This country was built and is constantly remade from the illogics of skin tone—of difference, of the meaning of particular skin tones, of how those who “pass” for other groups become unreadable and illegible. U.S. land was made from the genocide and theft of Indigenous nations and lands. It was designed to service white land-owning and people-owning elite. Anxieties about “mixing,” about the ways sexuality plays out between people, between races, between and among genders, are endemic to this system. Born and raised in New Zealand and currently residing in Brooklyn, composer Gemma Peacocke arrived in the U.S. curious about its racial logics “and the relationship between violence and sexuality.” The co-founder (with Washington) of Kinds of Kings and PhD candidate at Princeton University merges past and present bodies and ideas “wending between the intricate layers of privilege, power, and shame associated with race and sex, down into the dark roots of the country’s history.” And yet, skin is also a point of connection, “a place of weathering, of impact, of touch.”
Skin is composed for alto saxophone and electronics and explores a variety of techniques and textures, as a cognate, to performer José Antonio Zayas Cabán, to “different shades of skin color.” It sounds like an exploration, an aural mapping of this unfamiliar, colored, textured world. The piece opens atmospherically, with static, rhythmic, trilling electronics reminiscent of scratches, as the saxophone joins with long tones. At 1:31, Cabán plays the piece’s main motive (repeated again at 4:37, 5:01, and 5:21) slowly, but with energy, as if trying it out for the first time against the slower-moving “background” of electronics. Extended techniques like bending pitches by quarter tone abound. At 3:02, the piece slides into the long, low, reedy tones of an electronically-modified saxophone. The saxophone explores new modal territory, playing around the harmonic minor scale. After the electronics play a long, descending pitch, the piece returns (4:25) to the rhythmic percussion and opening motive, faster, more confident. In addition to quarter tone pitch-bending, the saxophone makes use of other extended techniques, like flutter tonguing (5:16). After a long, ascending tone (5:59), an analog to the previous descending tone, the piece ends suddenly, with a quarter-tone pitch bend.
What Will Sound (Was Already Sound)
I composed What Will Sound (was already sound) after having two aesthetic experiences. One was an introduction to the art of William Kentridge, specifically through his video installation What Will Come (has already come). In this work, anamorphic charcoal animations are projected onto a white circle, which supports a cylindrical mirror in the center. When viewed directly, these charcoal figures are difficult to make out, but by moving to a certain vantage point, one can recognize familiar images, reflected in (and corrected by) the mirror’s convex surface. What struck me at the time was how one has to take in the work, eyes flitting back and forth between the distorted charcoal drawings and their reflections, in a kind of perceptual dance between two contrasting perspectives.
This encounter with Kentridge’s art primed me for the second experience, which occurred while hearing a performance of J.S. Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, by the violinist Luke Fitzpatrick. While listening, I felt my attention travelling between a conspicuous gestural surface (of bow hair on string, of heavy attacks and arpeggiated arcs) and a more recessed harmonic aura. It was a dynamic, spatial experience, and I became fascinated with the idea of exploring this narrow but fertile musical territory.
While composing What Will Sound (was already sound), I used a recording of Luke’s performance to produce a transcription of the complex rhythms of this gestural surface, which then formed the temporal scaffolding for the violin material. The live electronic component acts in a manner somewhat analogous to Kentridge’s cylindrical mirror: through its series of convolution filters—derived from the same recording—the electronics extract periodic components from the gestures of the violin, building harmonic resonances apart from, yet dependent upon, the live violin material. The violin and electronics are thus interdependent elements, which realize the piece's material together, as an oscillation between the immediate moment of live performance and a secondary plane of historical resonance.
I am grateful to Luke Fitzpatrick for his role in the genesis of this piece, and to Maja Cerar for developing it into its present form. — Jeffrey Bowen
Improvisation on the Undertone Series
The undertone series is a subharmonic sequence of partials that inverts the intervals of the overtone series. This idea has existed for a long time, but it has had no practical application in music because it cannot be produced in any simple way by musical instruments. There are no problems producing it in computer music, because any frequencies can be produced.
In using the undertone series, the partials go down from the fundamental rather than up. In the overtone series, the number of partials doubles above each octave: there are two in the first octave above, four in the next, eight in the next, sixteen in the next, and so forth. The higher you go, the closer the partials become. In the lower registers, sine tones sound very muffled and indistinct. It is only when they get into the register of the octave below middle C that they begin to sound like normal tones. In fact, most of the tones below this area produced by musical instruments consist of complex sounds that include many upper partials.
With the undertone series, more and more partials are clustered into the lower registers, where they are more indistinct. This means that the “fundamentals” have to be in very high octaves in order to produce usable components, and that only fundamentals at least one octave above middle C are useful at all.
In this work, there are many tones that originate one to two octaves above the highest note on the piano. Those notes are audible, but we don’t usually hear them in music. For notes in the extreme high range, the piece uses only “upper” partials (which are actually lower), and notes in the lower range use only “lower” partials (which are in the higher range).
The work was composed in 2019 and generated by the csound program. It is a companion piece to my composition Improvisation on the Overtone Series, written 43 years earlier. — Hubert Howe
Creatures from the Black Bassoon
Creatures from the Black Bassoon is, as the title suggests, a virtual menagerie of beasts and environments fashioned entirely from processed and unprocessed sounds of the bassoon. Key clicks, reed squeaks and squawks, multiphonics, notes played through various stages of assembly and disassembly, and other traditional and extended techniques are organized by similar properties into species. Some of our creatures appear to be cute, chirpy, fuzzy critters, while others are vicious predators. These beings are placed in a number of tableaus of length devised by the golden ratio, with certain sections designated as "windows" with substantial contrast to the surrounding sections. — Kyle Vanderburg
Several years ago, I read Ludwig Wittgenstein’s seminal philosophical treatise Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (originally published as Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung, 1922) in German––the language it was initially written in. Although, throughout the years, I have gone back to TLP, I delved into the English version of the book for the first time in 2014. As I compared the latter with the German version, I noticed the abundance of materials that have got lost in translation. I was not surprised to figure out later that the first English translation of this text turned up to be, in fact, quite controversial, as scholars juxtaposed it with the German text. My piece Lava Ilogica metaphorically addresses the issue of translation; all that gets lost in translation when a dense, complicated philosophical text, such as Wittgenstein’s, is translated to another language. I chose parts of TLP that I found most meaningful, and recorded four voices reciting these sections in German and English––shout out to Dr. James Paul Sain, Dr. Morgan Rich, and Dong Jin shin, who kindly recited the text, beside myself as the fourth reciter. Then, I multiplied the voices, digitally manipulated them, and mixed them down to a “volcano” of words, sentences, effects, and sounds, where an almost unrecognizable “lava” pours down the hill for approximately 10 minutes, making Wittgenstein’s “logical” construction somewhat “illogical”; Hence, the title: Lava Ilogica. In 2016, this composition was presented at the New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival and Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium in 16 channels, as well as the Unbalanced Connection electroacoustic concert series at the University of Florida in 8 channels.
Yellow was inspired by the observed behavior of the sub atomic particles produced in particle accelerators. After a collision between the accelerated test particles, new particles appear, scatter in all directions, and disappear. The piece was composed in 2011. It is the fourth movement from a four-movement composition, A Glimpse beyond the Event Horizon. When I composed the longer piece, I considered each movement to be a complete composition. Yellow was accepted into the International Csound Conference 2013 held at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, WOCMAT 2013 held in Luzhu, Taiwan and CICTeM 2019 held in Buenos Aries, Argentina. — Julius Bucsis
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