Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rings True

This piece has been a long time coming:  the create date on the file folder goes back to September of 2013.  That month was an especially challenging time of my life and things didn't let up for more than year after that.  It's not an accident, then, that this piece is fairly tumultuous and noisy -- even painful at moments.  That said, it is ultimately about the process of finding one's truth, learning to hear and listen to that voice that is most personally meaningful, which has also been a theme of my life since I started writing this.

 The inspiration for the piece came from Hans Christian Andersen's story of the same name.  From my first reading of it years ago, the tale captured for me that sense of seeking something hard to identify and even harder to direct oneself toward and, ultimately, grasp.  Andersen of course uses strongly Christian imagery in his story; as an atheist, I have a different relationship to what he sees as a spiritual journey, but the experience he describes, however one interprets it, is one that resonates powerfully with me.  I did not directly follow Andersen's allegory here, but rather took his metaphor for the call of the spirit -- The Bell -- and developed it to represent my own experiences with truth seeking. 

As it evolved, the piece fell into three sections, the order of which is not meaningful beyond that I felt they worked musically.  Of the three, the first section plays the most literally with the idea of seeking something.  In short order, it begins to explore the ways in which we find ourselves distracted from our search by pleasant things and by goals and ambitions; as our attention is increasingly focused on these latter, it's easy to lose contact with that which initially called to us.  In the second section, I feel around the idea that we sometimes rebel against relatively empty ambitions and seek reconnection with that truth through the rich and compelling beauty of religious and spiritual practices.  The aid that these practices provide in locating our truth, however, can be fragile and is often and painfully derailed by the intrusive demands of day-to-day life.  The third section explores the challenge of the inner path, how difficult it can be to distinguish the ring of truth from all the other voices -- thoughts and feelings, ideas and sensations -- within us.  Throughout the whole piece, though, chimes the bell, even if, as time goes on, it rings more softly and less frequently.

Generically, this is a mix of musique concrete with synthetic and sampled percussion.  I love ambient sound and delight in listening to the symphony of the city or the conversations of crows or the peculiar hum of my refrigerator.  On the other hand, as I've discussed elsewhere, for me what distinguishes noise from music is the presence of a sense of intention, of direction.  Thus, it is my intent -- and hope -- that this work comes across as more than a cacophonous collection of found sounds and actually leads the listener through a sequence of meaningful experiences.  Just as it's not an accident that this is a noisy piece, it's also not an accident that it took me nearly a year and a half to complete it; along with being emotionally confronting (for me, at least), it is perhaps the most complex piece I've written.  I spent a lot of time locating samples, reordering and layering them, moving them about in aural space, all with the goal of replicating in real sounds my internal sense of the task of finding my truth.  In other words, working on the piece was itself an act of authenticity, of distinguishing, listening to, and following my own bell. 

Technical notes:  This piece was created in Apple's Logic Pro 9 and its native plug-ins; it uses sounds recorded from a Yamaha S-08 synthesizer and lots of real-world samples from and recorded from public broadcast resources.  The voice of The Bell was created with Arturia's Moog Modular V.