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Before they closed the forest & breath motors come out of an ongoing exploration of environments, their relationship with humans, and how this relationship changes as humans change environments. In each concert, I explore certain environments musically, through composition, performance and interpretation. Each concert simultaneously contains an element of fieldwork or observation. In before they closed the forest, this is in the form of printed photographs I took in New Mexican forests; the environments of which the concert was based on. In breath motors, it is in the form of field recordings I took of urban and suburban environments in North America and Europe containing human voices and motor drones. In this sense, each concert is an artistic interpretation based on observation. My surrounding environment has always been one of the most influential and inspirational aspects of my work.
After witnessing the closing of the Santa Fe National Forest last summer due to fire danger, I was confronted with the reality of climate change in my hometown. While visiting the forest the day before it was to be closed, I took a photo and later titled it, “before they closed the forest.” This title began many questions for me, “Who has the authority to close a forest? What does it mean to close a forest? Who does the forest belong to? How can a forest be closed?” The music followed, sonically embodying the environment of a forest while creating an emotional foundation for questioning and understanding the threat of climate change to forests, the species in those forests, and the humans who live near and within forests. Before they closed the forest is a 50-minute composition for clarinet, violin, vibraphone, electric guitar, cello, and synthesizer. It was the first senior concert performed in the CCS Hessel Museum, a space I selected based on its reverberance which added an immense acoustic range to the piece.
Breath motors follows before they closed the forest in exploring the human relationship to environment by extending it to include those environments where human-created sounds can be heard (both the human voice and sounds of urban and suburban environments). After focusing on photography as the observational element, I turned back to field recordings that I had taken over the last three years. I used Max MSP to analyze these recordings, finding various fundamental frequencies within them (perhaps a consistent motor drone, or motor drones that changed throughout each recording). I selected one fundamental pitch from each recording and created pure-ratio chords out of each one, based on harmonies I had previously composed. These chords became the basis for the composition, as the concert moves through nine field recordings somewhat cinematically.
While before they closed the forest was a musical interpretation of forest environments, breath motors includes human-created environments that become part of the sonic range of the piece. I am interested in the motor-drone sounds that are present in our lives constantly but are often ignored or defined as “noise.” What is the relationship of the human voice and breath to these sounds? How do they shape the world we consider to be “modern?” Breath motors musically exists in a time based score structure, giving each musician the pitch material to play from but leaving technique, expression, and texture to their choice. The addition of voice as an instrument in this piece is essential to its conveyance. The relationship between voice as an instrument and human-created instruments is another relationship explored. The idea of “breath” is metaphor I used compositionally, creating patterns that reflect the inhale and exhale of a breath. The music comes out of many hours listening to these field recordings, improvising with the ensemble, and composing a score that fit the scope of free, random elements that already existed within the field recordings.
Both concerts represent different musical approaches to environment, revolving around questions of how human beings relate to their surrounding environment. The first is a chamber group composition; the second is a collaborative electroacoustic composition. My hope is that each one explores environments in varying and similar ways, offering the audience multiple frames through which to hear these environments. The culmination of these two concerts forms my senior project: before they closed the forest & breath motors; two musical, sonic compositions based on observations of people and environments through photography and sound recording.
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Hoy, Telo Alexi, "before they closed the forest & breath motors" (2019). Senior Projects Spring 2019. 254.