The Ra Expeditions is a musical work for fixed media that I composed in spring of 2014. The title comes from a particular transatlantic voyage of Thor Heyerdahl, in which he sailed Ra, a boat he made out of papyrus. The piece was created by recording various household, non-musical sounds, including the crumpling of paper (in homage to Heyerdahl’s papyrus boat), the dropping of coins, and the flicking of rubber bands. Each sound was edited by changing the pitch, equalization, reverb time, phasing, etc, creating a sound palette with which to compose. The challenge then was to organize the resultant sounds into a form that resembles music, through special attention to timbre and the layering of different sounds. The notion of using prerecorded, household sounds, and the formal emphasis on timbre can be traced back to the influence of electronic composers including Edgar Varese and Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as acoustic sound-mass composers like György Ligeti. In my presentation, I will explore the process of changing raw sounds into musical motives and discuss the historical movements that influenced this approach.
Stephen Smith, ’15
Sponsor: Aaron Perrine