This disc features one of my earliest works of “computer music,” the three movement composition The New View over Atlantis (1984-85) together with the recent work Novum Organum - Progressive Stages of Certainty.
Both works are inspired by the philosophical writings of Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626). In the early 1980’s I was intrigued by his work The New Atlantis which I learned of through my mentor F. Richard Moore who quotes from the text in his book Elements of Computer Music (Prentice Hall, 1990). I was particularly fascinated by the section on music and Bacon’s description of the “sound house”
“We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds and their generation. We have harmony which you have not, of quarter-sounds and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep, likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make divers tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which, set to the ear, do further the hearing greatly; we have also divers strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and, as it were, tossing it; and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice, differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have all means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.”
Bacon’s earlier work Novum Organum Scientiarum provides the title for the single movement work Novum Organum - Progressive Stages of Certainty (2013).
The New View over Atlantis was composed at the Computer Audio Research Laboratory (CARL) of the Center for Music Experiment (CME) established on the La Jolla campus of the University of California in 1979. Work on the composition began in 1983 and it was completed two years later. Back then, not only was I just beginning to grapple with the complexities of computer music synthesis and the cmusic acoustic compiler, but I was also obliged to wait a long time for the synthesis of my sound materials. The long gestational time for the work was largely due to the non-real-time context of computer music synthesis during this period.
The three sections of the work were composed out of order with The View being the first section completed. It almost did not come into being at all! My dear colleague the French composer Nicolas Vérin saved the work, though he may forget this fact now. As I was developing sound materials, I came to the studio one afternoon to review a batch of newly compiled sounds and do some programming for new ones. I played back what would become the opening gestures of the second movement of the work and was bitterly disappointed by the clangorous, ugly and distorted sounds emanating from the loudspeakers. I was about to delete the sounds and announced my intention to do so but Nicolas shouted “Wait! It is really good!” I quickly learned to hear the sounds in a new way. Distortion synthesis (non-linear wave shaping) was not my original goal but due to some “fortunate errors” in the original programming code, this is what I had indeed achieved! Composition of the other two sections followed apace and with fewer editorial outbursts and fewer sonic disappointments.
Like a number of my works composed during this period, The New View over Atlantis had several different final forms for concert presentation – from multichannel versions to versions with multi-channel video synthesis. This is the first presentation of the work on a commercial recording.
Novum Organum - Progressive Stages of Certainty is similar to The New View over Atlantis in a number of ways beyond the obvious inspiration derived from Bacon’s writings. Both works utilize complex resonant drones as a structural element, and Novum Organum is composed using the Csound acoustic complier – a similar set of techniques and opportunities that cmusic presented but with numerous new and refined options for the composer. Both works are inspired by the notion of the “sound house” introduced by Bacon. I feel fortunate indeed to live there.
The term musical alchemist best describes modern music composer Robert Scott Thompson. Combining his mastery of the
electroacoustic, contemporary instrumental, and avant-garde genres into a swirling cohesive whole, he is an important pioneer on music's new frontier.