for fixed digital media
Überinstrumente consists of my first two forays into electronic music in over 20 years (the last time I produced one before this, I literally spliced physical tape). In the fall of 2010, feeling myself way behind the technology curve, I decided to sit in on the intro computer music course offered by my colleague, Krzysztof Wolek. The two movements of Überinstrumente were the first projects for the class, but I liked the results enough to enter them into my catalog. They may be programmed individually, or played consecutively as movements of a larger piece. I hope add a movement or two as time goes by.
Each movement is constructed of digital manipulations (via ProTools) of sounds from a single musical instrument (double bass and autoharp, respectively), combined in various ways to make a sort of ur-consort of the given instrument.
For the first movement, I played and recorded a number of different sounds on my bass’s E-string: arco, pizzicato, col legno battuto, etc., on the open string and natural harmonics, plus a few percussive sounds. The piece makes a large arc, building slowly from a quiet, simple opening, slowly adding voices and moving up in pitch and dynamics, then gradually moving back down and fading away.
The title was originally going to be “Air on the E-String” (an obvious reference to the famous Bach piece), but my wife suggested this variant. In my mind the title makes reference to the many errors I made along the way in creating it (all the hours getting rid of little pops and crackles that shouldn’t have been there in the first place, among other things), which I hope to avoid in the future. I’m very happy with the way it turned out, and I certainly learned from those errors, but still…I wish it hadn’t taken quite so long.
The second movement consists of manipulated autoharp sounds. A few years ago, while I was cleaning out some closets after my father died, I found, to my surprise, that he had kept the autoharp I owned as a kid. It was missing some strings and clearly had not been tuned since the mid-60s. I brought it back to Louisville with me, and didn’t think about it very much until I was looking for a sound source for my second project. It just seemed perfect, in all its out-of-tune glory.
Most people, if they think of the autoharp at all, think of it as a children’s instrument, or perhaps they associate it with folk performers like Mother Maybelle Carter or Jean Ritchie, strumming gently to accompany a hymn or mountain ballad. All I can say is that’s really not what I’m going for here…
The title comes from a well-known Gary Larson Far Side cartoon, although his hellish instrument is the accordion.
Produced at the University of Louisville Computer Music Studios