a beautiful reckoning
for flute, alto flute, voice, electric and/or acoustic guitar, fixed media, lights, and optional audio-reactive projections
Creation and Commentary
“a beautiful reckoning” (2020) is for flute, alto flute, guitar, voice, fixed media, and lights, with an alternate version as a fixed audio and video installation. The original premiere featured my own live improvisations on flute, alto flute, electric guitar, and vocals while the fixed media elements played through the immersive speaker array in the Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theatre alongside a custom light show built in QLab. The alternate fixed multimedia version was premiered as a selection for the 2020 Sonic Murals Festival at the University of North Texas College of Music.
The piece represents and celebrates my own identity as a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and audio engineer. Upon moving to Denton to begin my masters studies, I descended into a chronic and incapacitating depression that had me questioning my purpose, not only as a graduate student but as an artist. “a beautiful reckoning” was the embodiment of my decision to take ownership and agency over my experience and make something beautiful out of what had, until then, been so painful.
The fixed media component of “a beautiful reckoning” is based on layered iterations of a base loop of 16 bars across flute, alto flute, acoustic guitar, and voice parts. I created a score to serve as the “full loop” for the purpose of recording session efficiency. I recorded all of these parts myself, then broke down the components and constructed the layers progressively in service of the trajectory of the piece. Each loop has multiple loops and layers within itself, particularly in the case of the two vocal parts. Only two 16-bar loops of vocals needed to be tracked, knowing that I could then break down these two lines further into 4-bar phrases that could be combined in a mosaic of ways, adding many more melodic and harmonic possibilities than a simple two-voice melody. The fixed media at times contains vocal stacks of up to ten-part harmonies, all thanks to post-production arrangement within the DAW.
In addition to the recorded acoustic instruments and vocals, the fixed media includes electronic elements that expand the range and textures of this cross-genre composition. The electronics include synthetic pad layers, synth bass and kick drum, and an arpeggiator. I fed the arpeggiator chords via MIDI keyboard improvisations alongside the acoustic loops and synth bass and allowed the automation of the arpeggiation to create interesting turns, transitions, and repetitions in support of the textures of the different sections of the piece.
The live performance component of “a beautiful reckoning” was purposely tailored to my skillset as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, but could be performed by another similarly multi-skilled flutist/guitarist/vocalist or could be performed by an ensemble of the respective parts. The live performers may see their instrument’s respective pre-recorded loops and choose to improvise based on those melodies alone, but they may also use the score modules with other suggested prompts and riffs for improvisation.
To encourage the accessibility of the score, the guitar parts are written in both normal notation and tablature, which is a more suitable method of notation for some of guitar techniques like hammer-ons or pull-offs and the double-handed neck playing, like in improvisation module number five.
For my live performance, I included light reverb on the microphone for flute(s) and voice for optimal blend with the flute and vocal components of the fixed media. I performed live electric guitar, in contrast with the pre-recorded acoustic guitar, so that I had my preference of effects processing options from my guitar and amplifier including chorus, delay, reverb, and distortion. I played clean throughout until the climax of the piece where I switched on the distortion for the final guitar solo. This climax was aided by the blackout moment and then full moving light show to maximize the immersive sensory experience, not only for the audience, but for me. Considering the purpose and achievement of this piece, I think it was really more for me.
The light show involved programming the MEIT’s lighting rig via cues in QLab. I worked with CEMI staff member Louise Fristensky to program the light settings based on a suggested structure with timestamps and suggested colors and transitions that is included in the score.
The alternate version of “a beautiful reckoning” is presented as a fixed audio and video piece featuring audio-reactive, color-changing particles created in the visual coding environment, TouchDesigner. To create the visuals for this version of “a beautiful reckoning,” I followed a tutorial by TouchDesigner coder and artist Bileam Tschepe and modified the parameters to fit the groove and mood of “a beautiful reckoning.” The result is a cloud of spinning particles that react to two frequency filters that in turn affect the turbulence, speed, and magnetism between the particles in real time. To emulate a similar experience as the original premiere’s light show of color-changing cues, I performed the color-changing controls in real time for the render of the final video.