Tortured by anxious hopes of salvation (the velvety ears were already cold)

An older piece for chamber ensemble and electronics.

Instrumentation: bass clarinet, harpsichord, nine strings, electronics.

Geraldine Ong, harpsichord, William C. White, conductor
Recording Engineer, Adam Hubbell

Recording funded in part by a Community Arts Assistance Program grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency


BA Recital, May 29, 2007
Timothy Splain, harpsichord, William White, conductor
Fulton Recital Hall, The University of Chicago

Program Notes

A symbolic passage from Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, of which the title of this piece was derived, serves as a narrative backdrop for Tortured by anxious hopes of salvation (the velvety ears were already cold):

It was a wild rabbit; its humble dun-colored coat had been unable to save it. Horrible wounds lacerated snout and chest. Don Fabrizio found himself stared at by big black eyes soon overlaid by a glaucous veil; they were looking at him with no reproval, but full of tortured amazement at the whole ordering of things; the velvety ears were already cold, the vigorous paws contracting in rhythm, still-living symbol of useless flight; the animal had died tortured by anxious hopes of salvation, imagining it could still escape when it was already caught, just like so many human beings.

This piece consists of two psychological soundscapes inspired by the text: the first of debilitating agitation and sufferance (Tortured by anxious hopes of salvation), evoked by electronic drones competing with and overcome by dense, rasping strings, and the second of resignation and release (the velvety ears were already cold). Preceding the closing section of the piece, an electronic sound, laced with hollow timbres, rises out of the tumultuous acoustic waves and lays the foundation of the piece’s reflective close. Spectrogram analysis of this sound revealed roughly quartal harmonies, and, in (the velvety ears were already cold), the pulsating ostinato figures in the lower strings enter and develop over similar harmonies, thus reflecting resignation and resolution between the two opposing forces.

Tortured explores timbral similarities between electronic and acoustic sounds that are synthetically and spatially separate. The textures created by the strings and bass clarinet interact with synthesized sounds, often alternating between the background and the fore. These sounds were created from several distinct sonic events synthesized in Modalys and arranged into 6-channel environments. Additionally, the harpsichord is amplified and undergoes real-time processing in Max/MSP to further obscure the relationship between the two sources of sound.