The Body Where I Was Born

This is an interactive piece for trumpet solo or duet and computer (Max/MSP) in 11-limit just intonation. The live performer(s) play improvisatory material governed by a performance algorithm. By means of a frequency follower the live performers can trigger samples stored in the computer which were recorded by Professor Leonard Ott in the Owen Hall Recording Studio. The combination of the sampled and live materials forms a drone-based texture that envelops the listener in a quadraphonic speaker array. In the quad version the samples for the ratios 7/4, 9/8, 11/8, and 15/8, are panned around the audience in slowly phased Lissajous patterns. The Lissajous patterns are generated by two sub-audio sine waves which are tuned to the ratios they are panning. The title and character of the piece were inspired by this stanza from Allen Ginsberg’s 1954 poem “Song:”

yes, yes,

that’s what

I wanted,

I always wanted,

I always wanted

to return

to the body

where I was born.

Thomas Hubel and Kevin Swenson – Trumpets

For the scale with ratios and their order of introduction see the document hosted at this link.

Jesus in the Shade of the Bodhi Tree

This piece was recorded in the Owen Hall Recording Studio in the Spring of 2019. A plethora of instrumental techniques were captured spanning all of the orchestral families. After tracking was completed, samples were chosen from the recorded materials and sequenced to form a linear composition. In the piece the recording studio becomes a vehicle for orchestration.

An in depth essay about the piece’s conception, recording, and composition is available on the essays page.

Performers

Andrew Lu – Flute

Alelih Galvadores – Oboe

Scott Pastor – Clarinet

Arturo Garcia – Bass Clarinet

Mitchell Beck – Tenor Saxophone

Sam Berris – Bassoon

Braydon Ross – French Horn

Thomas Hubel – Trumpet

Felix Contreras Diaz – Trombone

Robert Huntington – Tuba

Tyler Golding – Glockenspiel, Crotales, Marimba, Vibraphone, Xylophone, and Timpani

Micah Vogel – Violin

Krista Swenson – Viola

Malcolm King – Cello

Antonio Sarzi – Contrabass

Kevin Swenson – Voice and Piano

Recording Engineered and Produced by Kevin Swenson

String Quartet no. 2 – “The Void”

This piece was inspired by the 36th koan listed in Nyogen Senzaki’s collection of 100 Zen Koans, The Iron Flute. 1It reads:

36. Where to Meet After Death

Tao-wu paid a visit to his sick brother monk, Yun-yen. “Where can I see you again, if you die and leave only your corpse here?” asked the visitor. “I will meet you in the place where nothing is born and nothing dies,” answered the sick monk. Tao-wu was not satisfied with the answer and said, “What you should say is that there is no place in which nothing is born and nothing dies, and that we need not see each other at all.”

When I first read this koan I was immediately fascinated with the concept of “the place where nothing is born and nothing dies.” I believe it boils down to a single word: the void. However contradictory to Yun-yen’s statement it may be, Tao-wu’s insistence that there is no such place also suggests a certain idea of something void. Simply put, the phrase is what brought about the initial inspiration regardless of philosophical interpretation.

As a result the concept of the void is entertained throughout the piece by the sustaining of single harmonies for long periods of time. At times, particularly during the middle of the piece, this sustenance is masked by a higher level of rhythmic activity and timbral transformation. Silence is also used as a means of illustrating a sense of the void. In light of this conceptualization it is my sincerest hope that listeners might enter a reflective, even meditative state of mind by experiencing the piece.

1Senzaki, Nyogen, The Iron Flute: 100 Zen Koans Tuttle Publishing. 2000.

For detailed information about the scordatura tuning used in the piece see the document hosted at this link.

Performers

Micah Vogel, Sabrina Boggs – Violin

Krista Swenson – Viola

Malcolm King – Cello

Generative Meditation


This generative piece for Max/MSP and a human improviser is constantly changing. The piece is based on a drone made up of the first 16 harmonics of the overtone series. The fundamental of the overtone series is determined by the year, month and calendar day on which the piece is being performed. The algorithm which calculates the fundamental takes the year/100, the month/10, the day/10, the hour/100, the minute/100 and the second/10000 and adds the 6 values together. As a result the tuning of the piece is in a constant state of flux from day to day. There is no notated score for this piece. Instead there is a general form and rules that govern the performance of the piece related to the day of the week (Monday-Sunday) and the time of day. While the piece is intended to involve a human performer it is also usable as an ambient Max patch for computer alone.

