January 30, 2013

Notes from Phyllis Chen on Chimers

From the composer

Program Notes for Music of Carla Kihlstedt and Phyllis Chen | ICElab on the MCA Stage

Glass Clouds We Have Known is an electro-acoustic audio/visual piece for bass clarinet, flute, nineteen mixing bowls, toy piano, electronics and video. The piece hopes to capture a dream-like, meditative state that explores  curious timbres and images through found objects.

Hush was written for miniature toy piano, three small mixing bowls, music box and prepared piano. Though the work uses a full-sized piano, it only employs the upper four octaves of the instrument, a range similar to the toy piano. The keyboard preparations involve music box bolts, rods and parts between the strings to manipulate the sonorities.  A tiny toy piano, bowls and music box are all played inside the piano, allowing the pedal of the acoustic piano to augment these timbres.

Mobius is a performance process-piece for two music boxes, a blank punch tape roll, scissors, hole puncher and live-electronics. As a toy pianist, it is natural that I would fall in love with music boxes—both instruments are made of metal tines and rely on a resonating chamber to sound. To create sound on a music box, I punch tiny holes in a paper tape roll that is then hand-cranked through a music box mechanism similar to a player-piano roll.   Each exposed hole allows one of the music box tines to sound. In this piece, the process of creating the piece becomes the piece itself. One performer punches holes in realtime while two other players are cranking the strip through the mechanism simultaneously. The strip is taped together in a Mobius fashion so that one music box plays the notes upside-down. The sounds are then looped in irregular fragments from the separate music boxes and manipulated through octave displacements and reverse. Through time, the piece becomes a rich collage of music box timbres similar to the ringing of bells.

Chimers was written for the 2011 Mostly Mozart Festival.  ICE asked me to write a new work inspired by Mozart’s famous opera Die Zauberflote. Aside from the flute, chimes are also used in the opera as a magical instrument that protects Papageno and Tamino during their journey. The orchestration for the chimes in the original score is written for three "keyed" glockenspiels. I found this to be a  great entry point to use my toy piano. In this work, I used a toy piano along with another set of toy piano rods that are attached to the instrument, standing upright on top of the toy piano. These exposed rods are played by all five performers in the piece with tuning forks as mallets. The tuning forks  are made of a heavy metal, very similar to the rods of the toy piano, creating a metallic and electric rattling sound effect.  As the piece progresses, the forks are then played in their more "conventional" approach in a homophonic texture, singing/resonating on the body of the toy piano.

Watch Phyllis Chen and ICE perform Chimers on DigitICE.