Shift is an electronic music composition which I started working on back in 1999. I set it aside for three years and then finally finished up work on it in 2002. The piece marks my transition to fragment-based composition and uses that technique to some degree.
Shift consists of two primary sections. It opens with a short gesture performed on a Minimoog synthesizer, (one of my favorite electronic instrument and one which is used heavily in this piece). This gesture ends in a drone which crossfades into a drone generated by a sample of a female voice. This voice sample is what the whole first section is based on. It's a sample which I recorded years ago, of a woman singing one long held note on a single pitch while gradually shifting through all of the vowel sound, (a, e, i, o, u - in that order). There was only one sample recorded. This means that when it is played at different pitch levels, it plays at different speeds, (ie, lower = slower, higher = faster).
The first section of the composition consists of various held notes, which are gradually added together from lowest to highest, building up to a high point of maximum density and then slowly reversing themselves back out, leaving a single sustained note at the end of the section. This simple form was articulated by selecting a low note, timing how long it took for the sample to play all the way through all of the vowel sounds at that pitch level, selecting the next highest note of the desired chord and placing it in time so that when the sample was played at that pitch level, it would come to it's end at the same point in time as the first note, then repeating the process for each note in the chord.
Each of the chord tones uses the same sample of the woman singing, and by holding one pitch and gradually shifting between vowel sounds, she is in fact gradually altering the relative amplitudes of the spectra of the note she is singing. The various chord tones being introduced from lowest to highest, staggered in time so that they all end together, creates a sweepy shifting effect, which sounds "electronic", but is actually a natural phenomena of the layered spectral shifts. A natural apotheosis occurs at the high point when the samples, playing at all of the different pitch levels, all end together, bringing there spectral shifts into temporal synchronicity.
This describes the first half of the first section. To create the second half, an audio recording was made of the samples building up the chord. This recording was then flipped backwards and subjected to extensive spectral manipulation in Digital Performer. This manipulation did not vary in real time. It was a fixed alteration. These two subsections of the chord building up and then building back down were then butted up against each other in the computer. There was an audible edit at the point where the two met, so I covered it with an arpeggio-like gesture played using the same sample of the woman's voice.
The second section starts to creep in under the tail end of the first section, beginning with a three note Minimoog ostinoto, and is joined by percussion, an electric bass and a jabbing little stereo delayed chord using a Minimoog sample. One thing that I really like about this section is that it successfully makes use of two independent bass parts that work together to re-enforce the groove. Once this groove is established, electronic string-like sounds are introduced and there's a Minimoog solo. The piece ends with a little more of the voice sample material from the first section.
Synthesizers and sampler