November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and for the past three years or so I've used that as an excuse to cofound “Creativity November” among my friends in Norman. The rules are simple: Like NaNoWriMo, during the month of November you must start and complete a creative work of your choosing. The planning can occur before November, but the actual work has to take place during the month. If the work is completed by the time we meet for our annual December Third meal, you win. If you don't finish, you owe the rest of the participants a cake.
My project this year was a piece I created the title first (Tempest in a Teakettle), and recorded my stove for an abnormally long time. And my teakettle. I already had a good number of water and storm noises from across the country, and the bulk of the work was just whipping fairly tame storms into an epic tempest. And then I ran a storm siren through a granular sampler and annoyed my neighbors. The resulting eight-minute piece is my first in four-channel surround, and I'm pretty happy with it.
Of course, like many of my recent pieces, I asked Walter Jordan for a program note, and he delivered a beautiful one.
‘Tempest in a Teakettle’ uses a common household scene to explore the universal feeling of watching small problems grow. As the title suggests, we often minimize these problems, and are left watching and waiting as they compound silently within us. ‘Waiting’ is explored in several ways throughout, and uses the medium to augment these daily dramas until we will allow ourselves to view them center-stage.
As the piece begins, we listen to the ritual of a kettle being filled and placed on a stove. The ring of metal and the hiss of the burner are stretched into storm winds as the listener is drawn down into the kettle. Where we were waiting for the kettle to boil, we are now waiting for the approaching rain.
Pressure builds, and a palette of familiar storm sounds beat against the sonic space, ushered in by the tornado siren which will haunt the background. The tempest is in full force, even though it is built of milder layers: light rains and distant thunder recorded across the United States layered on top of one another until they slosh from one side of the space to the other. A feeling as familiar on the plains as on the coast, we are now waiting for the storm to pass.
The siren, which has since been drowned out in the wind and rain, reasserts itself. The wail is distorted and layered into shifting harmonies, striking a balance between a lull and a claxon. Through these elements, we explore the sense of obsession that comes from being kept constantly on alert. Fears become disassociated and aimless, until only the waiting itself remains. We are waiting—now that the storm is over—for whatever comes next.
In perfect time to interrupt the cycle, the tea kettle set to boil at the start begins to whistle. The pinging inside as it is removed from the heat echoes that of rain on a tin roof, heard earlier. Just like the sonic manipulations alter and extend the soundscape of the piece, the unease of waiting blurs the sense of scale between the tempest and the teakettle.
And the abbreviated note:
The title suggests the small problems we consider on a daily basis, waiting as they build within us. ‘Waiting’ is explored in several ways throughout, and uses the medium to augment these daily dramas until we will allow ourselves to view them center-stage.
After being introduced to the teakettle in which we’ll be experiencing the storm, the noise of rain and wind quickly begin to fill the sonic space. Soft rains and distant thunder churn over one another in a tempest, finally giving way to cautious harmonies fashioned from the wail of a storm siren. Through these elements, we explore the sense of obsession that comes from being kept constantly on alert. We wait for the storm, wait for it to pass, and are waiting for what comes next.
Just as soon, the sirens fade, and a full kettle has come to boil while we were preoccupied. As the sonic manipulations alter and extend the soundscape of the piece, the unease of waiting blurs the sense of scale between the tempest and the teakettle.
Program notes by Walter Jordan