Elliott Grabill

composer | educator

Category: Fixed media

Sapa

for stereo fixed media, with optional multimedia

This piece started out as music for a dance piece called Sapa, which was choreographed by Danielle Greene Madrid and performed at Temple University in 2011.  The music later set to video by my father, who titled the film After the Storms.

Acousmatica

for stereo fixed media

 

Acousmatica is a dark, dystopic, post-apocalyptic leather romance with an element of danger.  This piece offers a journey in five short movements, weaving between dense machinery, urban waste, passion, and intimacy.

“Breathing” is a wall of rusty tone color that moves to the rhythm of deep breaths.  A more improvisatory “Spontaneity” then explores circular, undulating gesture.  After “Horizon” depicts a futuristic sunrise, “Trip” continues the gestural motion that “Spontaneity” began, this time with a more abrasive texture.  The piece ends with “I love you,” an electrically passionate conclusion transforming the tension built up in previous movements into sweeping melodic trajectories.

 

 

 

Snowy Shore

for stereo fixed media and narrator

 

“Snowy Shore” is a short, four movement electroaccoustic work featuring a narrator.  In this work, I explore combining poetry with music.  The text, which I wrote, describes the beach in the winter, culminating in a shamanistic journey through the icy ocean swell.  The electronics intensify the experience of the poem’s narrative and imagery.

The music includes recordings of nautical buoys, wind, waves, synthesizer, toy recorder, piano, and Inuit throat singing.   Additional techniques include panning, doppler, and frequency shifting to create microtones.

 

 

 

Crnogorska

for stereo fixed media

“Crnogorska” was featured at the Savamala Soundwalk in Belgrade, sponsored by improvE and Belgrade Sound Map.

A soundwalk is a different way of experiencing music. On 15. August, 2014, participants downloaded “Crnogorska” to their phones and listened to the piece while taking a soundwalk around the Savamala neighborhood of Belgrade.

I was assigned a section of the route which included Crnogorska St. The piece only employs sound samples from my route. The improvE collective gave me 4′ 34″ of sound, about the amount of time it takes to walk the route. I was asked to compose a soundscape of the exact same length, so that the work’s duration would last the same amount of time it would take listeners to walk the route.

 

 

Pranayama

for stereo fixed media with optional video

Pranayama is an acousmatic work in four movements. The title derives from the Sanskrit word meaning “breathing in life.” Like Indian music, each movement centers around a single note with a swirling timbre (much like an tambura), and an abundance of tiny ornaments. Like much Western classical music, the piece is structured around four movements, each with its own expressive arc.

I created this work from about one hundred recordings of piano chords. Some of these samples I recorded by striking the keys; in other cases, I silently depressed some keys, struck others, and recorded the vibrations from the resulting harmonics. For each sample, I edited out the initial strike of the key, and faded in the rest of the track so that it sounded more like a stringed instrument than a piano. I sequenced and layered these tracks to create the piece. In certain sections, I added recordings of my own voice, as well as synthesizer pads. One might also hear the pedal, as well as other ambient sounds.

Beyond fading in and out, adjusting the gain, panning, and adding synthesizer pads, I used no additional software (i.e. SoundHack or Max) to write this piece. One only hears the raw recordings of the piano, synthesizer, and voice. Optional visuals may accompany this work created by my father, Vin Grabill, a video artist at UMBC.

So far, the work has been presented three times in its entirety in Washington, DC. The third movement was also featured at the 2011 International Computer Music Conference in Huddersfield, England. This piece is meant to be listened to in its entirety. However, if time is limited, the third movement can serve as an adequate representation of the full composition.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Listen to a continuous playlist of all four movements here:

Un Jardin

for stereo fixed media with optional video

One question I ask myself when writing music is “would I listen to this?”  I make it a habit to record everything I write or improvise.  I leave it alone for a while, and then listen again.  If it’s not engaging to me while I’m driving my car, getting dressed, or cooking dinner, I toss it for something that is.  My first computer piece, Un Jardin also became the piece that for a while I listened to far more than any other of my compositions.

I actually composed Un Jardin while writing a choral piece.  The piece wasn’t going anywhere, so I took a break and started playing with Garage Band on my computer.  I recorded overtones from my piano.  I edited out the initial strike of the piano key and faded in the sound.  Then I laid the recordings on top of each other, staggering them to create (unlike a piano, and more like a violin) a continuous sound.

Editing the gain, pan, and laying multiple tracks on top of each other were the only ways in which I used technology to alter the recordings.  The first movement, “Un Jardin,” begins with the soft sympathetic vibrations of the piano (caused by me striking open fifths) and reaches a warm climax with the fundamental vibrations of the lower piano strings.  In the second movement, “Ceres”, I created a grinding vortex of sound with a subtle, pulsating rhythm, sometimes with chords emerging from the stew of over 44 simultaneous tracks.  I took a similar though less radical approach with the third movement, “Quasi Sostenuto,” this time giving the piece more of a harmonic quality.

Though modern sounding, the structure of my three-movement piece takes influence from classical archetypal forms to lead the listener on a journey.  The arch-like first movement invites the listener into a hypnotically pensive soundscape and is followed by a “scherzo” of sorts in the second movement; the piece ends with the third movement returning the listener into a sublime meditative state before fading into nothingness.

Listen below!

I.  Un Jardin

I. Un Jardin

II.  Ceres

II. Ceres

III.  Quasi Sostenuto

III. Quasi Sostenuto

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