Balloonman is based on the poem In Just- by E. E. Cummings. The saxophone melody is derived from a recording of Cummings reading the poem. Cummings recites with a lyrical, lilting quality. I transcribed his voice as closely as possible into a pitched melody. The electronics consist of manipulations of the recording as well as motivic development of the transcription. E. E. Cummings’s voice is gradually presented in various relationships with the saxophone, and in the end the poem is finally heard in its original form with the saxophone in imitation.
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
whistles far and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
when the world is puddle-wonderful
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
"in Just-" from COMPLETE POEMS: 1904-1962, by E. E. Cummings, Edited by George J. Firmage, is used with permission of Liveright Publishing Corporation. Copyright 1923, 1951, 1991 by the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust. Copyright (c) 1976 by George James Firmage.
Flicker is a sonic representation of fire. Uniquely a source of light, heat, and sound, fire is a versatile element. Its presence is soothing and relaxing in one context and dangerous and terrifying in another. Like music, fire is temporal: it has a distinct beginning and end. Both build and diminish over time and with varying intensity. In this work, the electronics begin with entirely synthetic sounds that are meant to mimic the sounds of fire: the windy rush of a draft, the crackle of the flames, and the pops of flying sparks. The flute works in tandem with these sounds, creating its own percussive pops and whooshing tones. As the piece progresses, the intensity builds and a distinct harmonic series on B emerges through the crackles. This becomes the anchor pitch of the piece, and the flute reinforces the overtones that seep through the percussive pops of the electronics with various extended techniques. As the amount of pitch present in the electronics surges and then diminishes, the listener is left to discover that a recording of a real fire has replaced the initial synthetic imitation. The flute accompanies these raw sounds by whistling through the B harmonic series one last time and fades away with the dying fire.
Witnessing a powerful, fast-moving object fly past elicits both excitement and fear. There is a certain thrill to seeing a train whiz by at close range, but not without some implication of danger. I reflect this emotional content in locoMotives with dissonant, violent sounds in the electronics and harsh extended techniques in the harp that elicit the same excitement and fear. There are also moments of peaceful repose throughout the work, highlighting the beauty of the harp and embodying the comfort of riding in a train while watching the landscape pass by through the window. The visual component, a series of live shadow projections onto a wall, places the viewer both inside and outside the train and reflects these various emotional responses. The title, locoMotives, lends itself to a tongue-in-cheek word play between the train theme and the musical terms inherent in the word: loco for “at pitch” and motive for a short musical idea. The germinal sound source in locoMotives is a recording of one of Philadelphia’s Regional Rail trains passing by. Most of the melodic material in the piece is derived from the pitches inherent in the train whistle and the crossing gates. The Doppler effect became the connective element in the piece. I recorded the harpist playing several pitch bends on the harp that mimic the train whistle’s pitch bending as it passed by my recording device. Other sounds in the raw audio include the ticking noises of the lowering crossing gates at a nearby road and the whoosh of the wind as the train passed by. These sounds are all imitated in some way by the harp and augmented by the electronics. Finally, the natural dynamic arc of a train approaching from a distance, passing by, and fading away again is imitated in microcosm throughout the piece. All aboard!
Lung Ta is a Tibetan word that literally translates to “Wind Horse,” and is a type of prayer flag that is strung horizontally. Lung ta prayer flags are of square or rectangular shape, and are connected along their top edges to a long string or thread. They are commonly hung on a diagonal line from high to low between two objects (e.g., a rock and the top of a pole) in high places such as the tops of temples, monasteries, and mountain passes. Traditionally, prayer flags come in sets of five: one in each of five colors. The five colors are yellow, green, red, white, and blue. The five colors represent the five elements. Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. This musical homage to the prayer flags uses electronic sounds to evoke each of these elements, and pairs percussion instruments with the various recordings as a way to musically augment the experience. You will hear deep, low drum sounds for the Earth, real recordings of both Water and Fire for the middle movements, and the whoosh of the Wind followed by pure, quiet and crystalline sounds of the Sky. Each movement is punctuated by the sound of the prayer bowls. Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all.
- Anne Neikirk
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