A Descriptive Score for "Years of Fear"

Matt Wuolle 1995

Time 0:00. A montaged mix from my individual performances using: High harmonics played on a baritone saxophone (slowed with pvc). My voice quietly humming a quasi-melody falsetto (slowed w/ pvc, subtle contour manipulation using gliss in rt). Banging metal sticks and other objects against tile walls and metal doors (overd ubbed, transposed in rt, or gliss in rt). Recordings of myself in a stairwell, with sound of door closing followed by soun d of my feet stomping up the stairs (I was running up, actually) which resonates in the small space, followed by open and closing sounds of another squeeky door in the stair chamber. The montaged mix of all the above was then doubled in duration (stretched, using pvc, twice as long).
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Another complex montage then subtly crossfades in. During the crossfade period , the sound of light high notes from tenor and alto saxophone (from the live rec ording of my composition Lovelyville, intro section) is convolved with the sound of a semi-trailor truck which I recorded from about 15 feet off the side of hig hway 130 in Heightstown, NJ (the truck approaches from a distance, then passes, thus it has subtle doppler shift). This montage is created from: Banging on metal bathroom stall doors and resonant bathroom trash can, and my te nnis shoes rubbing against the tile floor which produces erratic squeeks (these sounds are straight from my bathroom dance performances, sometimes layered sligh tly and offset to create more density of activity). Slow door squeeks stretched using pvc. A performance of me wiggling a pair of wooden double doors. An ambient recording of Gigi Taylor speaking on the telephone, processed with 'r esident'. A subtle loop created from my voice singing a low pitched gurgling sound. A 'hole' in the density of the activity is filled in with a woman's voice which is describing a group of robbers on the Long Island Railroad; there is subtle ch orusing and pitch shifting of this voice. The density of the texture increases after she speaks. The shoe squeeks become more dense via more overdubbing. A hollow, resonant, metal bathroom interior door provides a nice midrange horn-l ike sound, due to its greased-starved hinge apparatus. The sound is stretched to ca. 4x as slow w/ pvc, and stereo panned w/ slight transposition on one side. This horn-like sound introduces an increased frenzy of banging, squeeking activi ty. A tiny pitch-rhythmic motif is discovered in the squeeks, this material is repeated with overlayed metalic clinks etc.
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The music comes to a pause via the physical depletion of my energy from one of m y bathroom performances (a physical cadence). A woman with a raspy midrange voi ce singing a long note is pvc'd 28:256, offset, and stereo panned. My grandmoth er, Ethel Cook, speaks a phrase about tourists being shot in Florida. This is u nprocessed, an except from an interview I conducted with her in Nov. 1993. An evil laugh performed by Dave Talkovic is slightly stretched w/ pvc, then tran sposed ca. -.2 using rt. It is here that I start using a looping technique: I i solate a small temporal 'snapshot' of the bathroom montage material, usually som ething like 2-5 seconds. There are about 6-8 individual tracks of material, and one of these contains the squeeky melodic-rhythmic motif mentioned above. I ex periment with looping the entire montage texture, which creates an odd, unrelent ing repetitive rhythmic quality (sounds almost industrial). A looping program I wrote, called "moop," does calculations to generate playnote scripts in rt, and can be used to individually loop each of the 6-8 main sound components of the texture. This way I can control subtle aspects of the loop without changing the main rhythmic character of it, for instance, I can slightly pitch-shift some squ eeks in the texture, while the percussive bangs adhere to strict unaltered itera tions. "Moop" makes it convenient for me to experiment with many variations of the loop's duration. Long tones on the Eb alto saxophone and G alto clarinet (p erformed by Wuolle, and Chris Penrose, respectively) are layered on the looped t exture. This performance was also pvc'd and subjected to a gliss curve in rt. The above merges into a completely different rhythmic looped texture, this one i s a 'snapshot' from another montaged bathroom texture. Yet another montage over lays the loop, this one made from more recordings of the "hollow, resonant, meta l bathroom interior doors with midrange horn-like sound, due to their greased-st arved hinge apparatus." Most of these sounds are stretched 32:256 w/ pvc, befor e mixing, panning, and low transpositions with rt are carried out. The 'shwoop' sounds are from my shoes swishing across the tiled floor. Subtle variations on the 'squeek motif' loop kick in amidst more slowed performances on sax/clarinet which are now mirrored in the background by the sound of me slowly closing a 'g rindy' door of an industrial dumpster (which is transposed down in rt), these so unds fade into the ozone while the loop continues, the loop texture becomes augm ented with a few more layers of percussive clacking sound, and a light 'whooping ' of my voice comes in, as well as a tiny loop of a distorted laugh. The looped texture is suddenly jolted around by pitting isolated blocks of the same perfor mance montage against each other, and ends with a low bang that is echoed.
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The same semi-truck from above is already waiting to greet us, but this time con volved with the industrial dumpster door sound, and an isolated section of truck just having passed is looped and subtly glissed above and below the original pi tch. Two crime stories are told by Ethel Cook, panned hard left and right, so t hat both can be heard simultaneously or individually. Sentimental music fades i n; it is a convolution of myself arpeggiating new-age chords on classical guitar with myself playing harmonics on alto saxophone and biting the reed to produce squeeks. The same classical guitar chords are convolved with a brief sample of orchestra strings from my piece Winter Solstice. The same saxophone squeeks are also convolved with this orchestra sample. Violin harmonics from the slow sect ion of my piece Ebullition are convolved with dumpster and sax, this crossfades the orch chords. The previous woman's voice (describing the train robbery) is c onvolved with some percussive, metalic ringing (from my bathroom performances). A montage composed of elements similar to the beginning of the piece gradually fades in and then takes over (the whole sound block is transposed down about -8 in rt).
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Notes about the Improvised Performances and Compositional Process

Much of this music is formed from spontaneous interaction with unquantized sound. The course of the interaction is determined aurally through feedback, and physically, via exertion/exhaustion. Free physical 'dancing'--with no predetermined direction whatsoever, the duration and direction of performance is completely determined by my energy level, stamina, and own interest in the sound being produced at the moment. I learn how the sounds respond during the performance, although I sometimes borrow from preexisting instrumental conception, e.g., the way a drummer plays a drum kit. Room acoustics are important, tiled bathrooms are often chosen because of their particular reverberant characteristics.

Conceptually this is like a band whose performance is overdubbed and the medium is the recording, i.e., I layer many diverse performances that I have done myself. There was no conception of what the 'parts' would be when I performed, I was just 'collecting' these performances to use at a later time. The compositional problem then becomes one of taking these inchoate pre-recorded things and forming them into something. My greatest challenge in this piece has been to sustain an intensity level for an extended period of time without radically changing textures and sound types; e.g., an attempt to maintain level of intensity that Coltrane does in second long solo in Transition with my 'band' and my own way of saying it, interspersed with short narrative texts that deal with issues of crime (mostly from personal stories with people I know and interviewed). A technical problem for me has been in my attempt to build an intense rhythmic regularity in the percussive parts without it sounding like a simple computer loop, various methods of 'deconstructing' my own performances have been used to deal with this. Basically this came about due to isolating textures (through looping short segments) that I had previously layered, which yielded music that kind of captured the essence of a few moments of time that I really liked. It gave me (the listener) a chance to get into the sound of it for an extended period, as opposed to the continuous linear motion that was a result of my spontaneous performances. Then I had to 'unbuild' the textures I had created in order to introduce subtle variety. My first attempts resulted in too much variation, such that the intensity level was weakened, so I am now working with the fine line between too much variation and 'digitally perfect' stasis.

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