Electronic Music Selections
INSCAPES FROM EXILE
THE SOUNDLESS SOUND
The Gaia Cycle matrix, from which Tronik Involutions was derived, expresses a series of correspondences between the I Ching, the year cycle (represented here by the twelve astrological signs) and a sequence of twelve key signatures. The starting point for the work was the determination of the 'Earth Tone' or frequency corresponding to the earth's rotation around the sun, which was established at 136 Hz. Consequently, the piece is not in A 440 reference pitch, but slightly lower. Equal temperament is systematically avoided and replaced by just or Vallotti tunings.
It is a development of my exploration of the experience of time (which I started with Variations on the Orange Cycle), as it connects to universal time and human perception of life cycles. Both works, Tronik Involutions and Variations on the Orange Cycle are "Earth Works" - they are based on earth tones, the 24-hour tone (Variations) and the yearly tone (Tronik).
The Gaia Cycle is the initial matrix title of Tronik Involutions. The Gaia Cycle is a musical mandala revolving around the Earth Tone, the sound corresponding to the earth’s yearly cycle around the sun. It is composed of 12 five-minute sections corresponding to 12 months and 12 hexagrams of the I Ching, each in a different tonality/mode.
The piece stemmed from the possibilities offered by the principle that any cycle can be expressed in terms of frequency, therefore sound, and that any frequency can be transposed to a perceptible range by way of octave transposition – the same way a child sings a melody along with an adult in what appears to be unison, even though the child sings one octave higher.
The choice of the Earth Tone as a basis for a new body of work reflects an effort to ground the music to a new reference pitch set to low C# = 136 Hz, as opposed to the artificial and often criticized middle A=440. This low C# coincidentally happens to be the "Sa" or universal tonic of Indian music.
The general structure of the work is focused on a key change dynamic which follows a similar logic to that of J.S. Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier: It uses the succession of sharps and flats as a hierarchical device. However, the keys used in The Gaia Cycle are expanded tonalities including elements of Western and nonwestern modes.
Unlike Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, The Gaia Cycle does not attempt to literally translate the mood of any particular time of the year – after all, on the global scale, winter in Australia is summer in Canada. It expresses a desire to communicate the vitality of the experience of time, as in Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, and to maintain an awareness of climactic, psychic and social influences affecting the musical stream.
Technically, the piece is constructed from several electronic layers: percussion soundtrack generated by playing live patterns on a multitimbral keyboard, avoiding automatic sequencing; harmonic ghost orchestra soundtrack; and live electronic keyboard lead(s). Besides the selection of a new reference pitch, the tunings used on the electronic keyboard are either Vallotti or Just Intonation.
A quote from the New York Times
sense of stasis -- every section has its distinctive timbre, movement
and emotional quality. "The Gaia Cycle" seems less interested in creating
order than in finding order in natural processes. There is a certain serenity
in this kind of acceptance."
The above diagrams show two corresponding 12-part hierarchies, Western and Chinese astrology. The macro structure of Tronik Involutions is based on this universal 12-part hierarchy, which also corresponds to the 12 months of the year cycle. The diagram below shows the I Ching hexagram sequence corresponding to the 12 months. The logic is the following: starting with Earth/The Receptive(six broken lines) at the bottom, going in a clockwise direction, one line is added at the bottom of the hexagram and it becomes Return. Add one more line and it becomes Approach, etc. until the 12-part cycle is completed. In the I Ching, the change of a line from broken to continuous is a metaphor of evolution. Each situation evolves into another.
The concept of the piece was to match the change by a change of key signature. The first key signature was determined by the earth tone pitch of C# at 136.1 Hz, therefore it is a C# minor beginning the cycle. The next key signature is determined by the removal of one sharp - therefore only 3 sharps, F# minor, next two sharps, B minor, next one sharp, E minor, next no sharps, A minor, next one flat, F major, etc., as shown on the diagram below.
