For two percussionists. Premiered by Doug Perkins and David Schhotzko at Taplin Auditorium, Princeton University. 5 minutes, 20 seconds.
74 Chevy was written in response to the work of Iannis Xenakis. As a youth, Xenakis was a leader of the Greek Resistance. During World War II he fled to Paris, where he began seriously studying music while also working as an engineer and architect in Le Corbusier’s studio. Apart from his work with stochastic theory, Xenakis was fascinated by shape and form and the ways in which they manifest in music. He used all kinds of complex mathematical calculations to generate interesting forms and shapes and musical lines. His interest in graphics led him to invent the UPIC system, in which the composer draws shapes into the computer, which then translates them into musical sound. I was attracted to Xenakis for this project because his work is so different from my own — I generally work fairly intuitively and never use “systems” — yet we both share an interest in the relationship between sound and image.
As I thought about my compositional response, I became interested in creating software that would translate images of the real world into sound — the “perfect imperfection” of the real world is of great interest to me. I also wanted the sound that came out of the picture to be “real world,” acoustic sound. But instead of using a “perfect” natural image such as a tree, river or microscopic cells — all of which occurred to me — I decided to go for something mechanical yet nostalgic, something more representative of my world than of his. Something a little bit rock and roll.
I finally settled on an image from Chevrolet’s 1974 sales brochure: a golden Camaro speeding around the bend of a cliff. I removed all background from the photo, leaving just the Camaro, then translated its colors to timbres, its height to pitch, its saturation to dynamics, and its width to time. Each vertical strip is a rhythm, grafted onto the car. Xenakis based his classic percussion piece Psappha on the changing metrical accents of the poet Sappho’s verse; the accents of my piece change gradually based on the physical makeup of the car. This, then, is a road trip through the vivid timbres of a 74 Chevy, from the black of its tires (skins) to the blue of its windshield (metal). It is absolutely personal and undoubtedly calculated. Please enjoy the ride.