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That Which is Bodiless is Reflected in Bodies

 

Music by Matthew Burtner
I-Jen Fang, percussion; Matthew Burtner, saxophone

[1] That which is bodiless is reflected in bodies (8:05)
for Tibetan bowl and computer-generated sound

[2] Siku Unipkaaq (5:22)
for four glockenspiel and computer-generated sound

[3] Carving Light From Earth (11:18)
for computer-generated sound

[4] Stones Touch the Sky (5:52)
for stones, computer noise generator and Tibetan field recordings

[5] ∆7 (7:14)
for disassembled saxophone, low frequencies and subwoofer

[6] ∆5 (2:28)
for saxophone-controlled radio transceiver

[7] ∆6 (2:25)
for tenor saxophone and air compressor

[8] ∆4 (6:33)
for low frequencies and saxophone feedback

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about the album:

That which is bodiless is reflected in bodies is a collection of sound art works by composer Matthew Burtner, performed with virtuosic percussionist I-Jen Fang. The pieces explore embodiment through the combination of electro-acoustics, computer sound synthesis, and live instrumental performance.

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That which is bodiless is reflected in bodies for computer-generated sound and Tibetan bowl was composed for Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda Dome Room at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I imagined the Dome Room as a giant inverted Tibetan bowl. Speakers around the edge of the dome correspond to resonant nodes on a Tibetan bowl. A computer model of a Tibetan bowl sounds from the speakers and the audience sits in the middle, as if inside the giant bowl. The piece begins and ends with the percussionist playing the real Tibetan bowl in the room.

The title of the work comes from Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica (circa 200 AD), a large compendium of dream interpretations. Artemidorus examines dreams as iconic representations, addressing the embodiment of imagined images, spirits and icons. He puts forward a principle of “That which is bodiless is reflected in bodies.” Where Artemidorus uses dreams to explore embodiment, I use technology, particularly computer modeling and sonic dislocation. Sound synthesis research with David Topper led to a new synthesis technique called Spatio-Operational Spectral (SOS) synthesis, an approach used in this work. Additional research with Stefania Serafin led to the creation of the multimodal physical model Tibetan bowl used in the work. The audience is immersed inside this virtual bowl with speakers located at spots where resonant nodes would be if the room were indeed a giant bowl. The virtual bowl continually changes shapes and sizes with the pulse of the music, creating a dancing re-embodiment of virtual space. Spatio-Operational Spectral (SOS) synthesis techniques employ geometrical spectral sound structures exploring the threshold between perceived unity and multiplicity. In other words, the approach allows sounds to be pulled apart spectrally, and individual partials animated in physical space. This creates an auditory illusion that the sound is simultaneously one and many things.

 

In Siku Unipkaaq (“the story of ice”) four percussionists play two glockenspiel with computer sound accompaniment. Siku Unipkaaq is an intense process piece that modulates difference tones created from the four bell players. The music of Siku Unipkaaq is extremely loud yet contained. It shakes tightly, as if animated particles within a crust of ice are becoming increasingly rigid. Pitches are gradually reduced and at the end the rhythm decelerates into frozen stasis.
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Siku Unipkaaq is the last movement of the second act of Ukiuq Tulugaq (Winter Raven). In this larger context, ice is an intense force of immobilization, particularly beyond the convenience of human industrial operation. In the theatrical work, the piece disrupts a scene of industry and construction. Ice is further personified and appears as a masked dancer who carries a video staff controller that processes images of her masked dance.

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Carving Light From Earth (2012) is a computer-generated sound artwork originally composed for a collaborative dance music piece in collaboration with choreographer Dinah Gray. It is a part of Deep Earth, a large-scale piece commissioned by the Athens International Film Festival, Arts Ohio and NoBrow Music. Deep Earth explores the geologic layers of our planet, and our relationship to it as surface dwellers, particularly our mining practices. Carving Light From Earth is a meditation on the emergence of energy from the mining of fossil fuels such as gas and oil.

The sounds of Carving Light From Earth are all computer-generated, made using a spectral-rhythmic software instrument I programmed for the piece. Distortion modulation of the spectral rhythmic pattern shapes the form.

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Stones Touch the Sky (2013) was inspired by my travels in Tibet in 2011, particularly visits to the Jokhang Temple, Sera Monastery and Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, and the the Samtse Monastery in Gyalthang (Shangri-La). At Sera, a monk was shaping rocks with a hammer and chisel to make stones for the temple walls. His sound of tapping stones mixed with the wind, flapping prayer flags and distant chanting. He let me stay and listen to his work. It took a long time for him to make one stone. Built on the face of the mountain from countless similar stones, the temple stretches into the sky. The mountain rises in staggering verticality behind the temple. This man’s work embodied a vertiginous sense of time, where the human and geologic scales meet. The Temple expresses the connection of the human and the environment through the stones. Later in the week, while studying a map in Lhasa I noted a place-name — “Stones Touch the Sky”.

