Roundabout is inspired by Oaklin Davis’s graphic design created for this collaboration. I know this project was meant to be composed only for the pre-selected instruments, but naturally I went against the grain and wrote a work for fixed media. After meeting with Oaklin to talk about his inspiration, I wondered for weeks what I use for the theme of this work. I landed on the idea of taking what looks like circular trajectories around what I imagine to be a planet. I used the ideas of glissandi and constantly ascending / descending quarter-tone lines to depict what we see, and I combine the unfamiliar and unpredictable nature of the music with the familiarity of NASA and the space program in the 1960s and 1970s. Using real clips from NASA’s public domain collection of mission recordings, I tell a story in four parts: ascent, weightlessness, the iconic “Houston, we have a problem,” and descent back to Earth. Among those sounds we hear the famous beeps of “Sputnik”, which started the space race between The United States and the USSR. These beeps flutter in and out throughout the entire work to depict the machine that started it all. Most importantly, these beeps are juxtaposed with Neil Armstrong’s iconic “It’s one small step for man” speech and complimented by the only harmonic material in the piece. At first I thought I had unknowingly composed a piece with a golden section to it. After calculations of duration, it does not have one. (It would have been so cool, though!)
I chose the title “Roundabout” because the trajectories around the center sphere remind me of a traffic circle: this one having to do with humans leaving the planet and returning home in a constantly-staggered fashion during the Space Age. The final element of the work involves using binaural panning to create a three dimensional sound to the listener wherever they are in the audience or when wearing headphones. The constant rotation of sound also depicts the trajectories around the center sphere to always immerse the audience in an ever-changing sonic landscape.
Thanks go to Oaklin Davis for creating a beautiful piece of art - one that inspires me every time I think of it.