Homage to La Monte Young (2011)
quad and stereo mixes
Honorable Mention, UnTwelve International Composition Competition, 2013
Homage to La Monte Young explores the interacting sounds of the feedback from scordatura electric guitars and noisy amplifiers. The pervasive 60-cycle hum that permeates our daily soundscape provides the initial impetus and harmonic material for the work. Naturally, a precursor to this idea can be found in La Monte Young's Composition 1960 #7 (B and F# 'to be held for a long time'), about which he says: "Actually, the first sustained single tone at a constant pitch, without a beginning or end, that I heard as a child was the sound of telephone poles, the hum of the wires."
A second point of intersection comes from Robert Palmers' essay, "The Church of the Sonic Guitar." "But an electric guitar, properly tuned to resonate with everything from the [concert] hall's acoustics to the underlying 60-cycle hum of the city's electrical grid, is forming its massive sound textures from harmonic relationships that already exist in nature; compare this to the arbitrary 'equal temperament' system which causes decidedly unharmonious harmonic interference patterns and dissonances when certain tones are allowed to ring together."
The organization of frequency content (pitch/harmony/timbre) of the homage is both an expansion of Young's piece and a realization of Palmer’s imagined music. The piece begins with only the 60-cycle hum of the amplifier (60 Hz = ca. B). ‘B’ and its overtones are introduced as the scordatura guitars and amplifiers enter into feedback loops. Slowly ‘F#’ and its partials materialize. After a series of crests and troughs, bowed and plucked sounds (from a homemade zither playing harmonics up to the 15th partial) are introduced along with the accelerating pulse of the amplifier’s tremolo. In the approach to the final climax a very low ‘E’ (20 Hz) and its partials emerge. The significance of the arrival of ‘E’ is three-fold: 1) ‘E’ balances the initial B-F# sonority, creating stacked 5th structure with ‘B’ at the center; 2) it coincides with the apex of the accelerating amplifier tremolo which approaches the auditory threshold; 3) ‘E’ is unmistakably the guitar chord, and the arrival marks a return to the guitar’s ‘correct’ tuning.