Thursday, October 24, 2013

St. Lawrence String Quartet Reads "The Roots of the Firmament"

When I heard that the St. Lawrence String Quartet was going to be doing a reading of pieces by student composers on campus at ASU, I knew that I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity. I also knew that I didn't really want to take out too much time from finishing up Karelian Soundscapes. So I gave myself a 24 hour period to compose something (really about 4 hours of writing and another 2 of cleaning everything up). The result is this: The Roots of the Firmament. The piece is compact and aphoristic, channeling a bit of Webern via Kurtag and my former professor Michael Hicks.

I took my inspiration from the irregular columns in the facsimile from the Book of Abraham which are labelled as the "pillars of heaven, as understood by the Egyptians", which are supporting the "expanse, or the firmament over our heads." I found it interesting that this celestial imagery is actually placed at the bottom of the picture, hence 'roots' instead of pillars (pillars also suggested a regular and symmetrical pattern, in contrast to the image's asymmetric, leaning irregularities). I interpreted each of the 38 pillars of the facsimile as a chord, each voiced with a different texture. A melody is gradually woven around this series of chords. Of course on a metaphysical level the concept is reminiscent of both the tree holding up the heavens in Finno-Ugric (Karelian) mythology and of the more Latter-day Saint idea that our lives are planting seeds and growing roots in preparation for a harvest of the fruit of the tree of life in the Celestial Kingdom to come. The poignant melody that unfolds around 1:30 is similarly reminiscent of both the Karelian folk melodies I studied this summer and the hymns on which I was raised. 

I was extraordinarily pleased with the quartet's reading and the discussion that followed. Some of the things that the quartet discussed with me included some different ways to notate and ask for certain techniques. For example: did you know that you can ask for 'half sul tasto' in order to get more of a pitched sound while maintaining the distinct effect of sul tasto? Mind blown!

Unfortunately the recording from the reading was not the best quality. I've added some filters and messed with the compression and EQ to try and improve it, let me know if you have any suggestions after listening!

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