The Art of the Virtual Rhythmicon
With Sonic Circuits XI
Works made mostly using the online instrumentcreated by Nick Didkovsky for <musicmavericks.org> after an idea by HenryCowell and Leon Theremin
1. Janek Schaefer AllBombing is Terrorism* 12:00
2. Annie Gosfield ASideways Glance from an Electric Eye* 7:35
3. Philip Blackburn Henryand Mimi at the Y 4:34
4. Jeff Feddersen ThisTime I Want Them All* 5:48
5. Matthew Burtner Spectralfor 0* 4:42
6. Matthew Burtner Spectralfor 60* 4:27
7. Viv Corringham Eggcup,Teapot, Rhythmicon* 6:15
8. Mark Eden CremationScience° 5:33
9. Robert Normandeau Chorus°
TheRhythmicon was a musical keyboard instrument built in 1931 by Leon Theremin atthe request of composer/theorist Henry Cowell. Each key of the Rhythmiconplayed a repeated tone, proportional in pitch and rhythm to the overtone series(the second key played twice as high and twice as fast as the first key. Thethird key played three times higher and repeated three times faster then thefirst key, etc.)
TheVirtual Rhythmicon was commissioned in 2003 by American Public Media for itsPeabody-Award-winning Web- and radio series American Mavericks<musicmavericks.org>. Theonline version extends the functionality of Cowell’s design and uses digitaltechnology rather than rotating optical discs. Users can compose their own works and post them online here:
Forthis CD the Sonic Circuits festival commissioned several composers to makeworks in which the instrument features prominently. These works are complemented by two others chosen for theFestival’s final year of presentations. Thanks to the Jerome Foundation for their support of these commissionsand of the Sonic Circuits Festival over the years.
TheVirtual Rhythmicon was designed and programmed in Java Music SpecificationLanguage and JSyn by Nick Didkovsky, email: [email protected]
Nickwould like to thank Preston Wright for the invitation to work on this project,and Phil Burk for the many insightful discussions, supporting software, and ofcourse JSyn. Nick would also like to thank the following beta testers whohelped with bug reports and creative suggestions: David Birchfield, PhilipBlackburn, Phil Burk, James Forrest, Kevin Norton, Chris Pepper, LarryPolansky, John Roulat, and Peter Selmayr.
TheSchaeffer, Burtner, Fedderson,Corringham and Gosfield works were commissioned for Sonic Circuits with fundsprovided by the Jerome Foundation.
Allbombing is terrorismis one of the most peaceful tracks I have made... the opposite of war.
JanekSchaefer was bornin England to Polish and Canadian parents in 1970. While studying architecture at the Royal College of Art [RCAannual prize], he recorded the fragmented noises of a sound activateddictaphone travelling overnight through the Post Office.
Inthe 1920s Santa Barbara composer Mildred Couper (“Mimi”) followed up on CharlesIves’s use of two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart by writing a series ofpieces for that medium. (Duringthat period she was also known as the Fairy Godmother of Harry Partch’sChromatic Organ, later to become his Chromelodeon.) She had the misfortune to present one of her major works, Xanadu
PhilipBlackburn was bornin Cambridge, England, and studied there as a Choral Scholar at Clare College.He earned his Ph.D. in Composition from the University of Iowa where he studiedwith Kenneth Gaburo and began work on publishing the Harry Partch archives.Blackburn’s book, Enclosure Three, won an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. He has been the Senior Program Director for the AmericanComposers Forum since 1991 and continues to compose, build sound-sculptures,perform, and write about things like Partch, Vietnamese music, and the use ofsound in public art. He runs theinnova record label and the Sonic Circuits International Festival of Music andArt. He received a 2003 BushArtist Fellowship to begin building a sound park in Belize and is currentlycreating music for the traveling science museum exhibit, Wild Music.
Mycomposition is inspired by Cowell’s 1925 piece, The Banshee
Ihad interested myself a great deal in the playing of different rhythms at thesame time... I composed wildly and feverishly... six to the measure counted infive...eight, nine in the bass and seven in the middle and six on top... and soon every measure changes... and this all sounds very quiet and serene until youtry to play it... in other words I was inventing a new musical sound...sometimes people were disappointed in the results of this; they said “didn’tanybody ever tell you that you select tones for a chord, you don’t just use allthe tones at once for a chord, you select them.” I often do select tones — I often do — but thistime I want them all.
