Transit Maps Vol. 1

Chicago CTA


 

Chicago was the fourth and perhaps most challenging piece to compose in volume 1. The first reason was the map itself. Several of the lines have a loop section in the downtown area, either going one way or the other way, but not both. This meant I had to be extra aware of which direction the line was going. While some of the lines were able to go back and fourth, the lines that went through the loop could go only one direction. This resulted in some confusion and rewrites as I structured the piece.

The other reason this piece was difficult was my method of composition. For Chicago, each transit station represented a modulation in a pre-composed piece of music. Rather than letting the transit map write the piece for me, I had to write a piece and then let the transit map determine what key or note set it was in. To minimize the difficulty of this, the only fully composed line ended up being the purple line while all the other lines were given percussion instruments and rhythms to follow. There are minor modulations in the percussion lines too, but they are less pronounced than the lead line.

Instrumentation was also tricky for this one. My original plan was to play the trumpet for the purple line, but that turned out to be a much loftier goal than I could handle with my rusty brass skills. (Perhaps someday I’ll hire a quality trumpeter to record the lead line and see how that sounds.) While recording this piece I was just starting to discover the joys of modular synthesis, so I used my Eurorack system to record the lead line and a few additional instruments, along with Chromaphone as usual for the rest of the lines. Since the purple line is so long, I gave it two different synth voices and switched back and forth between the two to keep the piece from getting too monotonous.

One thing fascinating about music is that it can be self-simplifying. In this case, the multitude of complex ideas become more of an atmospheric wall of sound when they are all brought together. When I hear this piece I feel like I’m flying a spaceship through some kind of static-electrical storm. The sound is constant, and you feel carried along by it, almost swept away. It’s jarring in places, but never truly unexpected once you get the feel of it.

 
chicago_comp_chart.png
 
This melody matrix helped me create two melodies that mirrored one another. All the melodic lines bounce back and forth between these two note sets. You can see that I often use solfege while composing, a useful artifact from my days in the Northwest Boys Choir.

This melody matrix helped me create two melodies that mirrored one another. All the melodic lines bounce back and forth between these two note sets. You can see that I often use solfege while composing, a useful artifact from my days in the Northwest Boys Choir.