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Peter M. Armstrong (2012/9/28)
|Work Title||CTT-95: Bus Ride over a Bach Bass|
|Composer||Armstrong, Peter McKenzie|
|Year/Date of CompositionY/D of Comp.||2012|
|Average DurationAvg. Duration||2 minutes|
|Composer Time PeriodComp. Period||Modern|
|Instrumentation||Digital quartet: steel drums, 2 xylophones, cello pizz.|
Circumstances obliged me recently to take a bus -- the CTTransit local from Hartford's Constitution Plaza,
across the Connecticut River and south to Glastonbury. The ride would have gone unremarkably, had not
something just before made me unusually vulnerable to distraction. A conversation, calling to mind the Air
from Sebastian Bach's D-major Orchestral Suite, had sparked an irresistible urge to run this sublime music
through my head. Soon more irresistible, however, was the lurching bus's cacophony of whines, rumbles
and squeaks. My urge went down in defeat, and I vowed revenge: to concoct a musical busride powerless
against JSB's Air. Back home, after a frenzy measuring Rand McNally and tinkering with Merriam Webster
syllabications, a strategy emerged, which I summarize here to describe the outcome.
Taking as point of departure the Air's 4-part layout: replace main melody (Violin I) with
a rattletrap engine (steel drums); preserve fully the original bass line (Continuo); move
inner-voice ranges (Violin II, Viola) to the outside instead (two xylophones, one too low
to exist) for squeaks and rumbles respectively.
Derive content entirely from the names of streets, taken in two groups: those driven on
(18, coincidentally the number of bars in the Air), and those intersected (~70 total, on L
or R only or on both). Map these names to the chromatic scale by spelling and to meter
by their relative syllabic stresses. Set each Group-1 (drums) phrase as a single voice
interating perpetually once per beat, each time parrot-whipped by its inversion. Set each
Group-2 (xylophone) phrase as a voice pair, sounding once only, painfully augmented.
Apply global controls as follows. Move the engine's tessitura to parallel the bus's north-
eastern height (see map). Vary tempo, slightly but often, with the relative stop-to-stop
distances. Scale with complementary fractions to make the engine's "perpetual" beats
seldom in fact quite equal. As its tessitura attempts dangerous heights, down-shift the
stressed engine via transposing canon. And through all, ensure that the Air's bass line,
while not unaffected by tempo instability, proceeds unperturbed to completion.
The score, while not humanly playable or performance-speed readable, has served to auto-sequence for
MIDI and to discipline my efforts. Its dedicatee, please note, I made up, with an extra character honoring
August Emil Daniel Ferdinand Wilhelmj, the nineteenth-century violinist who commandeered this Air to
immortalize his G string.
Challenge to the Listener: Can you imagine, perhaps hum, the Air melody -- from memory, of course, and
in sync with its sounding bass here -- without losing track?