received from chris brown on aug 16 1995 copyright 884w

[Cabrillo program notes]

ALTERNATING CURRENTS (1983-4) for an orchestra of 43 instruments and 3 soloists was written in 1983 on commission by Kent Nagano for the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. The piece is essentially a triple concerto for bass trombone, acoustic percussion, and electroacoustic instruments. In 1984 the solo parts were substantially revised, and a "chamber" version with synthesized orchestra was prepared for subsequent performances at the New Music America Festival in Hartford, and at the Sonesta Koepezaal in Amsterdam. This is the first performance of the completed score with orchestra.

Like most of my music, Alternating Currents is concerned with exploring new combinations of acoustic and electronic sounds, and with structural paradigms drawn from my work with electronic music instruments and acoustics. The title refers not only to flow of electricity, but also to several types of musical motion which define the piece's formal structure. The most apparent of these is the movement of sound through space. The orchestra is seated in a long double line across the stage, rather than in its usual semi-circular arrangement, and the piece is scored so that sounds ripple back and forth along this line. This motion is imitated by the electro-acoustic instruments, which accomplish the same effect by automatic panning between the speakers. The speed of these waves of sound increases as the piece progresses, until an almost instantaneous antiphony is heard by the end of the work.

Similarly, the rhythmic and timbral design of the interlocking solo parts traces oscillating patterns between the extremes of density and spaciousness, between long and short cycles of beats, and between extremely restricted, focussed timbres and widely varying ones. The tonal plan of the piece also follows a pendulum-like motion. It begins on B and progresses by moving upwards in fifths through seven keys to F. In the second section of the work, the tonality moves again by fifths, but oscillates around F as a center in ever widening excursions at its extreme touching B again, and then collapsing with smaller excursions back to the center. The final section is a mirror image of the harmonic progression of the first, moving downwards from F, through Bflat, Eflat, Aflat, Dflat, Gflat, to B.

In addition to the bass trombone and percussion soloists, I am performing electroacoustic instruments that I designed and built. The Midi-keyboard plays samples from an instrument I built in 1981 called the Gazamba, which was essentially a prepared electric piano in which percussive tone generators are struck by a mechanical action, and their sounds amplified with electromagnetic and piezoelectric pickups. "The Wing" is a sheet of amplified metal with tuned bronze rods which are bowed or struck to create shimmering, elongated tones. The electronic circuitry I am using for panning and processing the instruments under computer control I have recently made for another piece Lava, a commission by the Gerbode Foundation for 8 instruments and electronics to be premiered this autumn in San Francisco.


Chris Brown (b.1953) San Francisco based composer, pianist, and electronic instrument builder, studied composition with William Brooks, electronic music with Gordon Mumma at the Univ. of California/Santa Cruz (A.B. 1974), and computer music with David Rosenboom (M.F.A. Mills College 1985). He currently teaches Composition and Electronic Music at Mills College in Oakland, where he is Co-Director for the Center for Contemporary Music (CCM).

Chris Brown's music is known for its unusual sonorities derived from new electroacoustic instruments he has invented ("Alternating Currents", 1983); the use of live, interactive electronics to extend the sonorities of traditional acoustic instruments ("Iceberg", 1985 and "Hall of Mirrors", 1987); the contrast between mechanical qualities of automated electronic sound environments and the spontaneity of free improvisation ("Snakecharmer", 1986); and for applications of new technology in performance that change the roles of musicians to each other and to their audience ("Role'm", 1988 , "Chain Reaction", 1990, and "Wheelies", 1992).

Chris Brown has performed his music throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe, including at five different New Music America Festivals, at the STEIM Symposium on Interactive Composition in Amsterdam, the Bourges Festival of Electroacoustic Music in France, the Taktlos Festival in Switzerland, the Moers Festival, and for West Deutsche Rundfunk in Cologne. Other recent performances have included Composer's Forum in New York, LACE in Los Angeles, a collaboration with the new music ensemble Relach‚ in Philadelphia, and duo concerts with William Winant at Kunstmuseum, Bern and the University of California/San Diego.

He has received commissions for works from the Berkeley Symphony, the Rova Saxophone Quartet (supported by a Meet the Composer/Reader's Digest grant), and most recently from the Gerbode Foundation for an evening length work for brass, percussion, and electronics._________________________ He performs improvisational electronic music with the ensemble ROOM (with Larry Ochs, William Winant, and Scot Gresham-Lancaster) and computer-network music with THE HUB.

Chris Brown has recorded a solo CD for Artifact Recordings "Snakecharmer" in 1989, and as a collaborator on "The Hub - Computer Network Music" a CD release also on Artifact. His music is also featured on "Room", the debut album for this group, which was released in 1989 by the Sound Aspects label in Germany; a new release by ROOM entitled "Hall of Mirrors" is also forthcoming on the Music & Arts label in July 1992.