Elodie Lauten: Variations on the Orange Cycle for solo piano

Elodie Lauten's Variations on the Orange Cycle is included in Chamber Music America Magazine's CENTURY LIST (April 99), compiled by Frank Oteri, along with works of similar length by Steve Reich, John Adams, Alvin Singleton and Leo Ornstein.

Program notes by Elodie Lauten

Variations on the Orange Cycle is about the experience of time. It translates brain activity into music in 'real time' -- music inherent to the unfolding of time, mirroring a conscious experience of space-time. The starting point is the 24 hour cycle - the rotation of the earth - with its succession of phases of activity, leisure, transport, rest. The succession of days, both similar and different, is comparable to variations on a theme.

In the Orange Cycle, the traditional parameters of theme and variations are altered. The theme and variation are in a subjective to objective partnership. The four variations or phases refer to subjective modes of experience that occur at any point. The theme - objective - exists not as a melody but as unchangeable fact, a reality to be accepted just as the rotation of the earth. It is the most basic musical utterance, a fundamental tone.

In terms of melodic development, the Variations are an example of what I call UMI (Universal Mode Improvisation). The four phases are different treatments of the G fundamental: modal (phases 1 and 4), chromatic (phase 2) and polytonal (phase 3). In the chromatic mode, dynamic textures are superimposed to the fundamental in a bitonal framework. The polytonal mode explodes the textures into free form while holding the fundamental. This piece was composed in 1991 in New York, subsequently recorded in one take at Cedar Sound and later revised in 1995 to prepare for the New York premiere at Merkin Hall by Lois Svard.

In order to score the piece, I recorded my improvisation on computer via MIDI for automatic transcription. The advantage of this method is to retain the freshness and spontaneity of the original impulse. Because of the polyrhythmic combinations and the fast tempo of the input, (there was no way I could play the piece slowly without changing its feel) the first draft was incredibly complicated and I had to experiment with various computer editing techniques to bring the score to a point of readability without straying too far from not only the transcription but also the ideas in the original composition. Through this process, I resolved the problems inherent to notated improvisation, which can be inadequate - the piece is not a mere transcription, it is a reflected combination of transcribed improvisation and intentional notation.

The extreme accuracy of the quantization process can make computer-generated scores difficult to read, but Lois Svard was willing to take up the challenge. With sensitivity, dedication and virtuosity, she has developed her interpretation over time through many performances, and she has made the Variations her own. With her, my piano music has found an outstanding interpreter.

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© 2011 Elodie Lauten; designed by Henry Lowengard
update: Aug 28, 200