Cartesian Rainbow

(2017) 10' / for percussion solo
 
Instruments
5 pieces of wood tuned within a fourth (400¢)
1 piece of wood to saw into
1 piece of wood to hammer into (could be the same usedfor the saw)
1 pail of water
1 container (tub, shallow cardboard box, i.e.) with gravel to walk in
1 saw
1 hammer
1 large nail

The five pieces of wood could be logs, pieces of lumber, sticks, wood blocks, xylophone or marimba bars, etc. The upper and lower piece of wood should be tuned 400¢ apart, with the three other pieces distributed freely in between. The gravel should be of a light grade, so that the sound of walking in it is fairly continuous and somewhat uniform.

The spoken text – names of specific colors – may be translated to and spoken in a language more natural for the performer and/or more easily understood by the audience. The emphasis of the words in another language should follow the emphasis of the English words as notated, adding extra syllablesbefore or after the beat if necessary.

Cartesian Rainbow was commissioned by Louisa Marxen with the support of the UBS Kulturstiftungand premiered by her on the 18th of January, 2018 in Gare du Nord, Basel, Switzerland.

Composer's note

While looking for a text to punctuate the percussive continuum of what was later to be called Cartesian Rainbow, I came across René Descartes’ explanation of how rainbows are formed (Discours de la méthode, 1647) and was inspired to investigate the color spectrum more closely. I was surprised to see how imaginative the names of colors are; for example, there is a shade of blue called “azure radiance”, or the name “electric lime” is used for a bright green. By comparison, the labels for tone color are bland and cumbersome, such as “contrabassoon, contra-Bb in fortissimo” or “french horn, middle-c, stopped, in pianissimo”. Once again, the eye triumphs over the ear—no wonder the saying is “a picture is worth a thousand words”. The text spoken by the percussionist lists the colors of the rainbow and colors found with equidistant frequency before or between them: [Rosewood, guardsman red], red, orange, [blaze orange], yellow, [electric lime, chartreuse, bright green], green, [cyan, dodger blue, azure radiance, blue ribbon], blue, [electric violet, pigment indigo, ripe plumb, pompadour], indigo, violet. – Mike Svoboda, December 2017

 

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