Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
David K. Gompper
Mirage of the Mountains is a work for chamber ensemble, scored for flute (doubling on piccolo), clarinet, oboe, bassoon, horn, trumpet, violins (two players), viola, violoncello, double bass, piano and percussion (two players). The instrumentation decisions came from my studies of Gèrard Grisey's second and third movements, Periodes (1974) and Partiels (1975), of Les Espaces Acoustiques (1974-1985). As each movement unfolds, the piece experiences a growth in the number of performers starting with solo viola and finishing as a full orchestra. The ensemble I have assembled for Mirage of the Mountains is what I consider the difference between these two movements; it is six more instrumentalists than Periodes and five less than Partiels. Mirage of the Mountains finds its pitch material from the spectral analysis of two pitches on the contrabass, F1 and C1. This also requires the contrabass to have a C extension on the lowest string. The purpose of choosing these two pitches is one of form. The piece is in three sections, whose first and last section are based on the spectral analysis of the contrabass' F1 and the middle section using the spectral analysis from C1. This creates an overall formal structure of I-V-I throughout the work. The string with the C extension of the contrabass is also used to create form in another way. As the middle section is based on the spectral analysis of C1 of the contrabass, it also creates the opportunity to perform open string harmonics on the contrabass, violoncello and viola, as these are the lowest strings found on these instruments. Thus, in the middle section, these instruments have extended sections of harmonic glissandi that are unique to this portion of the piece. The violins also help to extend the range and color of the partials developed in the open harmonics of the other instruments by playing the upper nodes in the highest register of the G string. The partials used in this section range from the first partial to the 24th partial of C1. The title, Mirage of the Mountains, is a correlation between a spectrum analysis and the characteristics of a mountain. The premise is that the lowest part of a mountain is less steep and much wider at the base, just as the first partial of a spectral analysis is wider in distance and more audible because of its sound properties. As the terrain closer to the top of a mountain becomes more jagged, steep and narrow with more frequent peaks, the higher partials of a spectral analysis also become more frequent in relation to others preceding and following it. When looking at a mountain from a distance, it is also hard to discern all of the peaks that occur near the top, just as it is hard to discern each upper partial of a sound. Mirage of the Mountains is an aural depiction of the spectral structure of these sounds as it relates to a mountainous region and attempts to build an image through depth, form and texture.
Copyright 2012 Zachariah Walter Zubow
Zubow, Zachariah Walter. "Mirage of the mountains." PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2012.