Plain, Air: for string quartet and electronics

Tonia Ko (Photographer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


“Plain, Air” was commissioned by the Spektral Quartet with support from Chamber Music America. The work explores both the sounds of nature as well as our embodied experience of the great outdoors. It begins with a curated soundwalk for both the audience and most of the quartet members. Small knocking sounds emanating from both the stringed instruments and the speakers function as a signal to listen to the naturally occurring sounds on the path.

The second and third parts of the piece continue to excavate the meaning behind the two words making up the title: "plain" and "air". They distill direct impressions of the Openlands Lakeshore site, as well as the geology of the surrounding areas. First, there is the expansive grassy prairie that defines the American Midwest, but also the flat, seemingly infinite surface of Lake Michigan. Extending from the physical "plain" is musical plainchant and the quality of simplicity. Next, the music conjures the capricious breezes that whip around the shoreline and also imagines creatures flying in the air, while singing their individual "airs", or songs.

At around the halfway point, the focus shifts inward, toward the places where animals make their homes. One particular recording features crickets singing at dusk and their hocketing texture. When the sample is slowed down to a lower, vocal pitch range, a deeper world of expression opened up—especially the crickets' connection with bird songs, with whom they seemingly share a certain "secret language" of nuanced stutters and repeated notes.

The "nature sounds" heard in the electronics part are taken from personal field recordings. They were collected over several years at various artist residencies (the Djerassi Resident Artist Program and Pocantico Center for the Arts in particular), where stunning natural environments were explored in relative solitude, unknowingly researching the very premise of this piece.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOpenlands Lakeshore Preserve
Size45 minutes
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2018
EventOpenlands Lakeshore Preserve: world premiere - Chicago, United States
Duration: 15 Sept 2018 → …

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