When Plato waxed poetically about the "music of the spheres," he thought that there were mathematical relationships between the earth, the sun, the moon, and the planets, which resembled the properties of a vibrating mass such as a tightened string or a tubular column of air. The ancient Greeks believed that there were astronomical ratios between earth and the heavenly bodies, which were the same as the acoustic nature of a vibrating string. The source of their theory, the mathematical division of a string length, provides one of the great timbral characteristics of stringed instruments - their ability to sound harmonics. These appropriately ethereal sounds create a wonderful contrast in color to the normal tone of a modern string instrument.
In 2007, I became increasingly aware of my ephemeral relationship to nature and began to experiment with electronics into my work. While I have frequently connected life experiences with my composition, this on took a very special credence since my connection between writing music and living had fused so fundamentally. I have been interested in exploring extended techniques for strings for some time, however it has only been recent that this interest has broadened into the realm of electronics.
An eclipse is the obscuration of light, an emotional reduction or loss of splendor, status, and/or a reputation that forces us to examine our mortality. Ironically, in this space, magnetism and opposition join - awe and fear combine to create a truly phenomenal example of the interconnectedness of experience. This mirrors out to perception.
"E: Tip" is one of series that explores a "template” of compositional ideas with different versions exploring different angles of the perception of an eclipse. General formal and thematic material include: the trajectory of an eclipse visually through time, the harmonic series, and consonance and dissonance fading in and out between very "real" and "unreal" sounds, specifically, extended technique for cello in combination with manipulated recordings of bull-frogs.
This piece was commissioned by Madeleine Shapiro and the American Composers Forum. Alvin Wong is featured on this recording.
Cellist Alvin Wong performed across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Seoul Arts Center, and Hong Kong Cultural Centre. He was featured in music festivals such as Atlantic (USA), Intimacy of Creativity (Hong Kong) and Thailand International Composition Festival, and has given masterclasses around the globe. Advocate in new music, he has premiered concertos by Barry Conyngham, James Ogburn and Angel Lam, and many cello works written for him. Alvin studied with Aldo Parisot and Janos Starker, and received the Doctor of Musical Arts from Yale. He is currently on faulty at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in Australia.
Caitlin Horsmon has created a visual accompaniment available on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/29233943
Thanks to Bob Beck for his sound engineering on this track!
- Alvin Wong