locoMotives for Harp and Electronics
Performed by Elizabeth Morgan-Ellis, Harp
Shadow Projections by Andy Huston
Witnessing a powerful, fast-moving object fly past elicits both excitement and fear. There is a certain thrill to seeing a train whiz by at close range, but not without some implication of danger. I reflect this emotional content in locoMotives with dissonant, violent sounds in the electronics and harsh extended techniques in the harp that elicit the same excitement and fear. There are also moments of peaceful repose throughout the work, highlighting the beauty of the harp and embodying the comfort of riding in a train while watching the landscape pass by through the window. The visual component, a series of live shadow projections onto a wall, places the viewer both inside and outside the train and reflects these various emotional responses. The title, locoMotives, lends itself to a tongue-and-cheek word play between the train theme and the musical terms inherent in the word: loco for “at pitch” and motive for a short musical idea. The germinal sound source in locoMotives is a recording of one of Philadelphia’s Regional Rail trains passing by. Most of the melodic material in the piece is derived from the pitches inherent in the train whistle and the crossing gates. The Doppler effect became the connective element in the piece. I recorded the harpist playing several pitch bends on the harp that mimic the train whistle’s pitch bending as it passed by my recording device. Other sounds in the raw audio include the ticking noises of the lowering crossing gates at a nearby road and the whoosh of the wind as the train passed by. These sounds are all imitated in some way by the harp and augmented by the electronics. Finally, the natural dynamic arc of a train approaching from a distance, passing by, and fading away again is imitated in microcosm throughout the piece. All aboard!