Ben L. Robertson: Thamnophis Sirtalis

This Friday, I will be performing in the premiere of Aphonia Recordings cofounder Ben L. Robertson’s Thamnophis Sirtalis, a microtonal composition for voice and strings.

Thamnophis Sirtalis - Ben L. Robertson

From Ben’s press release, on the Gallery 1412 website:

Traditionally, biological disciplines such as taxonomy and the arts have been viewed as more or less distinct from one another. […]

By definition, a taxonomist gathers empirical observations regarding the physiology & behavior of organisms (both living and deceased) to craft an explicit vernacular that definitively describes his or her biological subjects. Through a similar methodology, the spectral composer may gather relevant acoustic data, classify this data in the form of a literal or symbolic language, & establish a protocol of musical conditions that reflect the nature of data collected. Within the piece, this process entails the development of a proprietary vocabulary, or spectral taxonomy, to describe & classify the individual harmonic phenomenon and spectral behaviors exhibited in the context of Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis. The resultant spectral taxonomy is the maturation of a system of microtonal tuning & counterpoint that effectively exploits the unique timbres produced by specific FM algorithms.

Phonetically, the piece adopts the aesthetic of an Audubon field guide, as each vocalist recites a series of incantations documenting the Latin names of various North American subspecies of the ubiquitous Common Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis.

This will be the first (and quite likely only) live performance of the piece, which will also exist as a recording on the Aphonia label. Earlier this year, I spent several days tracking the vocal line—in seven part microtonal harmony, no less!—for the recording.  The live performance involves interaction with live electronics that produce a chorus effect, splitting every note into a spectrum of relative pitches.

The entire experience has been immensely educational for me, and any doubts I had about the piece’s ability to be translated into a live performance were quickly dispelled during rehearsals this evening.  Ben has put together a wonderful group of performers and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with everyone in this way.  Come see for yourself this Friday night!

~ by emilypothast on April 28, 2009.

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