Elliott Grabill

composer | educator

Tag: astronomy

Pluto

for B flat clarinet and live electronics

Pluto is a thirty-five minute long chamber work for clarinet and live electronics.  It has five movements:

I.  Serenity
II.  Cosmic Rant
III.  Planet Heart
IV.  The Sun’s Quiet Heat
V.  Gravity

Work on this piece began in July, 2015, around the time of NASA’s Pluto flyby.  By the end of the yeaBandanaBlackWhiter, I had a performable draft.  After winning third prize in Peabody’s Prix d’Eté, the final movement Gravity was programmed in the Peabody Thursday Noon Concert Series, with Melissa Lander on clarinet.  The third movement, Planet Heart, was premiered in August 2016 by Michele Jacot at the Toronto International Electro-acoustic Symposium, and performed again by Chase Mitchusson at NSEME in March 2017.  Clarinetist Shawn Earle also performed Gravity at the 2016 University of Virginia Technosonics Festival.

In February 2017 I teamed up with Andrew Im to perform the piece in its entirety.  We did so at the Centre Street Performance Studio in Baltimore.  We performed it again in at the Music City Festival in Orange, NJ, and perform it in Rutland, VT on August 13.

The piece is expansive both in length and in texture, with long undulating loops and delay that continue the clarinet’s sound like a piano’s sustain pedal.  Noise and ring modulation provide contrast to the smoothness of the clarinet.  The electronics allow for loud sections, harmonies, and sounds lower than the clarinet can play– all derived from a clarinet.10574423_742070775834053_9156229990406236303_n

Below are recordings of Serenity, Planet Heart, and Gravity.

 

 

 

 

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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