JeffFeddersen is anartist, musician, and engineer interested in new musical instruments andsustainable energy. His currentwork-in-progress, EarthSpeaker, is a solar-powered acoustic installation forfree103point9’s Wave Farm in Acra, New York, developed under an artist’sresidency at Eyebeam Atelier and with support from the Brooklyn eco-technologydesign hub Habana Outpost. He hasdeveloped several new means of musical expression, including robotic sonic sculptures,real-time composition software, multi-modal digital input devices, andamplified acoustic instruments such as the Silverfish and Double HarmonicsGuitar. Venues where he has exhibited or performed his work include the LincolnCenter, the Chelsea Art Museum, the Soho Apple Store, UC Irvine’s Beall MediaArts Center, and the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
Thanksto the following for permission to reproduce the excerpts of Cowell’s recordedvoice: Charles Amirkhanian of Other Minds
<radiOM.org>, Richard Teitelbaum of the HenryCowell Estate, and WBAI, the radio program’s originator.
TheSpectral for npieces are machine lullabies for people I love. I composed Spectral for 60
Sinewave spectral-rhythmic materials generated by the Cowell/Theremin/DidkovskyRhythmicon, combine with the noise-chaotic materials generated by my ownalgorithmic noise generator, nWinds. Spectralfor 0 utilizessmall sets of phased tempo ratios that reference a sub-audible frequency,evoking an impossible zero frequency at zero rhythm. At the same time, the high interlocked chirping phase setssearch for infinity through micro-rhythmic division. This texture is formed of three groups of ten voices, eachvoice offset by 1/100 pulse, and the three groups in a macro tempo ratio of9:10:11.
Spectralfor 60 utilizes apolyrhythmic system derived from whole number divisors of 60: 1:2:3:4:5:6:10:12:15:20:30:60.
Thework of Alaskan composer, saxophonist and sound artist, Matthew Burtner
“Iplayed with tempo and frequency on the Virtual Rhythmicon and used everydayobjects as resonators for my voice.”
VivCorringham is aBritish musician and sound artist based in Minnesota who has workedinternationally since the early 1980s. Articles about her have appeared in Organized Sound (UK), Musicworks(Canada), and Soundworks (Ireland). She received an MA Sonic Art with Distinction from Middlesex University,England, and has had awards from the English and Irish Arts Councils, JazzServices, Millennium Funding, London Arts Board, Creative Partnerships andAwards For All. She is a 2006McKnight Composer Fellow through the American Composers Forum.
CremationScience deals withthe dehumanizing aspect of information filtered through mass media.
MarkEden teaches in theMass Communications department at St. Cloud State University. His pieces arecomposed of small pre-recorded samples manipulated through the Pro Tools soundengineering program.
Thiswork is dedicated to Chris Mann.
To the victims of September 11th, 2001
Ouverture (Overture); Judaēsme (Judaism);Christianisme (Christianity); Islam (Islam); Confrontation (War); Douleur(Pain); Paix (Peace).
Themusic is inspired by the subject of the theater play Nathan le Sage
Thesound material used in the work represents the typical sonorities of the threemonotheist religions: the shofar for Judaism, the church bells for Christianityand the Islamic call to prayer. Tothese sounds are added the treated voices of two actors, Gregory Hlady and ÉvelyneRompré, used in the music of the theater play Antigone
© 2002 Normandeau (SOCAN)
Work published by YMX Média (SOCAN)
RobertNormandeau: March11, 1955 in Québec City (Canada). MMus (1988) and DMus (1992) in Composition from Université de Montréal.
Hiswork Le Renard et la Rose appears on Sonic Circuits V
CremationScience and Chorus
Coverphoto: Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976): “Hands of Henry Cowell with parts of hisRhythmicon” (ca. 1931). Gelatin silver print. © Imogen Cunningham Trust, Allrights reserved.
InnovaDirector, design: Philip Blackburn
Innovais supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.