Lockstep Variations

for flute, Bb clarinet, violin, cello, percussion and two electrified snare drums

Full Score (pdf)

300 Word Statement

Lockstep Variations was commissioned by the New York New Music Ensemble for their 2018 season. Its electronic part consists of sounds created by speakers which are enclosed inside of two snare drums that flank the ensemble. The piece contributes to several research areas, including electronically stimulating acoustic instruments, compositional control over non-linear systems, and concatenative synthesis.

A novel method for electronically stimulating snare drums was devised, capable of matching the volume and timbre of an acoustic performer. This approach, fully documented in the score, creates a hybrid acoustic/electronic instrument with a non-linear frequency response. To approach composing with this resource, an extension of AudioGuide (an open source collaborative software program created by the composer) was coded to help explore the sonic possibilities of the electrified drums. Exhaustive databases of sounds were created, fed through the drums and recorded, and the recordings were then analysed to evaluate the totality of sonic possibilities accounting for the drums' frequency response. Concatenative synthesis was then used to navigate this sound database, mostly organized to follow target sounds of bodies in motion - footsteps, machinery, cars, etc. The four sections of the piece feature different musical situations characterized, in part, by different sonic and spatial configurations of the drums' behaviour. For instance, in the final section, the two drums conjoin to create a “stereo” spatial image which imitates the sound of train cars gliding across tracks.

Aesthetically, the absence of a visual stimulus creates a pair of phantom musicians who are spatially and gesturally enmeshed with the acoustic ensemble. The snare drum was chosen for its historical associations as an instrument of the battlefield. Accordingly, the drums take on the part of a metaphorical 'controller': a source of repetitious energy which obliges players to act and urges them to synchronize."

Program Note

When listening to electronic music in the concert hall, we often encounter a disconnect between sonic presence and visual absence: we hear sounds, but do not see their origins. This incongruity has always fascinated me, and in Lockstep Variations I wanted to heighten it by placing speakers inside of two snare drums flanking the ensemble. While the drums sound acoustic, they are in fact stimulated electronically; the absence of a visual stimulus creates a pair of phantom musicians, two disembodied drummers who are spatially and gesturally enmeshed with the acoustic ensemble.

I was drawn to the snare drum because of its historical origin as an instrument of the battlefield, where it was used as a tool to organise troops and their movements. Here, the drums take on the role of a controller, a source of repetitious, patterned energy which obliges players to act, urges them to synchronize, and compels them to move. Some players oblige, some disobey. The movements the drums dictate - and the resistance they encounter - is outlined in four distinct sections: March Step, Gridlock, Transmission, Rail Line.



Recording Credits: The Riot Ensemble: Richard Craig - Flute; Ausias Garrigos Morant - Clarinet; George Barton - Percussion; Sarah Saviet - Violin; Louise McMonagle - Cello; Aaron Holloway-Nahum - Conductor

Open Source Software Links

Audioguide homepage; Audioguide github page