Mike Olson

Six Projects

Innova 917/918


Flute Clouds 6:00

Noopiming 20:32

De Novo 5:56

What They’re Doing 7:38

Implied Movement 9:24

Shift 5:44


Total: 55:14

Flute Clouds was created in 2007 for the unveiling of Atmosphere: a large site-specific sculpture installation created by the sculptor Joyce Crain, with choreography by Susan Gingrasso. The work was installed at the University of Utah in Blanding.  This is another of my fragment-based compositions. I recorded Tom Keyhoe performing a variety of improvisational gestures on an assortment of different types of Western and nonWestern flutes. I then edited that material and constructed the finished piece in the computer using the various musical fragments as source material. The piece also makes use of a homemade wind chime made up entirely of old keys, and some natural sounds of rain, wind and distant thunder. 


The metaphor upon which the sculpture was based is a meteorological phenomena called virga. These are cloud formations that consist of rain clouds with rain falling from them that never quite reaches the ground. This falling rain forms long wispy tails that extend beneath the clouds.


Tom Kehoe:   Flutes

Mike Olson:    Wind chimes and sound design



Noopiming is a single movement a cappella choral piece. The title of the work is also the text. Noopiming is an Ojibwe word, which translates as "in the North, inland, in the woods". All of the vocalizations in the piece are created using various elements of this single word.


The piece has as its primary aesthetic underpinning, some of my own personal impressions of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I have been doing canoe trips in the BWCA my entire life and have often felt a sense of connection with the natural world there. It's a feeling of being connected to something ancient and primordial – something darkly beautiful that seems to draw me in, while at the same time, if I'm not mindful, could swallow me whole, leaving no trace.


Noopiming was created using my fragment-based compositional process.  I started by recording a group of eight singers performing various musical gestures and textures. The recording was done at the St. Paul Seminary Chapel. This material was then edited down into a palette of hundreds of short audio recordings, which I then layered, combined and endlessly manipulated to create the finished work. There was no actual score for the piece. Instead, I created two lists of verbal instructions for the singers. One was for inspecifically pitched material and the other for specifically pitched material, using only three chords, which could interlock in ways that I liked.


Adding the visual component came after the music was completed. I searched for a photographer who had a significant body of work focusing on the BWCA, and whose work had the right aesthetic to match the music. I came upon the work of Dale Robert Klous and felt it had the right kind of primordial nature vibe about it. I approached Dale about allowing me to use some of his images, and not only did he agree, but he even went out and shot some additional material for the project. I think his work is a great fit for my piece and I can't thank him enough for his collaboration on the project.  Once I had the images, I synchronized them with the music in a way that reinforces the overall emotional/aesthetic impact of the work.


Kim Sueoka                Soprano

Kathy Lee                   Soprano

Kris Kautzman          Alto

Linda Kachelmeier    Alto

Bryan Fisher              Tenor

Justin Karch               Tenor

Tim O'Brien               Bass

Mike Meyer                Bass



De Novo is a 2013 piece for Moog synthesizer, Hammond organ, drums and percussion. It was created for multimedia artist, Lynn Fellman. Lynn strives to communicate discoveries in human evolution and genomic science through art and narrative. The title of this composition comes from Lynn's work associated with research being done on the Neanderthal genome. De Novo literally means "something new" and refers to genetic mutations that all humans and their extinct cousins, the Neanderthals, are born with. The overall form of this composition was strongly influenced by input Lynn provided regarding our current understanding of the human genome and how it has developed over time.


This is another of my fragment-based compositions, where all of the performances were recorded separately and then heavily edited and used as source material for the final compositional construction in the computer. It was my very great pleasure to work with the phenomenal Dave King on this project. He is an exceptionally gifted drummer, who showed up to the session in the middle of a snow storm at night, (God bless him). Heather is of course a true stalwart, who I've been fortunate enough to work with on a number of occasions. She is a first-call Contemporary Concert music percussion guru and a local treasure here in the Twin Cities.


Dave King                  Drums

Heather Barringer    Percussion

Mike Olson                 Hammond Organ and Moog Model 12 Modular Synthesizer



The composition, What They're Doing, was created out of preexisting musical fragments on a computer using digital audio editing techniques, during a period extending from the Fall of 2003 into mid January of 2004. It is the third piece which I have created using this compositional technique. Heather Berringer, a member of the contemporary concert music ensemble Zeitgeist, provided me with four CDs full of various unreleased live performance recordings of her group. I brought this material into a computer, and then went through each piece, carefully extracting fragments which I thought could be musically useful for the piece I wanted to create. The average length of these excised fragments was about four or five seconds. Many were considerably shorter and a handful were significantly longer.


This process of harvesting musical fragments was the most time consuming aspect of the project, and was actually compositionally significant. A great many aesthetic and editorial decisions were made during this phase of the process.  For example, I would often decide to extract a particular fragment because I knew it would work in an interesting way with another fragment I had already sampled earlier. As I got further and further into this harvesting process, I started to find myself looking for more and more specific types of things that I knew would work well with my growing body of fragments.  Sometimes I would be surprised by something I came across, and this would send me off in whole new directions of other new material to search for. But in the end, this palette of musical fragments had built into it, a significant amount of aesthetic coherence, which served as a musically useful limiting factor. This helped to provide the final piece with a kind of unity, before the actual musical construction even began. 


Once the fragment harvesting was complete, I could start building the piece.  This was done on a computer, where I was able to place, edit, combine, distort, multiply, signal process, stretch, shrink, slice, dice and generally manipulate the fragments to form my composition. 




Heather Barringer    Percussion

Patti Cudd                  Percussion

Pat O'Keefe                Woodwinds

Shannon Wettstein   Piano

Anatoly Larkin          Piano

Carl Witt                    Piano

Alastair Brown           Violin


The following is a list of compositions from which musical fragments were extracted to create this piece.


