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moments of nature in music

~ 7 audio-visual pieces inspired by the natural world ~

 

by Nick Chamberlain 

Flowerbee (4' 31") complete version - low resolution

In Flower Bee is inspired by the work of Margaret Watts-Hughes who was an opera singer working in the mid nineteenth century. She also used the vibration of her voice to create stunning physical patterns in various substances. She invented the ‘Eidophone’ where a rubber or paper membrane was stretched across a bucket-like container, a bit like a drum. Attached to this was a pipe through which she sung notes of various pitches. Her voice would vibrate the surface of the membrane and whatever was sprinkled on top, substances like sand or salt or sometimes, various liquids and pastes.

 

In the piece I try to capture something of the sound and movements of a bee buzzing around flowers. The surround sound and binaural versions enhance the sonic experience by allowing the ‘placement’ of the flowers (piano chords) to surround the listener as the bee (cello) moves from one to another. 

The buzzing bee is represented by the cello and the flower evoked by the piano. The cello sounds vibrate the right membrane and the piano, the left. The sound vibrations create many fascinating patterns which emerge during the course of the piece in real time.

Stream of Light (6' 28")

This is a descriptive piece about the play of sunlight on moving water. 

 

I played a recording of the music through a circular dish of water attached to a vibration generator - which is like a hi fi speaker. The music is creating the patterns on the surface in real time. During the film, sequences of symmetrical water waves appear. I wanted to evoke the glimmering sunlight on flowing water, but created purely by sound.

Song of the Solstice (4' 34") complete version - low resolution

Song of the Solstice was was inspired by a visit to Newgrange in Ireland, the neolithic passage tomb aligned to the midwinter solstice. I imagined the sound of chanting and ritual singing inside the tomb as the Sun rose on the shortest day. I wanted to bring to mind the sun shining through the light box opening at the front of the tomb. The patterns in the smoke created by the sound-pulses seem to conjure up fleeting human or animal forms.

 

The piece incorporates pitch material of 5 notes at various octaves: A, B, C#, E and G. The pitch choice is influenced by the discoveries of acoustic archaeologists like Paul Devereux. In the nineteen nineties, Devereux and his team tested a random sample of passage tombs for their acoustic properties and found that they all had a composite resonant frequency within a few hertz of 110hz. This frequency equates to ‘A’, an octave and third below middle C. It is thought that the tombs may have been built specially to resonate most strongly with the voices of men who would  have almost certainly been involved in ritual chanting or singing.  The pitches relate to the first pitches of harmonic series on the pitch A. They are sometimes clustered in close harmony to represent the rays of light entering the tomb via a specially aligned opening called the roof box.

Apparition (4' 12")

Apparition is again inspired by my visit to Newgrange. This time, four animal forms seem to to make a ghostly appearance.  At this time each year, the rays from the rising sun travel through the ‘roof box’ and along the passage to a ritual area, deep Inside the tomb. One theory postulates that neolithic people believed the spirits of the ancestors revisited the living at this time of year, transported via the sunlight.  

 

In the initial stage of composing, ideas were sketched out as simple drawings and then pitch, rhythm, dynamic and spatial screens created on graph paper. The piece was then created on computer using synthesised and sampled sounds.  It is devoid of traditional building blocks of music like  patterns of pitches, durations and beats. Instead, six ‘lines’ of pitch (sun rays), each starting at a different time, constantly change via glissandi, gliding downwards over several minutes from a starting pitch to an ending pitch. The pitches of the lines coalesce momentarily at a central point (roof box) as they cross over each other and disperse. The effect is further enhanced spatially in the surround sound and binaural versions. Here, the six ‘lines’ each start in one particular point in surround sound space, but, as with time and pitch, all coalesce in one central point half way through the piece.

Songs in the Raindrops (4' 38") 

music

Songs in the Raindrops is a pattern piece. Six notes are divided between two triads that begin as an inversion of each other in rhythmic unison. Melodic patterns emerge from the texture simply by changing the octave of selected notes or ‘cutting into’ the pattern with Scalia fragments. Rhythmic patterns evolve by lengthening selected notes in a set order. The overall structure is a sort of arch form with the second half being a retrograde of the first, but slightly varied.

video

The piece incorporates video of standing waves in water, extracts from of many hours of filming. These sequences are manipulated to fit the rhythm of the music. I wanted to create a lighthearted piece based on the sight and sound of raindrops on water.

Float (1' 54") 

The melody for this piece was improvised in one take. I liked the way it fitted with the starling murmuration I filmed from a Gloucester car park one dusk November evening. A particularly spectacular natural event.

 

Five chords are rotated in an iso-rhythm (based on tala 27 - simhavikrîdita) and are overlaid with a free improvisatory melody created with the acoustic scale. The chord sequence and the cello melody are both wave-like in their contour.

Wind:Song of the Air (5' 30")

In Wind: Song of the Air, I try to evoke the sound and feeling of a various types of wind, from a gentle breeze to a howling gale. The video is a series of sequences I have filmed in various arts of the country over the last few years. These include Brighton beach, Coniston and Birmingham.

The piece is influenced by Japanese music, especially by Japanese folk song called min'yo. 

 

It begins quietly with a gentle breeze and builds towards a noisy howling gale. Various sections of the piece are labelled ‘song of the air’, ‘wind chimes’, ‘breeze blown butterfly’ and ‘leaves in eddies’. These are intended to give the performer ideas on interpretation and suggest the sort of feeling that is required. The glissandi, ornamentation and fluid arpeggiated figures help create the sinuous song of the air and give the piece a rhythmic suppleness and freedom. Some melodic lines seem free and independent for a while, but eventually converge in rhythmic unison like leaves outlining eddies -mini whirlwinds - in the breeze.

 

The piece was longlisted for the Britten Sinfonia Opus 13 composition competition.

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