Festival of Whispers

Festival of Whispers (2017.2019)was commissioned by the Athenaeum Library of Art and Music in La Jolla, CA as a sound installation for the SoundON Festival of Modern Music. The piece is about coastal erosion as cultural erosion. It includes a chamber ensemble work (expanded in 2019), a multichannel sound installation, and a series of headphone listening stations. The work can be presented as a chamber piece or as a sound installation. This page and the materials linked here are for the chamber music composition only.

for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion (3 cym, snare, vib, bell tree or glock, 4.5 octave marimba, large bass drum)

duration is c.15′, variable depending on the ensemble interpretation of the score (see below)

Listeners hear the sound of the coast through the walls and floor, as if the ocean is pushing up under the building, pulling it out into the sea stone by stone. Whispered texts drawn from the music library stacks (the writings of composers) wash off the shelves and drift out to sea. As the ocean erodes the performance space the musicians and audience members spread whispers around the hall. The ensemble music, while illustrating the collapse of culture through coastal erosion, also develops its own musical content and community, contributing to that culture even as it too is washed away. The piece explores the loss of cultural, an outcome of climate change often overlooked in the face of the humanitarian and economic devastation global warming brings.

When I was in residence at the Athenaeum a giant sink hole opened up in downtown La Jolla – the ocean coming up right under the foundation of the city! It reminded me of the fragility of human culture and how climate change threatens our most cherished cultural artifacts in addition to our habitats.

Matthew Burtner

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The score features metered instrumental sections (above) alternating with non-metered sections of variable duration (below). The electronics are controlled via a Max patch and are follow the musicians so that the duration of the piece is flexible.

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In addition to a multichannel speaker projection in the room, the installation includes a set of 12 electronic text-based pieces intended for headphone listening and using excerpted texts from the published books of composers. These pieces include:

I: for John Cage (from A Year From Monday, part 1)
II: for Iannis Xenakis (from Formalized Music)
III: for Jonathan Harvey (from In Quest of Spirit part 1)
IV: for Rimsky Korsakov (from Principles of Orchestration)
V: for Arnold Schoenberg (from Fundamentals of Musical Composition, part 1) VI: for Henry Cowell (from New Musical Resources)
VII: for Arnold Schoenberg (from Fundamentals of Musical Composition, part 2) VIII: for Pauline Oliveros (from Deep Listening)
IX: for Charles Ives (from Essays Before a Sonata)
X: for Jonathan Harvey (from In Quest of Spirit part 2)
XI: for Arnold Schoenberg (from Fundamentals of Musical Composition, part 2) XII: for John Cage (from A Year From Monday, part 2)

Contact matthew@matthewburtner.com for details on the installation and audio materials.

ensemble score + software + parts
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1download score + software + parts$44.95Festival of Whispers 666.14MB
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