Thursday, July 05, 2012

Composing a Storm

A summer's evening of thunder and lightning is appropriate accompaniment to my current musical sketching. I'm considering a music-theatre piece and before I commit myself, I want to see if I'm able to compose a storm.  Some models are obvious:  Monteverdi's concitato style, Haydn's Chaos, the former more for the internal, personal, mental agitation of strong weather, the latter for the external qualities.  Some may be less so, for example, Berlioz's "intermittent sounds" which gets at the essential aperiodicity of a storm.  Storms have defeated composers:  Cage was never able to finish his "Atlas Borealis with Ten Thunderclaps" setting of those 100-letter words (once 101 letters) in Finnegans Wake, but some of the ideas went into the Thoreauvian Lecture on the Weather, with recorded weather sounds by Maryanne Amacher, a mixed success at best.  Ligeti abandoned his plans to write an opera out of The Tempest, apparently stuck on the storm, for which he planned to use some computer assistance to compose out the non-linearities of a storm. (As the tempest in the play is raised by Prospero's magic, its particular mix of nature and artifice has a particular envy and attraction for composers, with our own nature/artifice balancing act.)


When I went to grad school in '83, I took the train across the US, leaving from Pomona, California and getting off three days later in Meriden, Connecticut, with transfers in Chicago, New York, and New Haven. I remember it as a staggeringly hot summer and lugging my belonging through those big humid train stations was a shock as I'd never experienced summer outside of the dry Southwest. Although the train went through some of the most amazing landscapes in Arizona and New Mexico, the highpoint of the train ride was nighttime in Kansas, where electrical storms were present, crashing, thundering, illuminating in every direction on that great flat space.  Equal parts composition and chaos. Even the most ambitious composer has to be intimidated by the weather.


Archivist/Cultural Liaison said...

Possibly this is one subject where collaboration might be in order, or should i say disorder.

Daniel Wolf said...

Kraig, both Ligeti and Cage tried collaborators for their storms and both failed, as far as I can tell. So, like Prospero, if I'm to do this, I'll have to raise the storm myself.