Questions from Lauren Redhead about my Organ and Electronics commission

This post first appeared on Lauren Redheads blog

Copied and pasted for archive

1.    How did you approach writing for the combination of organ and electronics?

I started off by thinking what could electronics bring to an organ piece. From that point onwards I worked on two ideas running concurrently: 1. That the electronics can add content not possible by the organ and extend what an organ piece can be- 2. The organ is one of the first synthesizers in so far that its timbre can be controlled separately from its pitch and it often has imitative options. So I started from a point of wanting to create something where there is some form of symbiotic relationship between the two sound worlds, without one being an effected version of the other. So I started in the middle between the two domains, where the two sounds would interact. I wanted to use the whole range of the organ to exploit its sound qualities and being interested in spectral approaches to composition, I wanted to explore combining harmonics from the two sources, thus creating a symbiotic sound world of the two domains. To do this I created a spectral synthesizer in Max/MSP that consisted of 8 discreet partials which could be automated independently from each other and from the fundamental. I had analysed some stock recordings of various pipe organs in SPEAR and looked to create harmonic interactions. One of the most interesting aspects of this project is the fact that organs can vary so much in terms of design, ranges, tunings and sounds, and so their spectral profiles can vary, and there wasn’t time to build in a spectral analysis feedback system so I had the piece fixed whereby different organs would generate very different results rather than attempt to adjust for each different organ. This added an element of unpredictability to the live concert.

2.    What were your associations with the organ before and now after writing the piece?

I hadn’t any compositional associations with the organ before this project. I had watched various organists over the years perform and explain the instruments workings. I had always like the sound, and always wanted to write something very different outside of the organ’s traditional musical settings. Having done this piece I would be interested in further organ projects and developing further ideas.

3.    What role does the organ play in your piece in terms of producing the sound/pitch/relating to a tradition (for example)? What is its role as an instrument?

I was very keen on the tradition of improvisation in organ performances, and so rather than write something very specific I drew a graphic score which detailed the structure, ideas, where the electronics was to come in, illustrate what it would sound like (it also acted for me in terms of spectral structures to create) and ultimately create a defined structure that allowed the player to make their own mark on the performance, making each performance both a distinctive event and a recognisable piece at the same time, something which happens in both jazz and rock, which I have extensive experience in.

 Epiphany score



About stuartrussellcomposer

Composer/ sound artist. Electronic musician. Modern classical composer
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