The present recording was captured on Tuesday, May 7th, 2019  during a 4.5 hour installation of the piece in the Owen Hall Recording Studio at University of the Pacific. 2 hours here is excerpted for the listener which includes 2 extended chants as well as moments of the patch alone. Note that the patch is intended to be performed in a quadraphonic speaker array despite the fact that this recording is captured in only two channels. The drone was captured using 2 AKG C414 microphones set to omni-directional pickup patterns. The chanting was captured with a Beyer M160 ribbon-dynamic microphone.

This PDF shows the modes for each day of the week and their corresponding tuning ratios.

You may request a copy of the Max patch on the Score and CD order page.

Max Patch and Chant by Kevin Swenson

Recording Engineered by Darla Testino and Professor Jeff Crawford

Psychedelic Visions

I am pleased to announce the release of my first official album, Psychedelic Visions. Featuring many of my most recent works including Visions for Chamber Orchestra and Max/MSP, the album presents a variety of chamber and electronic compositions. The first 3 tracks were recorded in a studio setting at University of the Pacific. Tracks 4-6 are live recordings of the pieces which were performed at my Senior Undergraduate Recital (in reverse order). You can order the CD on the Score and CD Order page. All of the pieces featured are also available to stream on this site along with program notes, and other information about the piece’s composition and its performers. Scores for any of the instrumental works are available via request as well. See below for the album’s cover and track listing.

Silent Night

Merry Christmas! In honor of the 200th anniversary of the writing of the much beloved Christmas carol “Silent Night” I have created an arrangement of the song on the Buchla Synthesizer. To accomplish this I used Logic Pro X to record each individual part in a multi-track project. The noise at the beginning was synthesized using the 266 Source of Uncertainty’s noise generator filtered in sequence using both of the 291’s filter. The arpeggios were made using the 259e Twisted Waveform Generator and the 250 sequencer. The bass part was made using the 259 Complex Waveform Generator’s modulation oscillator filtered at the 291e Triple Morphing Filter using the all input. The melodic and harmonic voices were synthesized using the 259 principal oscillator and the 216 voltage controlled keyboard. The vibrato like effect was made by using the 259’s modulation oscillator as an LFO in the sub-audio range. Its signal output was patched to the FM input on the principal oscillator and only enough voltage was added to the principal oscillator to create a subtle vibrato. The major scale used in the song was tuned using fzero~ in Max/MSP to achieve (rather consonant) just-intonation intervals. Reverb and delays were all processed in Logic. Because this was a multi-track project which used many different variations of one patch I have not provided a picture as on many of my other Buchla pieces.
The ratios used for the scale are as follows: 1/1, 9/8, 5/4, 4/3, 5/3, 15/8, 2/1.

Visions

I. Earth was Formless, Void
II. When Jesus Wept
III. Dreaming in Neon
IV. From Dust ye Were Made

Visions is a piece of four contrasting, interwoven movements which explore themes of prehistoric chaos and utopic peace, sleepy surreality and real human catastrophe. As an element of orchestration, it incorporates a wide variety of electronic sounds ranging from sampled sounds from nature such as birds and water, to penetrating drones crafted on the Buchla Analog Synthesizer, which are performed from a patch in the computer program Max/MSP Each movement occupies its own distinct sound world, and a bridge in the Max patch serves to carry the listener from one to the next. In the first movement the Max patch predominates, gradually unfolding into a collection of natural sounds while the orchestra performs with their instruments “deconstructed.” Beginning in the second movement much of the orchestral material is derived from a cannon by the early American composer William Billings called When Jesus Wept. The cannon serves as a symbol of early mankind, initially sprouting from out of a drone, the most spiritually pure of musical sounds. Though the second movement may be lively, When Jesus Wept both by its name and its austerity foreshadows the darkness of the third movement which drifts through mysterious and quiet material between a couple of more intense textures. Inevitably, the dreaminess of the third movement collapses to a cataclysmic and dissonant fourth movement, completely absent until the end, where the orchestra and Max are finally combined into one collective voice. It is the silver lining of rebirth after the apocalyptic nature of much of the fourth movement Ultimately with this piece, I have attempted to abstract a narrative in which we are all a part – the cycle from Alpha to Omega, beginning and end, creation and destruction. Visions was premiered at my senior composition recital at University of the Pacific on November 28th 2018. The orchestra included 19 players and computer.

