Digital music by Samuel Pellman
Messenger (Mercury) – 2' 51"
Perelandra (Venus) – 11' 27"
The Home Planet (Earth) – 14' 30"
Ares Vallis (Mars) – 14' 30"
Perijove (Jupiter) – 8' 19"
Guirlandes (Saturn) – 3' 13"
Vaporis Congeries Magnae (Uranus) - 1' 32"
Neptune Flyby - 11' 15"
Dancing in the Dark (Pluto) – 5'48"
Total duration – 73' 45"
Perhaps the most important accomplishment of our times has been the expansion of the domain of humankind into the outer space above our planet. In a thousand years, our wars, treaties, and political contests will, for the most part, have long since been forgotten. If we are remembered at all, it will be because we are the ones who began the exploration of the solar system. “Selected Planets” is a suite of nine pieces inspired by these early efforts and a celebration of these accomplishments. It is my hope that the beauties and complexities of each of these nine aural worlds convey a sense of what has been discovered thus far and hint at some of the further wonders that remain to be discovered.
Gloria Deo — June 30, 2003
During the second half of the twentieth century, we began to break free of the bonds of our planet's gravity and began to explore the worlds in the space above the blanket of our atmosphere. Among the first of these worlds visited by our robotic explorers was the planet Mercury, named for the mythological messenger of the gods. When visited by the Mariner 10 spacecraft in the early 1970's it was discovered to be an airless, superheated, heavily cratered, and essentially colorless world. But, beneath this apparent austerity is a relatively large core of turbulent, molten metal. In the next few years, this and other intriguing features of the planet will be studied by the Messenger space probe, due for launch in 2004. This piece is a tribute to the efforts of those who are pressing on with this exploration.
Perelandra is inspired by the C. S. Lewis book of that title, in which he vividly describes the colors, aromas, and other sensations of the seas, floating islands, and mountain meadows of an Eden-like planet Venus. The textures and timbres of this piece were not intentionally conceived to be reminiscences of this imaginary Venus, but it occurred to me as the creation of the piece was underway that this was how it was turning out. To enable a solo performer to weave these rich and intricate textures, a computer is employed to "listen" to the patterns the musician plays at the beginning of the piece. Subsequently, as the musician plays designated "hot" keys, the computer creates variations of these patterns, thus providing a background for the performance of newer patterns by the musician. The computer then creates variations of these new patterns, and the piece proceeds to the point where the computer is enabled to take over very nearly the entire performance, as if the musician is being assisted by unseen companions.
The Home Planet
The Home Planet consists almost exclusively of environmental sounds that were recorded within a short distance of my home. As with many of the classic concrète works of the 1950’s, the listener can often identify familiar sounds (for instance, of birds singing at dawn, the bells of a nearby church, telephone touch-tones, lambs and chickens on a friend’s farm, an auctioneer, a toy train whistle, a passing truck, children's voices, a brook in a nearby woods, etc.). These familiar sounds are, in effect, "themes" and are subjected to an enormous range of transformation by such classical techniques as speed transposition, reversal, multiple-delay, and filtering, as well as more recent techniques, such as granulation, time stretching, and vocoding. Perhaps this digital musique concrète can provide a sense of the musicality that can be heard in the sounds of a summer day in upstate New York.
By coincidence this piece was completed on the twentieth anniversary of the first successful landing of a craft from Earth on the planet Mars on July 20, 1976. For many people, the Viking missions affirmed a sense that humankind was about to commence an extraordinarily significant period of historical development.
The title of the work, Ares Vallis ("Mars Valley"), refers to an ancient floodplain on Mars that on July 4, 1997 became the landing site for the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft. Although the pace of exploration has turned out to be much slower than many of us had hoped, the dream remains. Eventually, perhaps sometime during the twenty-first century, the human species will establish itself on Mars and other bodies in the solar system.
The form of Ares Vallis is based on sonata principles, with formal proportions based on a Fibonacci number series. For the most part, just tuning is employed.