The field recordings used in this piece include several monks chanting, prayer wheel bells and prayer recitations. I temporally modulated the field recordings, expanding the spectral architecture of the sounds into abstract harmonic halos. We hear the voices and bells inside the wind and noise like the ephemera of memory, like sonic ghosts. Three stone players perform in a strict polytempo of 60:80:100 beats per minute. A fourth player performs a computer noise generator using a multi-dimensional controller.

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Listeners familiar with my music will hear a connection to the work Mists (1996) for stones and noise. Mists also uses the stone trio ensemble, and involves a computer noise generator. Stones Touch the Sky is grounded in a particular experience of place, adopting the aesthetics, material and conceptual dimension of Mists as a starting point for a work about human-nature dialectics. 

 

 

 

 

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In 2000 I began a series of experiments with saxophone and feedback that I titled Delta. The saxophone has always been my primary medium for compositional experimentation and sketching new ideas. Delta, meaning doorway or threshold and change, gives a name to this approach. Each Delta piece is an experimental exploration of a new modality of sound creation. The saxophone is merely a familiar acoustic body on which to enact these experiments. The series began with Delta 1 for feedback saxophone and drum machine, published on Innova Records’ Metasaxophone Colossus (2004). Delta 2 for feeedback saxophone and intelligent sampler was published on The WIRE’s Wire Tapper series. And Delta 3 for feedback saxophone was released by the SMTG label on HzCollective 2009.  All three pieces used the electric feedback saxophone, an invention involving a special microphone system coupled with an amplifier to create a continuous feedback from within the saxophone body. Small microphones in the body pick up the resonant frequencies of the saxophone. By opening and closing the keys, the performer can control the tone and quality of the feedback, playing notes without blowing into the saxophone. Any notes played into the sax set off a cascade of feedback centered around those pitches and strong harmonics.

The four Delta works on this album depart from those early pieces, but each one similarly explores a new world of electro-acoustics and experiments on the saxophone.

 

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For Delta 7 I disassembled an alto saxophone and placed all the parts in an 18 inch subwoofer cabinet speaker turned face up like a bowl. A computer low frequency generator sends polyrhythmic impulses to the speaker and these tones shake the saxophone parts in different ways. The cover image for this album is a photo of the live performance of this piece. The track was generated in real time by the computer, without combining multiple tracks. The impulses shake the pieces of saxophone, and the frequency determines the manner of that articulation.

 

In Delta 4 the performer plays the feedback using a low-frequency generator, in this case an electric bass. The bass tones elicit resonant feedback overtones in the instrument and small microphones inside the body of the instrument pick up this signal.  The feedback signal is then sent to a feedback suppressor that filters out the resonant frequency tones. With one feedback tone muted, the saxophone then finds a different feedback frequency. This circuit creates a continuously evolving feedback signal in response to the bass frequencies. In this performance, the performer plays the saxophone with the electric bass sound. Yhe sax sounds in response, tempered by the electro-acoustic circuit.

Delta 5 couples the saxophone with samples recorded from radio broadcasts. This piece uses recordings I made in Singapore, China, Thailand and Vietnam.  The piece creates an unusual radio dance, harmonizing the squeaking and honking of the sax.

Delta 6 was made by coupling the sax with a mechanical performer comprised of an air compressor, a pair of rubber lips, a vocal cavity, a nasal cavity and a lung. The human performer can play the mechanical performer by varying the shape of the artificial embouchure and the air pressure of the compressor as it blows a continuous stream of air into the saxophone. I made this piece while I was an Invited Researcher at the IRCAM Center in Paris, France. This experiment was done in IRCAM’s Anechoic Chamber and this recording includes no natural or artificial reverberation. The sound of the saxophone blown by the compressor’s inhuman air force required me to wear earplugs. Spending extended time in an anechoic chamber is disconcerting because the lack of resonance messes with the balance mechanism in our ears. Wearing ear plugs only exasperates the condition. I spent a week in that anechoic chamber, and the memory of it still makes me feel claustrophobic and slightly nauseous. But the resulting sound is incredibly rich, and a completely original saxophone sound. This is an unedited single take of the mechanical sax, without any computer treatment, as it was recorded that day.

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About the artists:

 I-Jen Fang

FangHeadShot_webI-Jen Fang was born in Taipei, Taiwan and began her musical education at age six on piano. Taking up percussion at the age of nine, she came to the United States at age fifteen to pursue her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Percussion Performance at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. Later, she received her Master of Music degree from Northwestern University and her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of North Texas where she served as a teaching fellow. Her principle teachers include Tim Adams, Michael Burritt, Christopher Deane, Mark Ford, Paul Rennick, Robert Schietroma, Ed Smith and Ed Soph.

