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Listen: David Rosenboom compositions

August 2014

Listen to a selection of annotated excerpts from the work of composer and electronic instrument builder David Rosenboom. Rosenboom is featured in The Wire 367

"BC—AD (The Moon Landing)"
from Roundup Two: Selected Music With Electro-acoustic Landscapes (1968–1984)
(Art Into Life)

Throughout my life I have been interested in exploring aspects of the wondrous natural world with musical models. Electronic circuitry was a natural platform for some of this work. In the late 1960s I invented an analogue electronic circuit that, among many other interesting behaviours, was able to produce pulse waves in inverted harmonic series (sub-harmonic) relationships and to modulate these by means of external, varying voltages (voltage control). The circuit also exhibited non-linear, dynamic behaviours that we now refer to as chaotic, which were also voltage-controllable. Amazing constellations of tones and patterns emerged. I built a unique electronic instrument with multiple copies of this circuit and generated the control voltages with an analogue computer made of vacuum tubes. In the summer of 1969, my close friend, colleague and mentor Salvatore Martirano and I constructed a copy of this instrument for him to play. We also added control signals from modular, digital logic circuits arranged to generate musical patterns (no artificial delays were used). This enabled us to play duets with my circuits that were very unique. One of these took place on 20 July 1969 in which we accompanied the Apollo 11 spaceflight as it descended to its resting place in the Sea of Tranquility on the Earth’s moon. Television monitors distributed around the concert hall displayed Walter Cronkite reacting emotionally to the astounding lunar landing video images arriving back on Earth. We chose to live this moment in our music.

"In The Beginning III: (Quintet)"
from In The Beginning
(New World)

The macro-title, In The Beginning, refers to a series of works written between 1978 and 1981 for a variety of large and small instrumental ensembles, computer aided electronic music instruments, film/video and synthetic speech. All of the works focus, among other things, on the development of a unique harmonic, rhythmic and melodic language, a particular model of proportional structures in music, and a topologically expressed theory of musical shape perception. I imagined a compositional process that mirrors nature in the creation of singularities, particles, or differentiated units of perception. It would do this by making use of resonance as a key to creation within an initially smooth medium, like undifferentiated space or the undisturbed surface of a calm lake. Resonance represents the force of drawing together in patterned relationships outlining a natural, ontological evolution. Harmonic and rhythmic spaces provide the medium; the composer and performers provide the initiating force; a system of proportions articulates growth when interactions are reinforcing and decay when they produce collisions. The musicians of the Los Angeles based woodwind quintet Midnight Winds mastered the demanding score for "In the Beginning III (Quintet)" with extraordinary skill, as this excerpt shows.

Naked Curvature
from a forthcoming release in 2015 on Tzadik

From the time of my mid-1960s reading of William Butler Yeats’s A Vision, in which a system for visualising cycles of change in human faculties is unrolled, possible musical realisations simmered in my imagination. Much later, in 2001, this stew, peppered by thoughts on Yeats’s experiments with automatic writing, condensed into the form of an entirely whispered chamber opera, Naked Curvature (Four Memories Of The Daimon). In it we hear a rustling susurrus of words, freely spun off from Yeats, myself and others, flowing by us from margins of embodiment and imagination, perhaps seeming to be in conversation with the unseen instructors in Yeats’s conjuring. Sometimes comprehensible, sometimes merely entering the fringes of consciousness, they always play out as rhythmic instruments, part of the raw musical sound. The whispering voices and instrumental/electronic ensemble members are all actors playing a cycle of roles in relation to each other. Naked Curvature invokes conundrums hard to avoid when conceptualising things living outside orienting frameworks like background grids or coordinate planes. Naked Curvature’s poetic adaptation comes from mental and spiritual states invoked while trying to see things in relation only to each other, uncloaked by the artificial contexts we often impose upon them. The curves are naked. This brief excerpt is from one of the 28 parts that make up the complete, whispered chamber opera, which is due out on a CD from Tzadik in 2015.