Elapse Time                           Paul Dresher

Genesis VII                             Janika Vandervelde

Improvisation                        Zeitgeist

Lucky Dreams                        Anthony Gatto

Scherzo                                   Stefan Kac

Sound Fishes                         Pauline Oliveros

Three Songs of the Spirit     Janika Vandervelde

Two Fridas                             Carl Witt

Unlimited Partnerships        Arthur Kreiger

Webster Band Suite              Webster Elementary School students

Zamuro Tumbo Mirage        Ricardo Lorenz



Implied Movement is an electronic music piece which I completed work on in February of 2015. It was created using a combination of vintage and contemporary analogue modular synthesizers and a vintage Minimoog D. All of the material was recorded into a computer, where the final composition was assembled using my fragment-based compositional process. The piece has as its primary organizational underpinning, a series of short repeating ostinatos, which are constantly evolving in one way or another. This is significant, as it is a bit of a departure for me. I tend to avoid loops like the plague. I don't even like using repeat signs in my traditionally notated scores. I've done my share of copying and pasting within MIDI sequenced projects over the years, but even in that environment, I tend to try and play all the way through on each part most of the time. Not only does this encourage improvisational "comping", but it also has the added benefit of infusing the individually performed parts with a lot of variation in (MIDI) velocity and pressure, which results in constant slight variations in volume and timbre. That's what I've done a lot of in the past in my MIDI sequenced pieces, but the sequencing in this piece is accomplished using hardware-based sequencers. A different world entirely.


Using short repeating patterns that evolve, also lends itself quite naturally to minimalism, the influence of which is clearly evident in the piece. There are also some chance operations which crop up in the form of the application of random voltage. This is particularly evident near the beginning of the piece at about 0:45, when the first quick note are heard.


There is a lead synthesizer melodic part that makes an obvious entrance at about 3:30, which was created using the Minimoog, played through a Big Muff distortion box. The listener might also notice sustain-y, distorted electric guitar-like gestures in this piece, the first of which shows up at about 3:15. These were performed on my Moog Model 12 modular synthesizer using the Big Muff and a device called a Talk Box. The Talk Box is a small metal box with a speaker in it that sends the sound up a flexible plastic tube. The tube is placed in the mouth, which is in front of a microphone. The sound comes through the tube into the mouth, where it is shaped in realtime and picked up by the mic. I didn't use this device to make the synth "talk", but rather to shape and filter the sound with my mouth. Both the Big Muff and the Talk Box and traditional electric guitar effect boxes, which is why my Moog playing comes off as being at least evocative of the electric guitar. 


The short repeating patterns were a lot of fun to work with, perhaps because I had so assiduously avoided their use in the past. The end result reminds me in places of 1970s vintage Tangerine Dream. Actually, the whole piece has a kind of "old-fashioned" feel about it. But then again, I'm no spring chicken. I really love the warm old buzzy analogue sound of this piece. Even though it makes use of strictly repeating machine like sequences being generated by electronic instruments, it still retains a human, and in my opinion, "musical" feel.



Shift is an electronic music composition which I started working on back in 1999.  I set it aside for three years and then finally finished up work on it in 2002. The piece marks my transition to fragment-based composition and uses that technique to some degree. 


Shift consists of two primary sections. It opens with a short gesture performed on a vintage Minimoog D synthesizer, (one of my favorite electronic instrument and one which is used heavily in this piece). This gesture ends in a drone which crossfades into a drone generated by a sample of a female voice. This voice sample is what the whole first section is based on. It's a sample which I recorded years ago, of a woman singing one long held note on a single pitch while gradually shifting through all of the vowel sound, (a, e, i, o, u - in that order).  There was only one sample recorded. This means that when it is played at different pitch levels, it plays at different speeds, (ie, lower = slower, higher = faster).


The first section of the composition consists of various held notes, which are gradually added together from lowest to highest, building up to a high point of maximum density and then slowly reversing themselves back out, leaving a single sustained note at the end of the section. This simple form was articulated by selecting a low note, timing how long it took for the sample to play all the way through all of the vowel sounds at that pitch level, selecting the next highest note of the desired chord and placing it in time so that when the sample was played at that pitch level, it would come to it's end at the same point in time as the first note, then repeating the process for each note in the chord. 


Each of the chord tones uses the same sample of the woman singing, and by holding one pitch and gradually shifting between vowel sounds, she is in fact gradually altering the relative amplitudes of the spectra of the note she is singing. The various chord tones being introduced from lowest to highest, staggered in time so that they all end together, creates a sweepy shifting effect, which sounds "electronic", but is actually a natural phenomena of the layered spectral shifts. A natural apotheosis occurs at the high point when the samples, playing at all of the different pitch levels, all end together, bringing there spectral shifts into temporal synchronicity.


This describes the first half of the first section. To create the second half, an audio recording was made of the samples building up the chord. This recording was then flipped backwards and subjected to extensive spectral manipulation in the computer. This manipulation did not vary in real time. It was a fixed alteration. These two subsections of the chord building up and then building back down were then butted up against each other in the computer.


The second section starts to creep in under the tail end of the first section, beginning with a three note descending Minimoog ostinoto, and is joined by percussion, an electric bass and a jabbing little stereo delayed chord using a Minimoog sample. One thing that I really like about this section is that it successfully makes use of two independent bass parts that work together to re-enforce the groove.  Once this groove is established, electronic string-like sounds are introduced and there's a Minimoog solo. The piece ends with a little more of the voice sample material from the first section.




Marry Danna             Voice

Mike Olson                 Synthesizers and sampler