Pia Palme

GIB SIE WIEDER: a warning commentary on resonance

for harp and electronics

‘Outside’ performer: Rhodri Davies, ‘Inside’ the harp: Gabriela Mossyrsch, harp, Claudia Cervenka, voice, Pia Palme, sounds and noises

The title quotes a line from the German nursery rhyme ‘Fuchs du hast die Gans gestohlen’. The title line roughly translates as the command: ‘give her back again!’. A fox stole a goose and is urged to let go of the bird within the song, otherwise the fox will be hunted and shot. The song was published in 1824 under the title ‘A warning’.

Certain aspects of the notion of resonance led to the composition of this piece. Resonance is both an acoustic and a social concept. In acoustics, I was drawn to the fact that in the case of musical instruments a vibration is excited by an impulsive function – a finger pluck, a strike with a hammer, or an articulation with the tongue. An attack precedes a sound. An impulse theoretically contains all frequencies, it can be considered as a wideband noise excitation. The string picks out its resonant frequency from that noise, filtering out all other frequencies. There is a progression from noise to musical sound in a very short timespan.

Two harpists perform in the piece. Rhodri performs live on stage. The other harpist, Gabriela Mossyrsch, has been recorded performing in Vienna. Each of the two harps is tuned in a completely different microtonal scordatura.

While Rhodri’s part moves from noise to sound (as the acoustics of resonance suggest), the other harpist’s part develops into the opposite direction: from pitched sound (more precisely: feedback sounds) to noisy parts.

In my piece I want two harps to merge acoustically as much as possible. Here I use two vibration speakers placed directly on the soundboard of the harp on stage. Instead of a conventional sound system this facilitates a focused and intimate sonic experience. The vibration speakers excite the structure-born resonance of the harp. The sound heard comes directly from the instrument. The harp becomes a sonic object, a sound installation on stage. Furthermore, the electronic track is filtered by the resonance of the harp. Resonance and live performance radiate together and even interfere acoustically with each other in this setting, since the harp is a resonant instrument.

I composed the soundtrack with vocal recordings and further sounds/noises. Through experiments I found that a female voice sounds well from within the harp. The concept of a ‘remote’ feminine presence underlines the social implications of what I want to achieve. Social resonance describes a state of being when individuals engaged in face-to-face communication feel strongly connected (Susan Duncan, Amy Franklin, Fey Parrill, Haleema Welji). It has to do with emotion, openness and availability. Resonance covers qualities traditionally connected with women in a society.

In this piece, I work and play with this concept from a feminist composer’s point of view. My text reflects the notion of ‘forced resonance’ and poses the question: Can a string resonate out of free will? Does sound need resonance? Is resonance always forced?

Goose feathers not only point to the goose wanting to be free; they have been used to write and compose in earlier times, and now they can excite interesting sounds from the harp’s strings.

Pia Palme, 2014.

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