Orchestra
Micah Vogel, Sabrina Boggs, Emily Criss, Zac Liel – Violin
Krista Swenson, Anne Plescia – Viola
Malcolm King, Laura Robb Martin – Cello
Yuki Nagase – Bass
Carrie Asai – Piccolo
Ellie Rose- Flute
Ben Siu- Clarinet
Mitchell Beck – Alto Saxophone
Chris Sacha – Tenor Saxophone
Thomas Hubel – Trumpet
Josh Dunsford – Tenor Trombone
Eli Maes-Brown – Bass Trombone
Ty Golding, Lok Mann lei – Percussion
Robert Huntington – Computer
Andrew Lu – Conductor and Editor

Notes on the Production of Electronic Sound for the Max Patch:

Almost all of the sounds that were used in the patch were produced by the composer, except for those explicitly stated as having been borrowed. I will list the borrowed sounds and their sources, followed by the sounds which I produced myself.

Borrowed Sounds:
1) Elephants – Two sounds borrowed from Elephant Voices (www.elephantvoices.org)
2) Bears, Coyotes, Elk, and Wolves – Taken from the National Park Service Yellowstone Sound Library (https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/photosmultimedia/soundlibrary.htm)
3) Laugh of Alan Watts – The laugh of Alan Watts is used in the third movement and is an extract from a radio broadcast called The Art of Meditation which can be found on Archive.org (https://archive.org/details/AllenWattsOnMeditation)

Produced Sounds:

Movement 1: All sounds of birds, bugs and water were recorded using a zoom portable recorder. The opening wind sound was produced by using the zoom recorder while driving a straight shot of road at an average of 60 MPH and then processing the audio in the free program Cecilia – (http://ajaxsoundstudio.com/software/cecilia/) Max’s filter design object is heavily used in this movement, exploiting it’s ability to produce complex Chebeyshev-2 filters with stop-band attenuation. The sounds of animals were arranged in Audacity (https://www.audacityteam.org/).

Movement 2: The drone for the second movement was produced on the Buchla analog synthesizer, primarily using the 259 Complex Waveform Generator as well as the 291e Triple Morphing Filter. A second drone is introduced in the middle of the piece which was synthesized on VCV-Rack a free euro-rack emulator – (https://vcvrack.com/). The bass sounds which are most prevalent at the beginning of the dance section were created using the resonators object in Max/Msp available as a free download from the Center for New Music and Audio Technology – (https://cnmat.berkeley.edu/). The sounds of people talking were recorded at a Dead and Company concert in Mountain View, California and at one of the 2018 Pacific Music Camps. The sounds of explosives are fireworks heard on the fourth of July and the sounds of cars were recorded on Pacific Avenue.

Movement 3: Throughout the third movement there are chords which are doubled from the strings or woodwinds in Max/Msp using the noise object filtered using the cascade biquad filter. At the end of the movement there is a bridge which begins with a noise sound similar to that used for doubling the strings and winds, except that it was synthesized on the Buchla using the 266 Source of Uncertainty’s noise generator filtered on the 291. The siren sounds were synthesized using the 259 and 259e Waveform Generators timed with 281 Quad Function Generator, and filtered using the 291e. The large explosion sound heard at the end is the same noise source sent to the 291 but with a carefully timed envelope shape from the 281. The explosion is also heard backwards which was made as simple as the click of a button with the warping engine in Ableton Live (https://www.ableton.com/en/).

Movement 4: After the explosion at the end of the third movement, the max patch remains silent as the orchestra plays the most dissonant and cataclysmic material in the entire work. However, in the final section of the movement, a new drone is heard which was synthesized on the Buchla using both the 259 and 259e filtered in a similar way to the drone from the second movement using the 291e.

