Trees and the supermoon

I just delivered the score and parts to a new piece, Three Graces at Perigee, to Cadillac Moon Ensemble. It’s been an incredibly busy summer and I haven’t been keeping the blog updated, so I thought writing about this piece would be a good way to get going again.

Over the past year or so I’ve started camping again with some friends. I’d almost forgotten how much I love being in nature, and recent trips to Joshua Tree, Yosemite, the channel islands, the San Bernardino Mountains, and elsewhere really woke up an sense of awe (or something like that) in me that had been asleep since I was a teenager. Part of it has to do with the time-scale on which the natural world works. Compared to 2,000 year old trees or the billions-of-years life cycle of our planet, we are very, very, very small.

The impetus for Three Graces at Perigee came from an urge to capture the feeling of peacefulness that I get from that thought. The Three Graces are three giant Sequoia trees growing in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove. They’ve been there since before the European discovery of North America, since before any human I’ve ever met was born, and will probably be there long after any person alive today dies. To capture this idea I put rapidly changing tiny bits of music, that start and end on small (i.e. human) timescales, against a slow, relatively unaffected, gradually changing series of three-note chords (in this case played on vibraphone).

I used another part of nature’s timescale that was making itself known at the moment to structure my writing. Perigee is the point in the moon’s orbit when it is closest to the earth. When there’s a full moon at perigee, it looks insanely large and bright (hence the nickname “supermoon”). This year we had three supermoons in three months – something that only happens once every twenty or so years. I was visiting the Three Graces and getting the idea for this piece just before the first of the three of them.

As such, I decided to write as much as I could, every day, without editing or looking at what I’d done the previous day, from the first to second supermoon. After the second supermoon I no longer allowed myself to add any new material – only to rearrange and chop up what I’d written in the first stage. The third supermoon happened to be just a couple days before the deadline for the piece, so I used that as a “no more composing!” date, and just used the last couple days to format and clean up the score.

In those last couple days of editing, the bugs outside my bedroom were incredibly loud (it’s 80 at night right now), and I got tied up with the idea of them being the background for the piece. I recorded them, and now Three Graces at Perigee comes with a track of night sounds.

Here’s some audio of that:

 

The piece will be played at UCSB’s Geiringer Hall on October 14.

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All material copyright Nick Norton unless otherwise noted.