Nine Bells

In June, I performed Tom Johnson’s Nine Bells, a nine movement piece which uses various patterns for the performer to walk through a 3×3 grid. The tuning system I employed placed the bells on a plane of harmonic space with one axis in fifths (3/2) and the other in pure major thirds (5/4). The image below shows my tuning scheme overlaid with Johnson’s hand drawing (first movement). This video shows the ninth movement, which has a triangular pattern that approximates a 45-45-90 triangle, which when reduced has sides of 1, 1, and √2. Using steps as the unit of measurement, Johnson represents this with a triangle of 5, 5, 7 (just short of 5√2). This movement uses only the 4 outer bells forming a square. As the triangle’s orientation changes, the exact dimensions remain intact while the resultant chord changes each time (a total of 4 possibilities).

Thanks to Janie Geiser and Automata for filming and hosting.

harmonic space diagram

Asperges Me (performed by What’s Next? Ensemble)

My quartet “Asperges Me” was premiered by What’s Next? Ensemble (Alexander Elliott Miller, electric guitar; Sakura Tsai, violin; Brett Banducci, viola; Joo Lee, cello) at their annual Los Angeles Composers Project on April 19 in Pasadena. The piece is based on the Latin antiphon of the same name, which is a part of the Roman Catholic Mass. Taken from Psalm 51, my piece uses the first two lines, “Thou shalt purge me, with hyssop and I shall be clean: Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” I wrote the piece following the birth of my nephew (the piece is dedicated to his parents) while thinking about the transformative possibilities that lie dormant in every relationship. One can view the piece as a kind of deconstruction of the chant. The melody itself has a beautiful rise and fall, invoking a sense of striving as it ascends and release as it falls and returns to the tonic. I took the melody and broke it down into 1-3 note fragments which are played in each voice and harmonized according to a range of overtone ratios. I prefer to look at the piece as a kind of translation, or opening-up. Each voice plays every part of the entire melody, but each with its own harmonization. As a collective, the ensemble plays the entire set of ratios and the audience gets to hear each note of the melody cast in a slightly different way, giving the piece a sense of multi-dimensionality. Duration, dynamics, and even the choice of one instrument are decided upon by the players, granting a wide range of expressive potential and making each performance specific to the ensemble.