wistful, harrowing optimism

So I’ve been making the electronic portions more and more dense and heterogenous over the past few months, mostly by adding variant after variant of the sounds I began the project with. I’ve mostly done this to paper over similarities between sounds, or to obscure the source material and/or methods behind them. (And not simply because sine tones can sound like robots…see my previous post!) The result has been textures that become harrowingly dense, even when the electronics are not particularly loud. This certainly is part of my intention: after all, this project is about overloads of electrical activity in the brain.

The question I’ve asked myself, however, is whether it gets too harrowing. Portions of the electronic track are uncomfortably loud, overwhelming, and even violent. (This is all done within reason, of course – there are no truly dangerous volume levels, and certainly no representations of actual seizures.) But part of my motivation for this project has always been to communicate aspects of my own experience with the condition, as it has been quite harrowing at certain points in my life. So instead of mediating the experience of the electronics, I’ve set up the quartet as a foil, particularly in the latter portion of the 21-minute piece. 

Here’s part of an extended solo for the electronics:

Not long after this, the electronics reach their loudest, most explosive point, and the quartet reenters following nearly 5 minutes of silence, struggling against the overwhelming electronics. The quartet continues to push back, in fits and starts, as the electronics subside. Their jagged polyrhythms slowly become more regular, and they eventually achieve a much more peaceful space, one that I think realistically counterbalances the violence of the electronics.

I presented my opera Killing the Goat to a group of people a few years ago, and I received some extremely vocal criticism for the ending, which resolves to a pure, gentle F major chord. Aesthetic legitimacy of this move aside (I reference two 19th-century operatic finales in this last scene, one of which resolves in precisely this way), it was a conscious decision on my part to resolve the opera’s harrowing story in this manner. I think I’ve taken a similar approach here: for instance, I recently made some incremental adjustments to the harmonic language of the ending. It was darkly lyrical to begin with, and there’s no real tonality, let alone an F major resolution – very far from it, since the quartet’s final harmony is the justly tuned odd partials of Bb (5/7/9/11/13):

But there’s a slightly brighter consonance in general:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 8.28.17 AM

…one that bolsters the quartet’s role as a relieving counterweight to the harrowing electronics, and that may even provide an affirmative message in the end.

Excerpts from the score are here!

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