As a percussionist, Fang has performed or recorded with artists such as Keiko Abe, William Cahn, Mark Fork, Mike Mainieri, Michael Spiro, Nanik Wenton, and Nyoman Wenton. She was a guest marimba soloist with the Taiwan Youth Orchestra in Austria, France, Hungary, Romania, and South Africa. Also, she has performed as a soloist with the Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic in Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh, PA. As a pianist she was a winner of the Pittsburgh Concert Society Young Artist Competition. In 2003 she was a featured performer with the Bain Percussion Group at PASIC. In that same year she was selected as a marimba soloist to perform in the Marimba Mania Concert at the 6 èmes Journées de la Percussion in Paris, France. In 2004 she performed at PASIC as one of the finalists in the Solo Vibraphone Competition. In 2005 she was invited to perform at PASIC on the Gamelan Gender Wayang.

Fang has performed with many ensembles, including the Oratorio Society of Charlottesville-Ablemarle, the Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra, Taiwan Youth Orchestra, the North Texas Wind Symphony, the UNT Indoor Drumline, Northwestern Symphony Orchestra, Northwestern Contemporary Music Ensemble, Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic, Carnegie Mellon University Wind Ensemble, UNT Steelband, South Indian, Gamelan, Afro-Cuban, contemporary and classical percussion ensembles, and is a member of a percussion quartet, the Bain Percussion Group. She has been involved in the recording of eleven CDs and a DVD with the North Texas Wind Symphony on the Klavier and GIA labels.

Fang joined the faculty of the McIntire Department of Music at the University of Virginia in 2005 where she is Principal Timpanist and Percussionist of the Charlottesville & University Symphony Orchestra.  She is an Innovative Percussion artist.

Matthew Burtner

BurtnerHeadShot_webMatthew Burtner is an Alaskan-born composer, sound artist and technologist specializing in chamber music and interactive new media. His work explores ecoacoustics, embodiment, and extended polymetric and noise-based systems. First Prize Winner of the Musica Nova International Electroacoustic Music Competition (Czech Republic), a 2011 IDEA Award Winner, and a recipient of the Howard Brown Foundation Fellowship, Burtner’s music has also received honors and awards from Bourges (France), Gaudeamus (Netherlands), Darmstadt (Germany) and The Russolo (Italy) international competitions. He is part of the Composition and Computer Technologies faculty at the McIntire Department of Music of the University of Virginia where he Directs the Interactive Media Research Group (IMRG) and Associate Directs the VCCM Computer Music Center.

Burtner’s music has been performed in major festivals and venues throughout the world, and commissioned by ensembles such as Integrales (Germany), NOISE (USA), Trio Ascolto (Germany), MiN (Norway), Musikene (Spain), Spiza (Greece), CrossSound (Alaska), and others. He has also had the opportunity to work closely with virtuosic soloists such as Phyllis Bryn-Julson, Dimitris Marinos, Morris Palter, Haleh Abghari, Lukas Ligeti, Michael Straus, Madeleine Shapiro and Wu Wei.

He is the composer of three evening-length multimedia opera/theater works — Ukiuq Tulugaq (Winter Raven), Kuik, and Auksalaq. A 2010/2011 Provost Fellow at the Center for 21st Century Studies at UWM, Burtner has also conducted long-term residencies at the Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada), Phonos Foundation/Pompeu Fabra Universidad (Spain), Musikene (Spain), Cite des Arts (France), IRCAM/Centre Pompidou (France), and the University of Missouri Kansas City (USA). He studied composition, computer music, saxophone and philosophy at St. Johns College, Tulane University (BFA), Iannis Xenakis’s UPIC-Studios, the Peabody Institute/Johns Hopkins (MM), and Stanford University/CCRMA (DMA). Among published recordings for DACO (Germany), The WIRE (UK), Innova (US), Summit (US) Centaur (US), EcoSono (US) and Euridice (Norway), his music appears on three critically acclaimed solo recordings.

As a technologist, Burtner develops systems for human-computer-environment interaction featured in his music. He invented the NOMADS telematic system, the MICE human-computer ensemble and orchestra, the Metasaxophone augmented instrument, and a number of ecoacoustic approaches.

Reviews:

… surrounded by screens, cables and computers, the composer and child of the Arctic shore wore an aura of calm and composure, yet radiated a contained enthusiasm that portends great and greater things to come from this young musical genius of interpretation.
-National Geographic Newswatch, Michael McBride

completely new sound patterns and sonic ideas suggesting an entirely revised organization of tones unlike anything in our musical past.
– New York New Music Connoisseur, Mark Greenfest

It was earth-shattering . . . literally. the entire space of Wallenberg reverberated with the waves of noise. It was bombarding yet remarkable; the loudness thrilled me, and I felt like I was in a cocoon of surrounding force.
– Augustana Observer, Daniel Reine

He works with sustains, overtones, difference tones, resonances, repetitive structures, and feedback. The music is as monolithic as an ice field and as rich as a complex urban environment.
-21st Century Music, Mark Alburger