Welcome to Volcano, an immersive sonic experience by Nina Danon and Francesco Cassino, with cello performances by Lily Hope.
The first iteration of Volcano, for loudspeakers and vibrating floor, wil be presented on the 21/01/2023 at the Attenborough Arts Centre, as part of the Aural Diversity Workshop 5.
Volcano takes the audience on a multi-sensory journey to the centre of the earth. Inspired by the magnificent volcanic cavern Algar do Carvão in the Azores, the piece is constructed to musically evoke the shapes, colours, textures and tactile sensations experienced when descending into this ancient volcano, bringing to life the rich geological history of the island of Terceira.
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Dynamics in the piece range from extremely quiet to loud. All changes are very gradual, and there are no sudden loud sounds.
The piece predominantly focuses on low and mid-range frequencies, but it does contain some higher frequencies as well. The frequency range of the piece is:
Sounds are based on different cello playing techniques, some used as recorded and others modified electronically. The majority of the piece consists of layers of sounds, varying in density.
The various textures encountered in the piece could be described as raspy, airy, misty, busy, pulsating, grainy, bubbly.
The following is a description of the piece in linear order, which is what you will experience if listening from start to finish via headphones or online. The sound installation on the other hand does not have a beginning or end: the piece is playing in a loop, with no interruptions, so you might join at any point from the following piece.
Introduction: Misty Approach to the Volcano; Ferns
The music starts with a soft low pulsating drone and a raspy windy sound. From this, a distant misty atmosphere emerges, with a mysterious three notes motif hidden between different layers of airy string sounds. These gradually become rougher, and brushy sounds from the bow "frottant" against the strings of the cello contribute to create a tactile sensation that amplifies the internal perceptions of tremolos. These tremolos grow stronger and faster, until the piece takes a different turn.
Rock Formations & The Voice of the Volcano
We are now surrounded by minor melodic fragments played on the cello, juxtaposed to form different layers, reminiscent of the way a melody feels when still in the mind of the musician, when it hasn't yet fully taken a definite shape. The fragments swirl around each other, until a low pulse interrupts them.
A dense and busy texture with a pulsating low frequency drone, a dark rumbling sound which vibrates and evolves very slowly.
Then this thick wall of sound opens up and dissipates, leaving room to an expressive cello solo, playing through the melodic fragments heard earlier in a free improvisation. The solo alternates fast patterns with a slow melody with large intervals, a sinuous contour with a lot of resistance between notes, pulling the melody up and down.
The melody is surrounded by a soft and grainy atmosphere
Underwater Worlds: The Birth of the Volcano
The next section is a dense layer of sounds that evolves very slowly. Its spine is composed of slow cello glissandi gestures tracing different shapes that have been slowed down and transposed to a lower range, and the textures encountered here have sinuous and floating qualities, reminiscent of an underwater world. Low rumbling sounds and higher pitched metallic ones answer each other, with sandy and scratchy elements adding to the soundscape.
Towards the end of this sequence, airy melodic fragments can be heard in the rumble. It is the same motif we heard in the introduction, and a low stretched and transposed cello melody can be now heard playing it in full in the bass. This is a gentle and calmer melody. More optimistic than the previous one, its shape is a gentle caress made of smaller intervals like small waves.
The dense texture of the underwater world gives room to faster cello patterns in a mid and high range, overimposed to create the impression of water currents and waves. They play against each other, creating aleatoric polyrhythms and polymers, unintended gestures. The fully fledged melody can now be heard as a soft distant echo. As the watery texture gets more agitated and bubbly, the melody, now played in octaves, becomes more prominent. A low drone accentuates the harmony, as fast trills and tremolos agitate the texture and rise the intensity in a slow crescendo. This cultimates in the melody now being played at a higher octave, and the pedal note changing to create a more suspended feeling.
The see of sounds calms down and makes way to a suspended airy chord made out of cello harmonics. Distant echoes of the melody can be heard, as the chord gradually dissolves into silence.