Lava by Chris Brown
Lava is a 55 minute work for brass quartet, four percussion, and 4 channels of electronic sound generated interactively by a computer controlled signal processing system. The piece requires eight instrumentalists and an electronics operator/conductor (normally, me); William Winant, percussion and Toyoji Tomita, trombone (both virtuoso new music performers with whom I have collaborated on earlier pieces) are collaborators in the composition and first performances of the work and will travel with the piece to assist in rehearsing the other six instrumentalists. The instrumental parts will require musicians who are familiar with contemporary extended techniques, but otherwise are not in themselves virtuosic parts and the piece should require only one rehearsal before a performance. The piece deals with the movement of sounds between the acoustic instruments and a four channel sound system which is installed around the audience, ideally at four corners of a square at whose center are the musicians.
This piece is my most ambitious work to date integrating an acoustic instrumental ensemble with live electronic sound. It is also the third of a series of my pieces whose structures are modeled after natural phenomena (Alternating Currents, 1983 for orchestra and 3 soloists, and Iceberg , 1985 for percussion and electronics are the others). Lava makes use of simultaneously occurring multiple tempi, often with independent rates of change of speed to imitate the motion of molten lava streams. My compositional point of departure was to require that all compositional elements be in a state of transformation: thus there are no fixed pitches, just directions of pitch, timbral, and rhythmic change in the score, along with exact timings as to when such actions begin and complete. The resulting texture of the music produces a complex phasing of it's turbulent, yet gradually changing parts, which plays out against a rhythmic counterpoint of repetitive spatialization patterns formed by sound from the instrumentalists being captured, transformed, delayed, and placed electronically at different locations around the hall.
The central image for the music is of a volcano, and this quality is evoked by the quickness and intensity of "molten" sounds moving from the center of the space outwards. Although it occasionally erupts, the piece is not abnormally loud, and the unfolding of systematic processes is used as a means of evoking an evolutionary sense of time. The music aims at sculpture, never leaving the energy of dance.
Lava is a commission from the Wallace A. Gerbode Foundation of San Francisco. Premiere performances are scheduled for Fall 1992 in San Francisco. Performances require transportation, fees, and expenses for the composer and two musicians, six musicians hired at the site, a hall suitable for quadraphonic performance with the performers in the center, and a four channel sound system with eight microphones and a mixer.