Ice Becomes Water

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen

Instrumentation: String Orchestra (min. and electronics.
Duration: 13:00
Commission: San Jose Chamber Orchestra
Premiere: 3/25/18
Conductor Barbara Day Turner and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra
Trianon Theatre; San Jose, CA

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Program Note:
Ice Becomes Water is scored for string orchestra and electronics that I fashioned from field recordings shared by glaciologist Oskar Glowacki, who studies the acoustic signatures of glaciers. It is well known that glaciers are melting at a dramatically increasing pace as the result of human-driven climate change. As they become water they raise sea levels, change currents, and affect the entire web of ecosystems across the world. My piece is a lament for our role in this process and a call to change.

To create the electronics, I transformed the field recordings in an intricate process, with a continuum that ranges from shards of the original sounds to radically transformed timbres. The former include low groans of sea ice breaking and large crashes, while the latter include the thin, stratospheric sounds of the opening, a variety of pitched and noise sounds, and the specific shaping and location of ice and water sounds. The next level of composition involved weaving these into a sonic fabric that integrates them with the string orchestra’s music. To develop the timbres for the string instruments, I began by experimenting with my colleagues David Sariti (violin), Ayn Balija (viola), and Pete Spaar (bassist). I moved back and forth between the acoustic and digital worlds, listening intently to the interaction between the two in my imagination.

Ice Becomes Water opens with high, thin sounds I imagine as the blue tint of a glacier reflecting the early-morning sky. The music gradually becomes more intense, though staying in that vast high register. Soon enough, it dips down into a singing range, beginning the lament for the vanishing glaciers, before moving into darker, more ominous territory, eventually leading to the crashing groans of ice breaking, and to dramatic flows of water. The music shifts between pensive reflections and increasingly cataclysmic passages, before coming to rest on low tones symbolizing the glacial night, with a sorrowful yearning song rising above. Ice Becomes Water was commissioned by and dedicated to conductor Barbara Day Turner and the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. –JS

Response to Ice Becomes Water
“This is fantastic, pure beauty! I love to hear the bubble noise in such a wonderful accompaniment. The nature is very generous – we only need to learn how to use it. You showed it in a wonderful way!” —response by Oskar Glowacki:

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