Flower photo by Caroline Senn
Mass for Heavy Rail:
Requiem for My Father
For SATB Choir
soundscupture
and dance.

14 sections
1 hour


Main Menu

Prelude (1:35) (pre-recorded Too Flutter sounds only)
Introitus (5:21)

Kyrie | Dies Irae (5:37) sections merged
Tuba Mirum (2:39)
Rex Tremendae (4:01)

Recordare, Jesu Pie (2:41)
Confutatis | Lacrimosa (11:05) sections merged
Domine Jesu (1:42)
Hostias (2:55)
Sanctus | Benedictus (5:44) sections merged
Agnus Dei (6:23)
Lux Aeterna (6:02)

 (click title to hear/see score)
Mass for Heavy Rail: Requiem for My Father (2009) (MFHR: RFMF) is for SATB choir, dance (optional) and backing sounds which were recorded from a sound sculpture called a Too Flutter. The text is 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 backing sounds were originally composed for an all-electronic version, without consideration of the choral parts, and called Czech Rail completed in 2007. These were composed and engineered from a special setup and performance of the Too Flutter built in 1992. The electronic-only version of the piece, in some variation, serves 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
Performances (see Performance Setup) with dance, choir and backing sounds, the choir is positioned across the back of a proscenium stage with ample room in front for dancers, if used, 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 sound technician must be in the audience area to maintain a balance between the choral and backing sounds as indicated in the score. Foldback 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.

Cuing videos are used to teach and conduct the piece in a performance. The examples directly below are of Sibelius generated voices, backing sounds and the video cues consisting of bouncing dots. Follow along with the score open in another window.
MFHR: RFMF should be rehearsed without the backing sounds using equal temperament. When the Too Flutter sounds are added, the singers will develop an ear for the overtone cues. The sung tones will naturally adjust to the pre-recorded pitches which are slightly higher or lower then the equal temperament.

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.

Performance versions of the cuing videos
are available by contacting the artist.

Prelude, 1:35
Backing sounds only (no choral parts).
Introitus, 5:21 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Kyrie|Dies Irae, 5:37 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Tuba Mirum, 2:39 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Rex Tremendae 4:09 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Recordare, Jesu Pie, 2:41 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Confutatis|Lacrimosa, 11:05 (score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Domine Jesu 1:42 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Hostias, 2:55 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Sanctus|Benedictus, 5:44 (score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Agnus Dei, 6:23 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Lux Aeterna, 6:02 (follow score)
Choral parts plus backing sounds.
Additional Notes

The backing sound files used in Mass for Heavy Rail: Requiem for My Father were generated using a Too Flutter sound sculpture and then mixed with the choral "ah" sounds produced by the Sebelius Music Notation software. Sibelius does not produce the actual words of the score, of course, nor did this version of Sibelius generate crescendos or decresendos. Sibelius 3 also ignored notes at times, and sometimes skipped a beat. But the timings are close enough and the balance between the choral and backing parts are adequate for demonstration, even if the subtleties of a live performance are often lost. Furthermore, the fidelity of the backing sounds are far less brilliant than they would otherwise be in this context.

The backing sounds for
MFHR: RFMF represent an expansive tonal geography upon which I have constructed the choral sections of this piece. The primary sound generator in the sound sculpture are metallic washers spinning downward over the cyclical rails of threaded steel rods which are attached to found piece of metallic scrap—the scrap accounting for the color and overtones. The metal rods and washers have been carefully arranged for this particular work and represent a score "above" a score (the sculpture itself), "behind" a score (Czech Rail), and "behind" the traditionally notated score given here. The found pieces of scrap metal were acquired at thrift stores and garage sales, and each is imprinted inadvertently with an unique and irregular overtone structure. They were never meant to produce classical music. What is recorded (contact mikes are built into the Too Flutter), as the "moths" cascade downward over the rails, is ultra-rich in overtones, sub-tones, and fundamental tones of varying strengths and these are the timbrel materials comprising the tonal landscape of this piece. And the score, which is written using traditional key signatures, represents a contruct upon which this landscape rests. Again, the tonal centers of the choral writing are determined by the rough and tumble of the tonal landscape—traditional notation systems have been used to make the piece accessible and performable. Therefore, the tonal simplicity of the choral parts is necessary and determined by the overtone structure of the pre-recorded backing sounds. Except for the all "electronic" Prelude (the backing sounds are actually better defined a "musique concrete"), where I have made references to tonal shifts, I have not included a tonal analysis of backing sounds.

Tonalities Section-by-Section

......| G major/minor | D minor ->C# major | C major ->D major | C minor | D# minor | E minor | C minor | G minor - Bb minor |
......| F# phrygian - A minor | A minor | D minor | Gb major | Eb minor | Bb minor - C major | Ab major - Bb major - C major |
More detail
01 - Prelude (1:35) (no choral sounds) G major - D minor - C# minor - G minor
02 - Introitus (5:21) vii°7->D harmonic minor [V - i - V - iv -vii°- III] [pause] shifts to C# major at end.
03 - Kyrie | Dies Irae (5:37) (sections merged)
......a Kyrie (2:05) C-major [C7 - vii9] --- shifts to D major at end.
......b Dies Irae (3:32) C-minor [i - i9 - end i7 minus 3rd]
04 - Tuba Mirum (2:39) D# pure minor - shifts to D# harmonic minor mid-way [ i - V7]
05 - Rex Tremendae (4:01) E pure minor, embellished by passing tones throughout.
06 - Recordare (2:41) C pure minor - shifts to melodic minor, changes to D harmonic minor midway.
07 - Confutatis | Lacrimosa (11:05) (sections merged)
......a Confutatis (3:58) G pure minor - shift to harmonic minor - sudden shift to Bb harmonic minor [vi - i - iv - i9]
......b Lacrimosa 97:03) F# phrygian minor - A pure minor [i - i9]
08 - Domine Jesu (1:42) A harmonic minor [i - diatonic cluster - i - diatonic cluster]
09 - Hostias (2:55) D harmonic minor [i - V7 - i7 - V7 - iv - ii°7 - i]
10 - Sanctus | Benedictus (5:44) (sections merged)
......a Sanctus (2:37) Gb major [I7 - ends i w/unresolved lowered 5th]
......b Benedictus (3:07) Eb pure minor - shifts to harmonic minor - sudden shift to E pure minor [i - VII7 - i]
11 - Agnus Dei (6:23) Bb pure minor [i - i7 ] - sudden shift to C major [I]
12 - Lux Aeterna (6:02) Ab major - shifts to Bb major - sudden shift to C major - shift to C minor [i - diatonic cluster ] - C major.
Performance Setup