Aeolian Harp

for piano and computer generated tape

The Aeolian Harp is a mechanical instrument that creates musical sound from wind. As air passes through the harp its strings vibrate in sympathy with corresponding motion in the moving column of air. The result is an ethereal Aeolian resonance, a tonal memory of the wind’s chaotic motion that, like our own memory, is a colored artifact of a presence that has since departed. The ideas of transformation, resonance, memory and loss are all thematic currents in this work. The piece is dedicated to my sister, Marianna Christine Taube, who died in 1997 after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Although some elements of the composition relate specifically to her life, I think the piece is best described as simply being a reflection, or resonance, of my struggle to come to terms with her death, of the transformation we all undergo when emotional chaos, despair and anger gradually yield to the duller ache we tolerate and carry forward. The ideas of resonance, transformation and memory operate on many different levels in the composition. On the largest scale, the piano and tape music always reflect the transformation of a source into an artifact, that is, in every section of music one part was derived from the other either though a process of attenuation (“dampening” aspects in the source part) or resonance (“amplifying” aspects of the source part). The tape music consists of real sounds (primarily wind and plucked piano strings) that have been transformed or colored in some manner appropriate to the composition. These techniques include the use of resonating comb filters, time stretching, varied repetition, and cross synthesis. Cross synthesis was used to create the “singing wind” that occurs toward the end of the composition as wind sounds take on the spectral properties of the Buddhist chant Zen Sho Kada sung by the Rev. Haruyoshi Kusada of Berkeley, California. Some passages in the piano part reflect distant memories I have of studying the piano as a young man. A short passage from the seventh Visions Fugitive by Serge Prokofieff (title Arpa) appears briefly with Zen Sho Kada. Most of the melodic and harmonic structures in the tape and piano were derived through Frequency Modulation (FM), a computer synthesis algorithm invented by my teacher John Chowning. This technique produces an amazing variety of spectral resonances through a few simple controls on the complexity and density of sidebands around a carrier frequency. As a synthesis technique FM sidebands produce the timbre of individual notes. As a compositional technique, the side bands constitute melodic and harmonic sets whose dissonance and texture can be controlled in musically interesting ways. All the sounds in the composition have their basis either in FM or in the justly tuned Aeolian (natural minor) mode. The Aeolian Harp was composed in Common Music, a software environment for computer-based composition developed by the author. The tape part was created using Common Lisp Music (CLM) developed by Bill Schottstaedt at CCRMA, Stanford University.

The Aeolian Harp won the Eric Siday Prize for Musical Creativity from the International Computer Music Association at the 2003 ICMC Conference in Singapore. In 2010 the Aeolian Harp was part of in a concert tour by pianist Shiau-eun Ding in Hong Kong (SAR), China, and Taiwan. Sponsored by the National Culture and Arts Foundation of Taiwan, concert venues included the National Concert Hall Taipei, Tunghai University and Hong Kong.

Score: Score_Icon Audio: Mei-Fang Lin, Piano.

Last modified: Fri Mar 21 07:03:48 CDT 2014