The two works on this album have many affinities. Both are electroacoustic, contemplative in nature, ambient in affect, and present slowly and subtly evolving sound tapestries to the ear. However, the two also differ. Mountain Streams is a completely composed work tracing a slow but inexorable trajectory toward the “revelation” at its end. Mysterious Landscape is improvised in real time using special electronic processing programs designed by myself, the composer. There is no teleology to Mysterious Landscape; it is a meta-composition that is realized differently on each performance. – Robert Morris
Most of Mountain Streams was composed in August 2009 during a residency at the Music, Art and Technology Institute at the University of California at Santa Barbara. The composition, lasting about 17 minutes, was completed at the Eastman Computer Music Studios after I returned from the west coast. The piece is an eight-track computer music composition almost completely based on the sound of streams, creeks, brooks and other bodies of flowing water. (For this album, it is reformatted to stereo.) In addition to the Zen Koan that opens Mountain Streams (spoken by Jordan Wilson and Abra Bush), two other (Western) texts suggest the spirit of this piece.
There is an inward voice, that in the stream
Sends forth its spirit to the listening ear,
And in a calm content it floweth on,
Like wisdom, welcome with its own respect.
—from The River by William Ellery Channing, 1818-1901.
In Tibetan meditations on the sound of water, the adept unites the fluidity within his or her body-mind with the waters of external environment...If brought to completion, this form of meditation is replaced by a deep, transparent empathy with the phenomenal world.
—Ian Baker, The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place
I am grateful to Paul Coleman who helped me record the water sounds at various locations in greater Rochester, New York, and to JoAnn Kucera Morin and Curtis Roads, directors of MAT, to John Liberatore, who recorded the Zen dialogue, and to Geoffrey Pope, who helped me distribute the sounds into eight independently moving steams of sound.
Mysterious Landscape is an improvisational electroacoustic piece lasting about 30 minutes to be played by one or two performers. It complements my desire to connect music with nature as in my outdoor pieces. Here the sounds and processes of nature are brought into the concert hall so that natural sounds--birds, insects, frogs, mammals, wind, and water--are mixed together with computer-generated sounds to project a serene sonic environment that reflects on a peaceful relation of humans to nature.
The piece is played on a laptop computer, whose output is amplified by a stereo sound system in the performance space. Video slideshows using photographs available from the composer can accompany a performance of the piece.
The improvisation is guided by the four tracks of sound. These tracks are always played from beginning to end in synchrony but are not presented to the audience unless the performer allows portions of them to so appear. These tracks determine the length of the piece: about 29 minutes. The content and the timing of events on the tracks is carefully composed. Thus the sequence of materials is the same for each performance but the parts of the tracks that are sampled varies greatly from one performance to the next. In addition to selecting sounds from the tracks, there is a synthesizer suitably designed to produce sounds that imitate or complement the recorded sounds as well as sonically process the recorded sounds. Thus there are some electronic sounds that merge so completely with the recorded ones that only a bird watcher or animal expert would be able to tell which are real. But then there is the interplay of the “real” with the sonic gestures that clearly imitate, but do not completely replicate the natural sounds. The recorded (and/or performed) drones provide a path and connection from one moment to the next. Finally, a variable duration delay line recycles the sounds selected. All these structural concerns and designs help give each performance an identity and direction.
– Robert Morris
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