Perijove was composed in 2000 to commemorate the arrival at the planet Jupiter of the Galileo space probe on December 7, 1995. The sounds for this piece were generated on a Synton modular analog synthesizer controlled (via an Expressionist CV interface) by a MAX patch on a Macintosh computer. This MAX patch, among other things, algorithmically determined the pitches and rhythms of the many clouds of sounds in this piece by applying second-order Markov probabilities derived from brief MIDI files improvised by the composer. These clouds and other sounds were then digitally processed and overdubbed in Digidesign's Pro Tools.
Guirlandes ("Garlands") is closely based on the motivic and harmonic patterns of a piano work of the same name composed in 1914 by Alexander Scriabin (Opus 73, No. 1). Here, however, the music is scored primarily for the sounds of mallet instruments and consists of masses of very rapid tremolos. These masses are then reshaped in a variety of ways, including multiple delays and granulation. Like the particles in planetary rings, these grains and masses of tones weave through the space of the music while shuffling in and out of audibility.
Vaporis Congeries Magnae
When Voyager 2 passed by Uranus in January of 1986 it returned photographs of a big, blue-green ball of gas with few readily discernible features. More recent observations from Earth-orbit have confirmed evidence of great winds and related meteorological phenomena in the atmosphere that is Uranus. More detailed conceptions of the Uranian environment, however, must remain in our imaginations, at least for now
Neptune Flyby was inspired by the August 1989 encounter of the Voyager 2 spacecraft with the planet Neptune. The piece is constructed of five phrases, each of which consists of bands of sustained pitches that gradually modulate in timbre, vibrato depth, and spatial placement. These pitch bands are occasionally embellished by clouds of bell-like tones that are also modulated in timbre, depth of effects processing, and spatial placement.
Dancing in the Dark
Dancing in the Dark was inspired by a Hubble Space Telescope image of the planet Pluto and its relatively large satellite, Charon. The movement consists of a set of nine variations that feature a variety of regular rhythmic and timbral patterns. The result is set of "channels" of timbral continuities that operate at a deeper layer of the structure. Occasionally, as in variations 2 and 8, the coexistence of these timbral channels results in an aural illusion, an ambiguity of foreground and middleground, that is quite similar to such well-known visual illusions as those seen in Escher drawings.
The pitches for the piece are those found in a just scale based on twenty equal divisions of a perfect fifth, with middle-C as the tonic. Each of these divisions is slightly larger than an interval of 35 cents, and the result is very similar to Wendy Carlos’s gamma tuning. A special property of this scale is that it can be used to form very pure major and minor thirds, and so the tertian harmonies used in this piece are therefore quite clear and beautiful.
Samuel Pellman was born in 1953 in Sidney, Ohio. He received a Bachelor of Music degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he studied composition with David Cope, and an M.F.A. and D.M.A. from Cornell University, where he studied with Karel Husa and Robert Palmer. Many of his works may be heard on recordings by the Musical Heritage Society, the Cornell University Wind Ensemble, and Move Records, and much of his music is published by the Continental Music Press and Wesleyan Music Press. He is also the author of An Introduction to the Creation of Electroacoustic Music, a textbook published by Wadsworth, Inc. Presently he is a Professor of Music at Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York, where he teaches theory and composition and is director of the Studio for Contemporary Music. Further information about his music can be found on the web at: http://www.musicfromspace.com.
All works were composed and realized in the Studio for Contemporary Music at Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York (USA).
Nearly all of the sounds in Messenger are transformations of the recorded sounds of a novelty item called a Thunder Tube and of a pair of metal shelf brackets clanging together. These sounds were extensively time stretched, dynamically transposed, and spectrally groomed with AudioSculpt. Further processing was accomplished in Pro Tools with the flange-o-tron and frequency shift Pluggo plugins from cycling74 and with the Comb Filter, Reson, and Doppler plugins from GRM Tools. A slight filigree of metallic sounds from a Kurzweil K2500RS highlights the texture. The pitches of the principal sounds in the texture are tuned in a 5-limit just intonation based on the harmonic series of the Thunder Tube.
