Traces: Henry (2017)

Painting by Alissa Rupp



Mbira and Live-Electronics

Premiere: November 2017, Gallery 1412, Seattle



Traces: Henry is the latest in a series of works for acoustic instruments with live-electronics and fixed media. The pieces in the "Traces" series are created by making relationships in spaces (with and without musical events) and with performers and instruments. Through electronic means, both the acoustic instrument and the sounds of the space are transformed by an emphasis on sonic layers that are barely or not audible; capturing and processing them brings them forward and and honors the essence of the space and the instrument.

In Traces: Henry, the means for this result is two-fold. First, the Mbira is played through a MAX/MSP patch that includes a contraption that the composer calls the FILTERIZER. It is a pass-filter that randomly picks frequencies, both harmonic and non-harmonic, that are present in the sound but very quiet. Sounds occur for a very short time (1-3 seconds) before moving on to another frequency. The FILTERIZER also creates complexity with a random Q effect, which changes the "sharpness" of the filter. The result is a whispered, ghosty music that arises from the simple means of bowing and plucking the Mbira. Secondly, there is a fixed-media sound file that plays throughout the work (labeled in the score as HENRY) that has been manipulated by several processes that also emphasize inaudible parts of the original file. The original file contains the "traces" of Henry. Together, these processes create a sonic landscape that is both new and old, living and dead, audible and inaudible.