Passacaglia and Fugue State

Posted 7 March 2005, 04:56


An electronic work inspired by La Monte Young’s sine-tone installation The Base 9:7:4 Symmetry in Prime Time When Centered above and below The Lowest Term Primes in The Range 288 to 224 with The Addition of 279 and 261 in Which The Half of The Symmetric Division Mapped above and Including 288 Consists of The Powers of 2 Multiplied by The Primes within The Ranges of 144 to 128, 72 to 64 and 36 to 32 Which Are Symmetrical to Those Primes in Lowest Terms in The Half of The Symmetric Division Mapped below and Including 224 within The Ranges 126 to 112, 63 to 56 and 31.5 to 28 with The Addition of 119.

Written and realized with Scala, blue, and Csound.

Dedicated to La Monte Young in his 70th year.

Duration: 10 minutes 45 seconds.

Background & Technical Details

This is the third and final piece in what has become a series inspired by La Monte Young’s sine-tone installations, following Symmetrical Melodic Variation on the Romantic Symmetry and The Gemini Nebula.

I used Scala to build a 31-note microtonal “scale” based on the complete set of unique pitches in Young’s The Base 9:7:4 Symmetry, in essence recasting Young’s carefully-selected group of prime-numbered harmonics as generalized interval ratios rather than absolute multiples of a fundamental. This allowed me to use the pitches in any register — similar to the strategy I used in The Gemini Nebula. However, whereas in the latter piece I kept everything constrained to the range of a single octave, in this piece I use a broader registral pallette (though not as broad as Young’s).

The piece consists of four layers:

  1. a set of five drones on 1/1, 9/8 and 7/4, using the Risset harmonic arpeggio effect to sound slightly tamboura-like;
  2. a sort of obbligato built from two complex waveforms that together encode the cluster of harmonics at the registral “center” of Young’s piece, using a much slower version of the Risset effect to create a sort of looping cascade that sounds almost like intersecting glissandi;
  3. a repeating three-note bass motif: 1/1, 7/4, 9/8, …;
  4. a sine-wave “chorale” on 12 pitches within the range of an octave, starting as two voices diverging in pitch, then slowly gathering into a cluster containing all 12 notes plus two more, creating complex binaural beating patterns.

The piece starts with the drone, then adds the obbligato, then the bass motif, and finally the chorale, which builds in intensity and density almost until the end, when suddenly only the done remains to fade out.

The title comes from the repeating bass motif, which reminded me of one of my favorite musical forms, the passacaglia. The rest of the title is, of course, a joke. At the same time, I hope that the piece has a kind of ambient hallucinatory quality, so the phrase fugue state seemed appropriate.

Thanks yet again to Kyle Gann for his article in Sound and Light, without which I could not have embarked on this project.

Copyright & Licensing

Copyright © 2005, Dave Seidel. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License.



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