"Section VI (Culture)"
from How Much Better If Plymouth Rock Had Landed On The Pilgrims
(New World)

How Much Better If Plymouth Rock Had Landed On The Pilgrims is as much a process of personal development as it is a fixed composition. Today it is represented in nine extended time pieces, developed between 1968 and 1971, in which notions about the symbolism of the famous ‘rock’, cultural transformation, Puritanism, politics, spirituality and positive change, intermingled to create a specific, musical discipline. Each section must be realised by means of aural transmission through particular musical, technical and focused, active listening practices, assisted but not limited by musical notation in the typical Western style. I’ve chosen to offer an excerpt from "Section VI (culture)" here, a section not often heard. Drawing on the gradual process techniques of earlier sections, it is realised here by two Los Angeles area rock bands, PLOTZ! And DR MiNT in an arrangement coproduced with my son, composer-trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom.

"Time Arroyo"
from Future Travel
(New World)

“Time Arroyo” was created in 1981 as part of a set of pieces called Future Travel, conceived as a journey in sonic imagery by a traveller whose point of view we imagine as a spirit being representing the first awareness of a new form of consciousness to which humans have evolved. Being aware of an unstoppable momentum towards unlikely survival, attention had been turned earlier towards directing the process of evolution into a new form, a macroscopic, large scale organism to which all individual entities of earlier earthly forms contributed. The first awareness of this new form begins in Future Travel. Future Travel was made largely with an early, digital, pre-MIDI, computerised keyboard instrument, created in collaboration with Donald Buchla, called Touché. The compositional systems for Future Travel were derived from another series of works for instrumental and electronic ensembles just preceding Future Travel, called In The Beginning. The complete series of works composed under both titles has been made available on CDs from New World Records.

Twilight Language
from Life Field

Twilight Language was written in 2004 for renowned Los Angeles pianist Vicki Ray, when she was preparing a concert of music related to visual imagery. The score contains four distinct parts, each of which presents a musical configuration space, a form of notation in which time does not exist a priori but is collapsed by the performer into a particular manifestation for each individual hearing. Each part gives a seed focus for musical meditation and is associated with a specific visual image: I, Devotion and Restless Heart Indistinguishable, II, Simultaneous Absence Of Silence And Sound III, Leaping from Eye Of Wildest Imagination, and IV, Imperishable Jewel Of Adamantine Mind. The images related to each section are by the tenth century Ch’an (Zen) Chinese painter Shih K’o, a drawing by my daughter, singer-songwriter Lindsay Claire Rosenboom, showing a tiger leaping from the iris of a large, wide open eye, and a diagram showing the canonical geometries and proportions of Tibetan Buddha figures. This excerpt is taken from a retrospective CD released by Tzadik called Life Field, which contains examples of my music spanning four decades, from 1964–2004.

Excerpts from “Part I” and “Part V”
from Zones Of Influence

Zones Of Influence is a propositional cosmology activated in music. It is an example of propositional music, a point of view about composing in which composers might build proposed models of worlds, universes, evolution, brains, consciousness or whole domains of thought and life, and then proceed to make dynamical musical embodiments of these models, inviting us to experience them in spontaneously emerging sonic forms. My process for composing Zones Of Influence in the early 1980s for percussion superstar William Winant involved building such models with the idea that once built, they would be activated by the gloriously unpredictable virtuosity of a master performer interpreting the score. Zones Of Influence is a five part, concert length work in which five unique percussion set-ups and auxiliary instruments are linked via sensors to real-time composition and synthesis algorithms in a new instrument called Touché II. These brief excerpts are taken from near the end of “Part I”, in which three snare drums drive the models, and “Part V”, in which percussion instruments and a glissando part (here played on a violin) do that job.

Watch excerpts of a performance of Rosenboom's Bell Solaris here


Amazing wow.

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