Perelandra is conceived as a live-performance piece for a soloist performing on a MIDI keyboard controller, a malletKat controller, or a wind controller. The MIDI messages generated by the performer’s actions on the controller are processed and interpreted by a fairly large MAX patch. Among the functions of this MAX patch are the recording, modification, and subsequent replay of continuous controller and pitch bend contours performed early in the piece. The MAX patch also records melodic patterns performed early in the piece and generates variations based on second-order Markov probabilities. The sounds heard in this piece are synthesized by a Kurzweil K2500RS with patches designed by the composer and based on waveshaping and similar distortion synthesis techniques.
In The Home Planet, a Kurzweil K2500RS was used for playback of many of the sampled sounds. Most of the sounds, however, were recorded and processed using an arsenal of digital audio software, including Arboretum's Hyperprism, Tom Erbe's SoundHack, Bias’s PEAK, Digidesign’s Pro Tools, Macromedia’s Deck, and Opcode’s Studio Vision Pro. A Macintosh G3 was the heart of the studio setup. Mixing was done on a Yamaha DMP9-16, and the mixdown deck for the piece was a Panasonic SV3700 DAT recorder.
In Ares Vallis, a Kurzweil K2000RS was used for the control and playback of sampled sounds. Other sounds were digitally synthesized by Yamaha TX802 tone modules. A Macintosh Centris 650 was at the center of the studio setup. Software used in the design and control of the sounds in this piece include Digidesign's Sound Designer and Turbosynth, Arboretum's Hyperprism, Passport's Alchemy, Tom Erbe's SoundHack, and Opcode's Studio Vision Pro and Galaxy Plus Editors. Mixing was done on a Yamaha DMP9-16, with external processing by a Lexicon PCM-70. Some overdubbing was accomplished with an Alesis ADAT. The mix down deck for the piece was a Panasonic SV3700 DAT recorder.
The sounds for Guirlandes were first generated on a Kurzweil K2500RS sampler equipped with the KDFX option. The sample instruments, based on ROM samples, were designed and built by the composer. Subsequent stages of processing in the piece were accomplished with SoundHack and with ProTools, including extensive use of the granular-to-go Pluggo plugin by cycling 74 and the Shuffling, Reson, and Delays plugins by GRM Tools.
Vaporis Congeries Magnae (“Great Gobs of Gas”) was realized in Csound on a Macintosh G4 laptop computer. The digital instruments used to create the sounds include both formant wave synthesis (FOF) and frequency modulation synthesis (FM) components. The pitches of the piece are tuned in a 7-limit just intonation, with a few microtonal alternations in some places where the arithmetic provides two or more possible tunings for a given note. The virtual space in which the digital instruments are played includes a reverberation created by convolving the sounds of the digital instruments with the recorded impulse response of Wellin Hall in the Schambach Center at Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York.
Neptune Flyby was composed on a MIDI system that included two Yamaha TX802 sound synthesizers (programmed with FM instruments designed by the composer), two Yamaha DMP11 digital mixers, a Lexicon PCM70 digital effects processor, and a Macintosh SE30 running the Opcode Vision sequencer program. The mix down deck was a Panasonic SV3700 DAT recorder.
For Dancing in the Dark, most of the sounds were generated on a pair of Yamaha TX802 tone modules, programmed with FM instruments designed by the composer. Sampled instruments on a Kurzweil K2500RS were used to layer a few of the FM instruments and to provide an occasional, faint drone or countermelody. A Macintosh Centris 650 was the central component of the studio setup. Software used in the design and control of the sounds in this piece includes Opcode's Studio Vision Pro and Galaxy Plus Editors. A MAX patch designed by the composer was used to accomplish the timbral channeling effects. Signal mixing was done on a Yamaha DMP9-16, with external processing by a Lexicon PCM-70. Some overdubbing was accomplished with an Alesis ADAT. The mix down deck for the piece was a Panasonic SV3700 DAT recorder.
Photography is provided by the courtesy of NASA/JPL/Caltech.
Graphic design by
All selections are cleared with BMI.
For further information, visit the Music from Space website at www.musicfromspace.com.
© Samuel Pellman 2003
© Samuel Pellman 2003