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Petaluma Howls for voice and electronics
Every night during the month of April 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 quarantine, I recorded a few minutes of my Petaluma, CA neighborhood residents howling at 8pm. These collective outbursts allowed us to blow off steam in an uncertain time, come together as a community, and most importantly, give a literal shout out to health care workers and first responders. Some nights were louder than others and one can hear cars swooshing by my recorder, dogs joining in, or fireworks being set off down the street.
To build the electronic voice accompaniment, I analyzed the recording of each night using specialized software (and my ears) to determine the closest applicable tonality as projected by the howlers. I carefully time-compressed the several minutes of howling from each night into only a few seconds and then electronically filtered and resonated the resulting clouds of sound through a chord progression and synthesized bass line derived from the tonal implications of each recording. The vocal part is meant to highlight the pitch content of the compressed soundscapes with the singer being asked to produce vocal sounds that emulate deconstructed and elongated howls. My hope is that the composition gives the listener a musical and emotional impression of this unique sonic and social phenomenon.
The piece began as an electronic experiment leading to a short version with voice for soprano Bonnie Lander as part of Rhymes with Opera's 1-minute opera project. The current version was written for and performed by soprano Abbi Samuels.
BIRD LOOP STUDIES
The Bird Loop studies incorporate recordings made as part of Soundscapes to Lansdscapes (soundscapes2landscapes.org), a NASA- funded Sonoma County biodiversity study overseen by SSU GEP Professor Dr. Matt Clark. Since Dr. Clark graciously granted me access to the project’s audio database, I have spent many hours working through the thousands of remote recordings and spectrograms to find the most musically rich bird songs that could serve as raw material and inspiration for future compositions. All of the pitch content for the Bird Loop Studies is directly related to the recorded bird song I discovered. My hope is that these pieces become a celebration of the sheer musicality of certain local bird species, highlighting the unique nature of our beautiful county.
Bird Loop Study No. 1 (Thrush) for vibraphone and electronics
Bird Loop Study No. 1 (Thrush) uses S2L recordings made in the Jenner Headlands on the mornings of June 7th and 8th, 2018 where a single hermit thrush was repeating five distinct musical motives accompanied by the sounds of the wind, ocean, and some occasional cicadas and a Stellars Jay call. The piece opens with the vibraphone imitating all five of the thrush’s sweet and florid motives before pausing so that the vibraphone may be bowed to generate the sustained tones that are looped to provide the harmonic background to the rest of the piece. The piece then moves into sections that explore the motives and their underlying source recordings in more detail, adding additional electronic components as the piece progresses.
Bird Loop Study No. 2 (Meadowlark) for guitar and electronics
If the hermit thrush is the Billy Holiday of the bird world, the western meadowlark is certainly the Jimi Hendrix. Bird Loop Study No. 2 (Meadowlark) uses S2L recordings of western meadowlark songs made in late March, 2019 at Sears Point and during the early Spring of 2021 at Tolay Lake. In both spots, the meadowlark songs rang out over a soundscape that included traffic and plane noise, other birds, and frog choruses. After a swelling harmonic introduction of the Sears Point motives, a grooving section has the guitar alternating between delayed chord arpeggios and direct imitations of these same motives. The third section uses the recordings from Tolay Lake, alternating between repetitions of slowed and real-time fragments of meadowlark motives over a series of accelerating trill-like chords, before arriving at a faster and rousing conclusion. I am forever grateful for the talents and energies of my friend, John Mayrose, for whom this piece was written.
Interlock for Pulsoptional (oboe, bassoon, marimba, piano, electric guitar, electric bass)
Howler for orchestra and electronics
audio excerpts coming soon
Numbers/Dates for Rhymes With Opera (2 sop, bari, a sx, vln, vla, vla, pno, vib, elec)
III. anger and happiness
(second) Fastest Land Animal for Short Distances for Pulsoptional (oboe, alto sax, marimba, guitar, bass, elec.)
(second) Fastest Land Animal for Short Distances, explores ideas of speed and rapidity using elements, both composed and sequenced, of common “breakbeats” found in certain genres of electronic dance music. The breakbeat is the short snippet of sampled drum groove (usually taken from 70's soul and R&B songs) that when looped, lays the rhythmic foundation for much electronic dance music and hip-hop. The music in this piece stems from my attraction to jungle or drum 'n' bass music where breakbeats are sped up at inordinately fast tempos and split into short rhythmic fragments that when sequenced, create a frenetic chain of syncopated drum patterns. I derived much of the rhythmic and tonal contour of the composition from “sampling” and “fragmenting” specific breakbeats that are commonly heard in jungle/drum 'n' bass (listed below). I then mapped each component of the beat to specific instruments. The digitally processed, live electronic accompaniment in this piece consists of the specific breakbeats, both whole and broken, that form the rhythmic skeleton of the entire composition.
audio excerpt coming soon