The Winds are complete

After five days in the studio, and quite a lot of advance preparation on the boat, the winds for Movement 1 have been completed. Each wind comprises a collection of sound files which add up to its character. The sounds include natural/environmental recordings, instrumental and synthetic timbres. All of them are treated in some way, at the very least embedding directionality as described in previous posts, but in some cases spectrally treated and processed.

The bass clarinettist behaves like a kind of weather vane in the performance. He will face a given wind and play from a menu (yet to be composed) of material in response to the sounds that emanate from that direction. When he tires of a particular wind, he will turn to face another direction.

Meanwhile, the computer will trigger anything between one and the maximum number of sound files available in a given wind folder. The triggering will occur randomly within a 30 second window. Since some of the sound files last more than a minute, it is likely that the ‘tail’ of one wind will still be playing when a new one is faced. This should add richness to the musical experience.

The material in the wind folders is unified according to the timbral map given in a previous post, i.e. by shape, timbres, pitch centre (where appropriate), gesture, envelope, etc. Even so, there is a lot of diversity. It will be a blowy and slightly chaotic piece, just like the experience of standing on Kelston Round Hill!

The Movement will begin with the North West wind, which consists entirely of unpitched sounds from the computer and from the bass clarinet, who makes various air noises and clicks. After that, the shape of the composition is determined on the fly by the performers  (Roger Heaton and myself, in this case).

Timbral Map

Planning of Movement 1 continues by trying to map the hill timbrally. I have devised the table below, showing how the various winds are translated into timbres for clarinet and the loudspeaker orchestra. Some of the latter sounds are electronic, some natural recordings, some instrumental samples. Pretty soon now the real work of actually making the sounds will begin!


Wind: N
Pitch: A
Character: compressing – stretching
Time delimited? yes
Phrase 1: Compressing: discontinuous and erratic.
Phrase 2: Stretching out: globally uniform
Semantics: First there is a feeling of compression (as if we strongly pressed on an obstacle) then the barrier is suddenly overcome, suppressing all resistance and releasing the power. It is a sudden change from localized energy to scattered energy.
Timbres: Aeolian sounds, wind and brass instruments, plus electronic compression
Bass Clarinet: rapid staccatissimo, then tenuto

Wind: NE
Pitch: E
Character: moving forward, propulsion
Time delimited? yes
Phrase 1: first phase is quite a sustained fulcrum: a prolonged or homogeneous sound or slow iteration, globally uniform
Phrase 2: a brief acceleration of intensity, pitch, or any other morphological trait
Phrase 3: a typical resonance or silence
Semantics: We feel the application of a force to a steady state, resulting in an accelerated movement. Projection from a starting point.
Timbres: bowed tam-tam, bowed gamelan, bowed vibes, piano clusters, drone sound, resonance is spatial
Bass Clarinet: sustain – acceleration – resonance

Wind: E
Pitch: B
Character: waves, braking
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: slow repetition of an increasing then decreasing sound motif. The shape of the profile can concern different morphological criteria (mass, dynamics, grain, etc.)
Semantics: Each cycle conveys the feeling of being pushed forward, and then driven back until the end. We get the impression that we are stagnating through this unit although we feel motion within each cycle.
Timbres: wind in trees, granular synthesis, additive/subtractive synthesis, filtering
Bass Clarinet: rhythmic articulations, vibrato

Wind: SE
Pitch: F
Character: divergent, chaotic
Time delimited? no
Phrases: ad lib.
Semantics: No description required. The title is self-explanatory.
Timbres: birdsong, natural rustling, strings
Bass Clarinet: multiphonics, microtones, extended techniques, slap tongue

Wind: S
Pitch: C
Character: endless trajectory, heaviness, in suspension
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: a linear and usually slow evolution of a sound parameter
Semantics: The process must be oriented in a direction (for example, upwards or downwards) and however, it seems to never finish. The sound phenomenon must be long enough to be perceived as a process and not an ephemeral event.
Timbres: spectral processing, time stretching, Shepard tone, distant aeroplane
Bass Clarinet: circular breathing, glissando, crescendo

Wind: SW
Pitch: G
Character: spinning, stationary, obsessive
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: a parameter (pitch, timbre) is driven by a quick cyclic repetition along with a thrust in each cycle, or with a quick and possibly varied repetition of a pulsed element.
Semantics: We feel constrained by a mechanical process in which we cannot seem to act. We have the feeling of an object spinning on itself or in space.
Timbres: mechanical sounds, throbbing, music box, piano
Bass Clarinet: Double/triple tonguing

Wind: W
Pitch: D
Character: floating, falling, fading away
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: a sound parameter (pitch, dynamic, etc) floats and then falls away.
Semantics: We feel sustained for a considerable period of time before drifting away, either falling or fading.
Timbres: decay instruments (prepared piano, harp, celesta, vibraphone, gong, etc.) that decay at wrong or unusual rates, or have pitch shift
Bass Clarinet: glissandi, decrescendi

Wind: NW
Pitch: always unpitched
Character: suspending-questioning, wanting to start
Time delimited? no
Phrase 1: ad lib.
Phrase 2: ad lib.
Phrase 3: ad lib.
Semantics: no description necessary
Timbres: unpitched percussion, acoustic effects, wind sounds
Bass Clarinet: Breath sounds, key clicks, etc.


An invitation to contribute to the Kelston Roundhill Symphony!

Movement 4 of the Kelston Roundhill Symphony is to be called “People and Buildings”. People can upload sounds to a website, like some kind of aural patchwork quilt. Any sounds may be used, but obviously it would be good to link them to themes of the symphony and the round hill. I will then put together a piece using these sounds, to create what will hopefully be a vigorous and rousing end to the symphony. During the composition process, people can comment and make suggestions via the message board on the site.

If you wish to take part, please do make a contribution here

The Old Barn

Here are some pictures of the venue for the Kelston Roundhill Symphony. The Old Barn is about half way up the side of the hill. It’s a lovely space inside, with a good acoustic. The rafters offer opportunities for suspending loudspeakers (tweeters mainly). There is a kitchen and toilet facilities that are not shown in these pictures. It should be a great and intimate location for the performance.

Bass Clarinet as a weather vane


Given the description of the ‘winds’ blowing in the last post, I have been giving more thought to spatialisation. The Old Barn is a T shape, as shown in the (badly drawn) picture below:


To give a clear sense of directionality, there will be eight principal loudspeakers located roughly in the positions of the points of the compass, as indicated. Strewn about or hanging from the rafters, will be a ‘forest’ of smaller speakers. Sound will travel through this forest using stereo panning. The four channels SW, W, NW, N will be panned hard left and S, SE, E, NE will be panned hard right. So, to make a journey from N to S will involve panning across from left to right, whereas S to N will be right to left. The complete formula is as follows:

N -> S = left to right
NE -> SW = right to left
E -> W = right to left
SE -> NW = right to left
S -> N = right to left
SW -> NE = left to right
W -> E = left to right
NW -> SE = left to right

In the midst of all this directionality stands the bass clarinet. He will have the instrument on a sling, saxophone style, so that he can turn to face whichever wind is blowing. He will then play off a menu of material for that wind. There will be eight stands, each with a single sheet of music, for this purpose. I suppose the bass clarinet behaves like a weather vane!

I hope the overall effect of all this will be to make it abundantly clear to the audience (who are scattered through the space) which wind is blowing at any given moment. Of course the musical fun will come from the content itself, the interaction with the soloist, and the choreography of the winds as they cross and interact with one another.