Composition Department

Recordings

The Music of John Gibson

Thrum

Fixed media, stereo sound

Finalist Prize, Bourges 26th International Electroacoustic Music Competition, 1999

Available on CDCM, Vol. 29, Music from the Virginia Center for Computer Music, released by Centaur Records (CRC 2454)

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I began work on Thrum by recording a wide range of sounds played on my acoustic guitar. As I worked with this material, I started to explore a continuum between natural plucks and their radical transformations and synthetic counterparts. I shaped these sounds into contrasting scenes. The first establishes a brisk pulse that forges ahead until it suddenly collapses. The focus shifts to a sustained, raspy bass — a magnified image of the lowest guitar string. A dreamy, swirling texture eventually washes over this. The initial pulse then returns with a percussive twist, and the piece ends with memories of the opening, submerged by a relentless low roar.

Many of the guitar textures were created by a virtual player implemented in RTcmix, a scriptable package of programs for processing and synthesizing audio in real time. The virtual player reads short guitar samples and sprays them across the stereo field to create a pulsed repetitive texture. The player program incorporates probabilities that govern sample selection, attack timing, pitch bending and mixing. The result sounds almost like a real guitar player, but certain compositional decisions intentionally work against this impression. My aim is to create a music that balances human qualities against the regularity of machines.

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