Snow Crystals On Sagebrush

ElectroacousticAcoustic

About Snow Crystals On Sagebrush

NOTE: this piece has not yet been performed, so the score is not publicly available yet as it may be revised. If you’d like to perform it in any version, just drop me a line at nick [at] bathyspheremusic [dot] org.

In January of 2022 some friends and I went for a long weekend in Mammoth, California, to escape the screamingly dull delirium of pandemic-induced distancing inside our houses. I’d begun a sketch of this quartet the previous week, just the opening bars really, and thought that looking out a cabin window at some snow while composing might inspire the rest of it.

I was, perhaps, more right than I intended to be. On the first day of the trip we took a hike to Crowley Lake, which had fascinating rock columns along its frozen edge. The snow was deep, so that with every third or fourth step you’d sink in up to your thigh. We were determined to make the seemingly-short two miles to the columns, though. By the third hour or so what seemed easy had become a trancelike trudge, each step accompanied by the crunch of snow and the tension of wondering if your foot would suddenly drop below the surface. It was grueling, and perhaps not 100% worth it. At one point I stepped on a spot above a buried sagebrush and sank into the spiky plant to my waist. It hurt.

The endless sound of footsteps on snow stayed with me though. Being from Los Angeles, this was a pretty new and interesting sound. The next day I used my field recorder to capture myself walking on some snow near the cabin, and then got clever with Ableton Live’s probability tools to generate an always-changing beat from the footstep sounds. I composed the rest of the quartet to that beat, adding a few bass drum hits from a Samples From Mars/ Roland 606 to taste at the climax.

To my pleasant surprise Snow Crystals On Sagebrush seems to work equally well with or without the electronics, so I’ve made them optional. Since completing the piece I’ve begun work on string quintet and string orchestra versions, which I believe will be quite effective.