Liner Notes by Kyle Gann
If there is a special place in music heaven for America’s "outsider’ composers, Elodie Lauten has earned her niche in it. Despite a string of critical successes reaching back into the 70’s, she remains a shadowy figure on the New York scene, with a reputation as a reclusive mystic. Not one to push her name in front of the public, she emerges every few years with an amazing new work - The Death of Don Juan, Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory, Existence, Sonate Ordinaire - and then retreats to nurture the unhurried gestation of her next offering. America doesn’t know what to do with these artists so devoted to their inspiration that they won’t make concessions to commercial pressures. But gradually, as with such earlier reclusive outsiders as Charles Ives, Conlon Nancarrow, and LaMonte Young, audiences catch on.
Born in Paris, the daughter of jazz drummer/pianist Errol Parker and one of the few students of that master of endless drones LaMonte Young, Lauten has filtered her dual jazz and minimalist influences through a philosophy of complementary opposites operating throughout the cosmos. Tronik Involutions is the first manifestation of what Lauten calls The Gaia Cycle, a musical mandala she’s created correlating the earth’s yearly cycle to the 12 tonalities, the 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese Book of Changes.
The I Ching, a random oracle most often consulted in the West by throwing three coins six times to yield a hexagram of six lines, was made famous in the art world by John Cage, who used it to obtain chance numbers for note-to-note decisions in his music. Lauten, however, is more interested in the meaning of the hexagrams.
Tronik Involutions opens with Stillness, which is Lauten’s rendering of hexagram No. 12 called "Standstill" in the popular Wilhelm/Baynes translation. The I Ching image is of heaven and earth moving apart from one another, "out of communion", in which case "the superior man falls back upon his inner world to escape the difficulties". Lauten correlates "Stillness" with a key signature of five flats - B flat minor - and the music depicts a state a subdued equilibrium, a calm three-note voice motif floating over a balanced drum pattern.
The second movement, Power (I Ching: The Power of the Great) is expressed in a signature of no sharps or flats. The image is of an upward movement of great power, but with the danger that power will "degenerate into mere force, if not inwardly united with the fundamental principles of right and justice." The music’s drumbeat is more active, more insistent, but the flutelike arabesques above it are uncertain, flitting ephemerally from one mode to another.
The third image, "Retreat", hostile forces are advancing, and success consists in reading the signs of the time correctly and in retreating in such a way to lay the groundwork for a counterattack at a more propitious moment. The music’s scintillating, silvery lines in F minor, like impossibly quick bowed vibraphones, indicate a turning inward, a refraining from direct action.
After all, Lauten’s aim isn’t to promote intellectual understanding of the I Ching, but to induce meditation on the mysteries of human existence, of which the I Ching is merely one of the most ancient and neatly systematized expressions.
The music is entirely improvised in an idiom that Lauten calls Universal Mode Improvisation, which combines all possible modes and allows her to slide smoothly from tonal music to bitonality to atonality within one piece. The overall tonality of the work is based on a C-sharp of 136.1 cycles per second, 32 octaves above the yearly revolution of the earth itself, 365.2422 days; interestingly, the pitch is also the "Sa" tone on which India raga singing is based. The scale is sometimes tuned to the pure, beatless intervals of just intonation, which is then combined with 18th-century Vallotti tuning for a shimmering inharmonicity. The music’s vibrant warmth, though, stems from Lauten’s detailed ornamentation. Even the drum patterns are note automated, but improvised live on a multitimbral keyboard. As always, Lauten’s melodies spin in space; patterns return, the same bass line comes back again, yet the music continuously evolves. Is there a loop, or just the evocation of an Eternal Recurrence? Actually, there is no literal repetition, but the music is so complex that only fully absorbed listening will verify the fact.
In Tronik Involutions that stasis has the effect of drawing us deeper into the ornate interplay of overlapping lines,. Within the self-imposed limitations of her medium Lauten has created an ingeniously varied universe, like a series of Bach preludes and fugues. As she rotates us through all the available keys and modes, we succumb to the exotically bitonal mystery of Encounter, the vibrant joyousness of Heaven, the dancelike aggressiveness of Approach; and we hear existence diffracted into a prism of colors of which, in our daily lives, we are only dimly aware. Perhaps Lauten’s seductive, elusive music seems mysterious only because it points us to the mystery of life.
