Recompense for Persephone (2011)


(after the original version for live electronics, audio below…)

View Score Sample

View Score Sample

In Taiwan, many garbage trucks pass through the streets blaring a siren’s tune. Most often it is Beethoven’s Für EliseRecompense for Persephone began as an improvisation for electronics written in Max, in which a small window of audio is sampled — the sound of one such passing siren. Its component frequencies are analyzed using a spectral noise gate and a series of biquad audio filters. As composer, I controlled the movement of these filters in realtime, responding to the quality of the pitches and rhythms outputted as MIDI data to software synthesizers, which I then recorded and transcribed into readable musical notation.

This acoustic orchestration was prepared after what had originally been envisioned as a purely electronic work. The original timbres of strings and piano are augmented by harp and percussion for reinforcement and for practical acoustic performance. For example, this edition includes a vibraphone, which sometimes serves to excite the fourth partial of the piano’s notes (based subjectively on my hearing of its presence in the reverb modeling of the electronic version).

Recompense for Persephone takes its title from the mythology of the sirens. Ovid wrote in Metamorphoses V that the sirens failed to protect Persephone when Pluto abducted her, so Demeter had them changed into birds with female heads. According to other writers they occupied the coast of an island, luring sailors to shipwreck with their seductive songs. The charmed sailors remained and starved to death.

Capturing the song of the sirens is a fantasy on what seems to have been done in this piece — that and presenting it to Persephone as recompense for her abduction. In the mythology it would have been impossible to discover their song and live to tell about it. By freezing and suspending a brief moment of their song and unlocking an eternity of colorful sounds, we seem to have stopped the sirens, stopped time, and therefore death itself.


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