Driftwood Cortege

Driftwood Cortege, for computer-generated sounds (1978)

Driftwood Cortege was written during the summer of 1978 at the Computer Music Course held at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, Stanford University, California. It started life as a simple exercise in the manipulation of Leland Smith’s SCORE programme. However, getting used to the completely new procedures and habits of mind inherent in this composing programme was an onerous and sometimes maddeningly frustrating task. But, as is often the case with an intractable medium, perseverance pays off. I decided to extend the exercise into a fully fledged composition.

Even so, the harmonic, rhythmic and formal aspects of the Cortege are extremely simple. It is in other areas that the computer comes into its own, allowing the composer to control the music in much more precise and subtle ways than is possible in conventional media. These areas are timbre (tone-colour), distance, and movement. The timbres used in the Cortege are those of live instruments simulated by means of Chowning frequency-modulation instruments, although their realism is constantly called into question. There is considerable use made in the piece of the computer facility which makes the sound seem to come from an extreme distance from the listener. In fact the piece is presented in its own artificial acoustic, that of a large cathedral in which a procession of instruments seems to draw near towards the central climax of the piece and then gradually recede again into the distance. The idea of this acoustic was prompted by the composer having witnessed the blessing of the winning horse in the Palio in Siena. This involves bringing the horse into the cathedral accompanied by hordes of ecstatic supporters beating drums and blowing trumpets. The ‘Driftwood’ part of the title refers to a Californian beach north of San Simeon which I visited during my time at Stanford. At this totally secluded and mysterious place, littered with huge, bleached tree-trunks like pre-historic carcasses, I had an almost religious revelation of nature in its pristine state: a fleeting vision of the world before time.

© 1982 Tim Souster