Nachtlied (2007) - 8:20


This piece is a setting of a poem of the same name by Georg Trakl, an Austrian expressionist poet who lived at the turn of the last century. While I was somewhat aware of the connection between Trakl and the composers of the Second Viennese School, I was “formally” introduced to Trakl’s poetry by Schuyler Tsuda, a friend and fellow composer at the University of Hawaii. I was immediately struck not only by the elegance and concision of Trakl’s German, but by the potent images contained therein. The poem (along with my own translation) reads:

Des Unbewegten Odem. Ein Tiergesicht
Erstarrt vor Bläue, ihrer Heiligkeit.
Gewaltig ist das Schweigen im Stein;

Die Maske eines nächtlichen Vogels. Sanfter Dreiklang
Verklingt in einem. Elai! dein Antlitz
Beugt sich sprachlos über bläuliche Wasser.

O! ihr stillen Spiegel der Wahrheit.
An des Einsamen elfenbeinerner Schläfe
Erscheint der Abglanz gefallener Engel.

The life-breath of the unmoved. The face of an animal
Is paralyzed with blueness, of her holiness.
Mighty is the silence in stone;

The mask of a nocturnal bird. Gentle triad
Dies away into one. Elai! your countenance
Bends speechless over bluish waters.

O! you silent mirrors of truth.
On the ivory temple of the lonely
Appears the reflection of fallen angels.

The poem presents us with some vivid images, and my initial thought for a setting of this text was to take advantage of the many opportunities for word-painting that it presents -- to use the electronics to provide a sort of "commentary" on the words presented by the choir. However, I ultimately rejected this approach and chose to dig deeper. The text, through the images within, presents a very definite sort of mood, or space. I chose to convey a more subjective, abstract impression of this mood-space with the electronics, which I think has yielded a more satisfactory result.

I created all the tape sounds in this piece by manipulating pre-existing audio samples; there is no synthesis in this piece. The samples were either created by me or taken from licesnse-free sources. In particular, I used many sounds from the Freesound Project (specific samples used available on request). Also, two samples of seismographic recordings (sumatra_i52h2_20041226_filter_scale.wav and arenaltremor_100t_rev.wav) of the Earth from the Infrasound Laboratory at the University of Hawaii (ISLA) were used with the permission of David Fee. My thanks to ISLA for this permission and for showing me just how mighty the silence in stone can be!

Finally, I should like to thank Michael Alcorn for all his help throughout the process of writing this piece, particularly for his guidance (and patience!) while I began to learn Csound, which I used almost exclusively to create the electronic portion of this piece. Thanks are also due to Greg Beardsell and the Ulster Youth Choir for having commissioned this piece and for having performed it so well.