Rhythmanalysis I: New Brunswick

for string quartet and computer (2016)

Rhythmanalysis is a concept developed by philosopher Henri Lefebvre to analyze how the periodic sounds of urban spaces relate to the experience of a place. Rhythmanalysis I: New Brunswick for string quartet and computer, explores the soundscape of two locations in New Brunswick, NJ—Bettenbender Plaza, located on the Douglass campus of Rutgers University, home to the Mason Gross School of the Arts, and the intersection between George and Somerset streets downtown, across from the New Brunswick train station. Rhythmanalysis I: New Brunswick was commissioned by the Moevs family in honor of Robert Moevs, a student of Walter Piston and Nadia Boulanger and Professor of Music at Rutgers and Douglass College from 1964-1991.

Beginning with recordings of each location, sonographic analysis and music information retrieval (MIR) techniques are used to analyze timing, amplitude, and frequency information. This data is mapped to rhythm, pitch, and velocity in MIDI and used to generate a musical score for acoustic instruments. I then combine the instrumental part with sections of the original field recording, electroacoustic textures, and live processing, emphasizing the unique sonic characteristics of each recording site.

Bettenbender Plaza, Mason Gross School of the Arts

The first movement reflects the ebb and flow of student activity during the middle of a school day. Bettenbender Plaza is situated between a number of different academic buildings and performance facilities at Rutgers. Analysis of this location recording mapped patterns of movement and sound to moments of activity and stasis within the movement. The musical material is drawn from Moevs’ first string quartet, echoing the impact that the composer had on the musical vibrancy of Rutgers. Other elements include references to environmental sound, quotations from a wind ensemble rehearsal audible on the plaza, and excerpts from in-between movements from the archival recording of Moevs’ quartet.

New Brunswick Train Station

The second movement focuses on a busy intersection in downtown New Brunswick across from the train station, where trains, buses, cars, and pedestrians converge. This high-density urban center, designated as a “transit village” by the New Jersey Department of Transportation in 2005, encourages development that promotes “vibrant, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods where people can live, shop, work and play without relying on automobiles.” Incorporating motivic material from the first movement, the rhythms in this movement are determined by analyzing the location recording for passing vehicles. The beginning of this movement features unprocessed soundscape, with the sonification of passing vehicle data mixed in. Following this slow introduction, the string quartet plays a sped up, quantized version of this rhythm set against the backdrop of urban soundscape where the sounds of vehicles have been removed. Thus, the quartet embodies the sound of passing vehicles. The harmonic content of this movement is determined by the frequencies in the recording. Characteristic sounds from this location are mixed in, including a pedestrian warning siren, train bells, and emergency vehicles.

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