The Devouring Shore

Commissioned by nief-norf

Commissioned by nief-norf, The Devouring Shore is a work for percussion quartet and generative electronics. The players and loudspeakers surround the audience to create an immersive, endlessly evolving sonic environment of noise, pitch, and whispered text.

I think of this piece as a sort of ceremony of oblivion, a litany of everything that could (or should) be forgotten. Perhaps this was a strange, early attempt at meditating on impermanence... In any case, The Devouring Shore falls into a category of pieces I've written–USINE is another example–that blur the distinction between installation and performance. I'm interested in music that doesn't require the listener to be present from the beginning–or at the end–in order to have a satisfying experience.

Each of the four performers plays from laptops that are controlled by a fifth laptop via a private wireless network. The performers also have arrays of resonant metal objects, "found" objects, and drums. They receive instructions from the laptops regarding when to play what, and in what manner. The laptops also generate text for the players to whisper while playing. The texts are generated based on the following gramatical template:

The [adjective] [sg. or pl. noun] must be forgotten.

Each performance of the piece will result in different texts being generated. Here are a few examples:

The swifter magnets must be forgotten.     
The journeying purity must be forgotten.   
The heroic atlases must be forgotten.     
The bad spells must be forgotten.     
The sadder listeners must be forgotten.

Because the players are instructed to play a note or object on each syllable of the text, their natural speech rhythms guide their performance on the instruments.
The control laptop also generates layers of harmony, noise, and drones that constantly emerge and disappear throughout the performance. The piece has no specified duration and could conceivably be played without interruption for many hours. The text generator alone can produce millions of unique sentences.

The present version is the premiere performance given by nief-norf during their summer festival at Furman University on 27 May 2014. Many thanks to Evan Chapman for the recording.