Elliott Grabill

composer | educator

Tag: Hear Elliott’s music

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

© 2017 Elliott Grabill

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