"Mesmerizing keyboard work. The music on this CD is quite extraordinary." OPTION MAGAZINE
"Powerful, spontaneous and enlightening." THE SANTA FE SUN
"Unforgettable. Sounds like food for the soul." NOW MAGAZINE (Canada)
"An extraordinary revelation." NEW HOPE INTERNATIONAL (England)
The Soundless Sound (created in 1984, revisited in 1989, 1998, and 2003, with choreography) is an electronic ambience based on the harmonic vibration of silence - in other terms 'the sound of one hand clapping' which is not subject to time or space - and the performance invites all participants to share the experience. Silence is both impossible to attain and ever-present. The noisier the lifestyle, the more important it becomes to find one's silent voice, one silent space. This is a perception of the time-space continuum which is neither subjective nor objective - the 'soundless sound' simply exists, and one can tune into it.
The Soundless Sound was created after a long practice of a Yogananda meditation technique; closing the ear lobes, one listens to the inner sound. This sound unfolded for me as a diatonic tone cluster, the resonance of the Seven Fundamentals (seven tones of a diatonic Pythagrorean scale i.e., C,D,E,F,G,A,B) sounding simultaneously, while harmonics rise and form oscillating patterns developing over time. In relation to an ordinary scale, the difference is that the actual frequencies of these tones range from the very low to the very high, over the entire span of human hearing (20-20,000 Hz). In the electronic piece, I added a 'limit tone' that is so high it is at the edge of hearing perception (maybe cats or dogs could hear it better than humans).
In Vedic hierarchies, correspondence tables match the diatonic set of pitches with the chakras, or energy centers girating in the astral body (a few inches around the physical body) and corresponding to the crown of the head, the brow (between the eyes), the throat, the heart, the navel, the spleen and the genitals. Besides the charkas, the Vedic template shows corresponding elements and mantras (sacred sounds), and I used this as a departure for composing the piece electronically. For the time/space relationship I used the I Ching primary trigram family and its correspondences with geographic locations (North, South, East, West) and times of the day.
This is where I derived the material for Nancy Zendora's choreography, suggesting the I Ching family archetypes (heaven, earth, lake, fire, water, wind, thunder, mountain/father, mother, 3 daughters and 3 sons) as the basis of interpretive characters, and/or combinations and situations for the dance. Note that tonight The Soundless Sound is presented as an excerpt. The full version has 8 parts of 8 minutes each, totaling 64 minutes. I plan to continue to work on this piece over my lifetime. So far, it was purposely never released on CD. It may be at some point when the time is right. It was performed at different stages of development in 1984 (Experimental Intermedia), 1991 (LaMama) and in 1998 at the Knitting Factory with seven live performers under the title Initiation to the Soundless Sound and the same year as an installation/performance within the group exhibition Degrees of Embodiment - Art and Mind Physics at Federal Reserve Gallery, Boston.
The motivation for this body of work corresponds to a sense of responsibility in creating music/sound art that imparts a vision of universal harmony which I developed through years of study of cosmologies and universal hierarchies of various cultures - Vedic scriptures, I Ching, Pythagoras, Robert Fludd and the Alchemists, Newton, Kepler, and modern mathematicians Cousto and Mandelbrot.
More information on The Soundless Sound is available on the Concepts page.
The general timing of S.O.S.W.T.C. follows the short-long morse code sequence of a S.O.S., i.e., three short, three long, three short. The succession of the 16 sections establishes a subliminal twin symmetry, with a disrupted S.O.S. (two short instead of three) at the beginning and the end.
performance is direct, spontaneous, in tune with real life. One might
identify impressions of floating in space, of descending like a leaf slowly
falling from a tree; a sense of vulnerability, of a growling, ominous
presence, of chaos, or merely of something wrong underneath the surface.
If the piece was composed in reaction to the events surrounding the World
Trade Center collapse, it is neither morbid nor elegiac. It is simply,
in a Buddhist sense, a comment on reality without judgment, a meditation
on the collective consciousness of the time. The experience – physical,
emotional, spiritual – becomes awareness, and the awareness becomes music.