Recorded Live at Faye Spanos Concert hall
Produced by Kevin Swenson
Engineered by Professor Jeff Crawford
Microphones used: 2 Neumann KK 133s as overheads, 2 AKG 414s on strings, 2 1/4 inch outs from Focusrite scarlet interface for electronics

Quadrangularis Reversum

Quadrangularis Reversum is a piece inspired by Harry Partch’s marimba-like instrument of the same name which is a real-time interactive duet between a solo violist and six unique FM synthesis sounds crafted in Max/MSP. The ratios available on Partch’s instrument, situated so that the player can easily play them in sweeping arpeggios, are here rendered as frequencies in the free just-intonation program Scala and stored as a list in a coll object in Max. The chords are first tuned to the C subharmonic series, and then to the F harmonic series. After a meditative introduction, the Viola player chooses to play various notated figures in a semi-random order they wish, triggering different “chords” from the C subharmonic series in Max, each one related to the original arpeggios found on Partch’s instrument. These choices are stored as an independent list and are recalled by Max to trigger the same “chords” retuned to fit into the F harmonic series when the violist exists the stage, and the material which was layered in the beginning returns as if a phantom version of itself. Thus the subtitle What’s Inside the Mirror relates first to the form of the piece, as well as to Partch’s construction of the Quadrangularis which was itself a mirrored version of an older instrument he designed called the Diamond Marimba. It is a mystical piece, which hopes to find the listener reflecting on the present moment, the eternal now – to find a quiet moment with themselves outside of the mad rush of the human world. Quadrangularis was premiered at my senior recital at University of the Pacific on November 28th 2018.

Krista Swenson – Viola Solo
Recorded Live at Faye Spanos Concert Hall
Produced by Kevin Swenson
Engineered by Professor Jeff Crawford

Ritual Dance in a Buchlidian Temple

Ritual Dance in a Buchlidian Temple is my first fully performable patch on the Buchla system without the aid of additional processes inside of Max/MSP (except for fzero~ for tuning and a bit of reverb). The piece is based on a drone and uses a sequence which is primarily built on the Dorian mode, a scale heard in many religious musics worldwide. It is not notated, but instead improvised on a basic formal structure which is predetermined. It begins slowly and gradually builds into a ritualistic dance. The term Buchlidian is one that I have borrowed from Todd Barton and Dr. Robert Coburn, which is used to describe the sonic realm of Buchla instruments. I performed the premiere of this piece during my senior recital at University of the Pacific on November 28th 2018. A screen shot of the simple Max patch used for tuning and reverb is available at the bottom of the post.

Recorded live at Faye Spanos Concert Hall
Produced by Kevin Swenson
Engineered by Professor Jeff Crawford

Distances

Distances for Trumpet Octet is a piece which entertains concepts of distances in various musical ways. Throughout the piece the listener will notice spatial changes within the ensemble, so that parts which compliment one another are sometimes heard close together, and at other times from across the ensemble. Spatial considerations are used to enhance rhythmic figures broken up among the 8 players. Another obvious distance is found in the pitch immaterial of the piece. Distances played a large role in the formation and crafting of the piece itself. For example, when I first began, I charted out all of the possible valve combinations on the trumpet from E4 to C6, numbering them 1-53 (making Eb4 to F#3 0 to -9). I then applied 5 recursive sets of integers to my chart of valve combinations, giving me 5 individual series of notes with specific valve combinations. I assigned one set to each trumpet (set 1 to trumpet 1/5, set 2 to trumpet 2/6 etc.) and leaving set 5 for use among all 8 trumpets. This informed my writing in terms of voicing, and disbursement of alternative fingerings throughout the ensemble – one instance of this is the very beginning of the piece. Ultimately, this is a “trumpetey” piece, which plays off of the tradition of trumpets being used to call across great distances; signaling victory or defeat, a call for help or a dire warning. For many throughout history, who fought in the countless wars of a time long past, the sound of the trumpet foreshadowed whether they were to live or to die. So if this piece seems at times dissonant – perhaps uncomfortably so, ask yourself one question: was it a beautiful sound which brought down the walls of Jericho?

All parts performed by Professor Leonard Ott, Lecturer in Trumpet at University of the Pacific
Recorded in the Owen Hall Recording Studio
Produced by Kevin Swenson
Engineered by Chris Sacha