Mat Campbell Music

Composer. Arranger. Conductor. Percussionist. Educator.

Supercell


Supercell was never supposed to happen. On the Sunday night before my composition recital (3 days before), I received a phone call from a colleague and dear friend that was programmed to perform two pieces on my recital. He told me that he wouldn't be comfortable doing so, and I said that it was fine. Maybe it was because I gave him music too late. (I've done that way too many times in the past, but I've learned in the past few years.) I instantly went into panic mode because that meant I had four pieces off my program. I was fine with the first two not making it onto the final draft of the program, but these last two added up to 11 minutes. This took my comfortable 45-minute recital to 34 minutes. I knew that I didn't prepare all this material and get the hall for the university's first composition recital for just a half-hour time slot. That night, I talked to Iris about what to do, and she so-brilliantly suggested to me that I play an electronic piece on my recital. [Side note: We had recently gone to a potpourri recital for composers on the UTRGV Edinburg campus and listened to an incredible electronic work.] I decided to go that route, but nothing that I already had would have really fit the bill. I wanted something new. Something different, after all my recital was called Paradigm Shift... That night, I couldn't sleep for an hour because I was trying to figure out what kind of atmosphere I wanted to create. Around the 2:00 AM mark, I finally decided to create an aural thunderstorm for my recital. I knew it would take a long time and quite a bit of effort on my part, but I knew I needed to make it happen. 

Monday and Tuesday found me at the busiest point in my semester. Monday, I had two concerts with the wind ensembles I perform with. Tuesday, another concert with the school's Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble. During the days, countless rehearsals for my recital and for the upcoming concerts. (Note that I was just coming off helping at the UTRGV Brownsville Marimba Festival for the previous two days.)

After editing the parts to new(er) counterpoint the night before my recital at 3:00 AM, and all I wanted to do was sleep, I started researching what thunderstorms were made of to find a title for this piece. I was on Wikipedia. (I'm sure you use it, too.) Maybe it was subconscious or I didn't realize that I saw it in my sleep-deprived state. The word 'supercell' popped in my head. I knew that had to be the title. It was catchy enough that I could create the atmosphere I wanted while simultaneously depicting the storm in my life at the time. From 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM on May 4, 2016, I created Supercell through use of Logic Pro X and Virtual Drumline 2.5. I swear there are about 8 different tracks of each of the following: thunder-sheets, concert bass drums, and rainsticks. I also threw in crickets, air raid sirens, and various wind chimes for ambience. The piece evolves through three parts. The first part starts off with wind chimes in the distance. Thunder grows and comes at the listener from first the right, and then all sides. The ambient noises add in for more texture while the storm starts to sweep over the imaginary landscape from the right side. The first sound of the sirens bring in the second section, where thunder and rain are heavy. The storm is almost entirely over at this point, and sounds come from all directions. The second sound from the sirens bring in the third section with low tremolo strings coupled with a warm and textured synth pad. A melody from the chimes and piano appear out of nowhere and gives the piece a meditative atmosphere. The melody evaporates over time and leaves nothing but subdued thunder and rain. The rain subsides, but traces of thunder are heard coming from the left side. It eventually dissipates as the storm fades into the distance. 

Program Notes: Supercell is loosely based on the idea of Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima by Krzysztof Penderecki. Instead of sound masses with melodic instruments, I decided to use more sonorous sounds to create a unique effect. Same idea, different sounds. The theme is more accessible to the listener, especially because all of us have experienced a thunderstorm. The piece is presented in three sections: ambient and growing thunder, heavy thunder and heavy rain, and intense storm with melody. Each section is separated by air raid sirens. 

Instrumentation: antiphonal speakers (at least six)

In order to create the desired effect, I had four speakers put around the audience and two in front. At the world premiere, the venue I had used many speakers, so it got quite loud. It was very similar to actually being outside in a severe thunderstorm. (Don't actually go outside in a severe storm, though...)