Mass for Heavy Rail: Requiem for My Father (2009) by Dan Senn is for SATB choir, dance (optional) and backing tracks which were recorded from a sound sculpture of mine called a Too Flutter. The words are from Mozart's Requiem, a Latin text which is freely augmented with English verse. The main title is a double entendre referring to the Catholic text and structure of the piece, but also to its rich and often cinematic textures. The pre-recorded sounds are acoustic in origin, unaltered except for stereo location and filtering, with the heavy rail-like timbres derived from small metal disks (washers) spinning downward over threaded steal rods (cyclical rails). The sub-title for the piece, Requiem for My Father, is a dedication to my father, Harold Alton Senn, from Watertown, Wisconsin, who passed away just as the choral writing was begun in the summer of 2008. + + + The Too Flutter backing sounds were originally composed for an all-electronic version, without consideration of the choral parts, called Czech Rail completed in 2007 and engineered from a special programming and performance of the Too Flutter built in 1992. The electronic-only version of the piece serves here, in variation, as the backing sounds for MFHR: RFMF which are presented at 48k and 24 bits (a regular CD is 44.1k and 16 bits) to enable an audio clarity which is not present at lower resolutions and is essential to a performance. + + + For performances (see diagram below) with dance, choir and backing sounds, the choir is positioned across the back of a proscenium stage with ample room in front for dancers to move freely. The choir is miked and amplified separately from the backing sounds using a parallel soundsystem. The Too Flutter sounds are played using a system capable of producing the 48k, 24 bit resolution in stereo over left and right speakers positioned at the front and back of the auditorium. A mix technician must be in the audience area to maintain a balance between the choral and backing sounds as indicated in the score. Fold back speakers (wedges) are positioned facing the choir playing the Too Flutter sounds which contain pitch cues. Synchronization of the backing sounds and choral parts is achieved by the conductor having clear visual access to the backing sounds time clock. A playback technician is needed to start and stop sections on cue from the conductor. Performances for choir and backing sounds are the same as described here with the choir moved forward. + + + The piece is to be rehearsed away from the backing sounds using equal temperament up until the point where the backing tracks are needed for pitch cues. The singers must develop an ear for the overtone cues and then, over time, their sung pitches will naturally adjust to the pre-recorded tones which are slightly higher or lower then the equal temperament used in rehearsal. If a recording is made with the backing sounds mixed in later, the equal temperament is acceptable. Exact timings and metronome rates are given throughout the score and it is important, especially at start points, to be on cue. However, unless restrained by a new entry point, end points are somewhat flexible. + + + The tonal centers in the choral parts were determined by the overtones present in the backing score. Curiously enough, the fundamental pitches from the recorded Too Flutter were often close enough to equal temperament to facilitate a traditional score using key signatures. Because of this, MFHR: RFMF has more in common with renaissance music, where harmonic limitations were fixed by instrumental limitations. Furthermore, to write atonally for human voices against a noise-driven sound texture is impractical. I also desired an effect where the clash of the rail-like noise, with its cinematic suggestion, and that of the natural and unnatural (equal temperament) temperaments, would provide an aesthetic tension on many levels. For example, the final C Major chord, in the Lux Aeterna, occurs at the request of the Too Flutter and then as if it were a new invention.
The mp3 files below were generated using my Too Flutter sound sculpture mixed with choral "ah" sounds produced by the Sebelius Music Notation software. Sibelius does not produce the actual words of the score, nor does it generate crescendos or decresendos. It also ignores notes at times, and sometimes skips a beat. But the timings are correct and the balance between the choral and backing parts pretty close. Click on title to see and hear the score.
01 - Prelude
(1:35) (no choral sounds)
|See additional program notes.||Main Site|