Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
David K. Gompper
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Robert C. Cook
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Lilliputian Arctic Deviation is a work for small orchestra inspired by average snow and ice extent in the Northern Hemisphere over four decades. Something so large as forty years of snow and ice coverage can be interpreted as what Timothy Morton calls a hyperobject, an entity so vast in space and time that we as human beings cannot experience it within our limited senses and lifespans. For example, we can’t experience 150 years of global warming directly, but we can conceptualize it as an idea, or observe it as a graph. Like a graph, Lilliputian Arctic Deviation is an attempt to experience a hyperobject, while also allowing the composer free rein to creatively interpret and comment on the hyperobject.
The Rutgers University Global Snow Lab records weekly and monthly snow extent averages for the Northern Hemisphere from 1967 until the present day. Lilliputian Arctic Deviation focuses on the summer yearly averages. Certain characteristics of the data, when graphed, show patterns that have both scientific and, after translation through algorithmic processes, musical significance. These characteristics are: 1. A significant decline in average snow extent from 1967 to the present; and 2. A transition from drastic yearly differences in the late 1960s through early 1990s to more consistent and predictable values in the late 1990s to 2015.
Lilliputian Arctic Deviation proceeds in chronological order, starting with 1967 and ending with 2015. The density of the musical texture reflects the shape of the graph. Higher yearly averages involve more instruments sounding simultaneously, and lower yearly averages involve fewer instruments. Similar yearly average data values are reflected through shared musical materials; the range under which data points are located have similar characteristics. I group the data into eight regions: 3–3.9, 4–4.9,…10–10.9. Data points falling within a similar region share motivic, melodic, harmonic, and timbral materials.
Other musical aspects of the piece reflect summer’s place within the larger hyperobject that includes all four seasons. The general characteristics of fall, winter, and spring are implied through listening to the summer, Lilliputian Arctic Deviation. Generally, Lilliputian Arctic Deviation features sharp articulated sounds of short duration, while sustained pitches are dynamically soft and fade in and out of the overall texture. Certain timbres are tight and subdued, such as a prevalence of muted brass, pizzicato and col legno battuto in the strings, and the use of wooden percussion. Set class (014) is used exclusively throughout the piece and is reflective of the small amount of snow and ice in the Northern Hemisphere respective to the amount found in the winter. Finally, since this process of the Earth has been and will continue to happen long before and after the years featured in this piece, this musical composition serves as an interpretation of a small fraction of the overall process, a hyperobject well beyond our ability to experience in our lifetimes.
arctic, composition, hyperobject, music, orchestra, snow
viii, 61 pages
Includes bibliographical references (page 61).
Copyright © 2018 Jonah Lloyd Elrod
Elrod, Jonah Lloyd. "Lilliputian Arctic deviation." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2018.