I composed Manifold for him shortly afterward. All of the other works on this recording, except for the improvisations, were originally composed for him. At some point in time it dawned on us that we had enough guitar music to fill an album. This recording is the result. We are thankful to have Amanda DeBoer Bartlett join us on two tracks.   -Michael Wittgraf



Manifold is informed by a mathematical system involving polynomials and their roots. The system is employed as a pre-compositional tool in two different ways. The fast, single-line sections use patterns around “central” or “main” pitches. Those central pitches are transformed via the system as the work progresses. In the remaining sections, numerical values are assigned to each of 6 different musical parameters (loudness, density, tessitura, degree of polyphony, attack point rhythm, and lengths of sections). Each of these was divided into 6 numerical “levels”. Transforming these sets of six numbers yielded new sets of numbers which correspond to pitches. In other words, “how the music sounds” determines the pitch content of these sections. Manifold was written in 1995 for Jesse Langen.



Improvisations 2 and 4 are part of an ongoing series of free improvisations featuring a variety of performers working with the composer since 2013. These recordings were the second and fourth of six takes on June 9, 2017, during the session for this album. The series seeks to explore possibilities that arise when the sounds of musicians are electronically manipulated by other musicians in a live, freely improvised setting. All electronic manipulations are done in Kyma 7.



Summer and a Half recalls the summer of 1993, which proceeded like any other until mid-August when my wife and I were informed that she was pregnant with our first child - the extra “half” of a summer was all in my mind. In fact, the first movement was complete before we got the news, so the two movements were written in different frames of mind and with entirely different motivations.



Topographic Timepiece, for guitar and live electronics, was composed for Jesse Langen in 2012. The title refers to my visual impression of a method of manipulating time in order to generate much of the audio material in the music. This method involves mapping envelopes onto time. Because envelopes themselves occur in time, resulting sounds can seem tense, confused, garbled, and chaotic, as though the computer is unable to make sense of what it has been asked to do. Envelopes are like topographic maps over time in my mind.



Pythagorean Triple employs a mathematical system of music manipulation that I developed in 1995. It is more controlled by the system than any previous work, but it is also less complex and more consonant. I used mostly 3, 4, and 5-note chords that are both related to each other and derived from the twelve-note row composed of consecutive major and minor triads. The numbers 3, 4, and 5 satisfy the equation a2 + b2 = c2, from the Pythagorean Theorem. Any set of three whole numbers that satisfies that equation is called a “Pythagorean triple”. The music was composed in 1997 for Jesse Langen.



-Michael Wittgraf


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