what the thunder said

In 2003, I was invited by members of the New San Francisco Tape Music Center to compose a multichannel piece for a night they were curating at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival 2003: east meets left.

In response, I composed a sixteen-channel piece titled What the Thunder Said, which premiered on Sunday, July 27, 2003.

I was honored to have the opportunity to 'diffuse' a multichannel work at the festival — the Center specializes in presenting multichannel compositions through carefully-positioned arrays of several dozen speaker; when work is 'diffused' live, the composer or playback engineer uses the mixing board as an instrument during playback, guiding specific sounds around the room on the fly.

An accomplished diffuser can thread multiple sounds simultaneously along their own independent trajectories, much like a pianist gives each voice in a fugue its own identity.



the other rooms
gauntánamo express

desert sun

the other side
on top of the world
what the thunder said
san francisco sauvignon

would you, would you?
invisible cities
deep creatures
vincent fecteau
monkey pod

Rhino, Terrai mist, Multichannel Harmony

Like all my work, What the Thunder Said is based on one of my stereo field recordings (in this case, on a single recording); I subdivided the source recording in my studio into many frequency bands, which were distributed spatially around the room. For the festival, I ended up diffusing eight channels, the maximum supported by the system used at the time.

Each of the voices you hear emerging at the beginning of the piece was located in a different part of the room; it was only when the unfiltered source recording emerges several minutes in that a unified soundscape emerged to fill the room.

I was particularly pleased to be able to route the thunder in this piece to speakers mounted above the audience in the ceiling.

Pending a ubiquitous multi-channel internet audio format, I'm providing only a two-channel mix down here.


what the thunder said11 MB

'What the Thunder Said reconstructs a ten-minute field recording I made in Chitiwan National Park in the Terai of southern Nepal in 2001. The Terai is flat, hot, dry jungle at the northern end of the Gangetic plateau; my wife and I walked it on a several-day tour of the park, which is famous for its population of Bengal tigers, rhinos, sloth bears, and birds.

The piece dissects ten minutes I spent recording grumbling thunder over the forest. Primarily through selective filtering and slight delays, I whittled away at my recording with the intention of catching the moment as it was, of catching myself as I was: standing in a clearing, late on a hot spring afternoon, hoping for a glimpse of something too elusive, tuned to the complaints of the low silver sky and the pulsing insects all around.

Frans de Waard recently wrote of my work, "Quiet American makes very long pieces, in which not much happens." But I ask you to listen for ten minutes, the time I stood silent to make the original recording.' (Original program notes, SFEMF 2003)

You can hear an excerpt of the original source recording here. Whence the name.