Natural Phenomena
Playlist / Notes
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  • Natural Phenomena Set 1 Nos. 1-5
    for Digital Piano (1995)

    1. Sonoluminescence
    2. The Dancing Venus of Galgenberg
    3. The Crab Nebula in Cygnus
    4. Cascades and Vortices
    5. Fly-By (Voyager II)

    Natural Phenomena Set 2 Nos. 1-6
    for Digital Piano (1996)

    1. Portrait of Charles Darwin Photographed Through the Eyelens of a Firefly
    2. Bioluminescence
    3. Archaebacteria
    4. Flora
    5. The Origin of Sex and Death
    6. Fauna

    Natural Phenomena Set 3 Nos. 1-6
    for Digital Piano (1994)

    1. Thought Experiments
    2. Hypothesis and Conclusion
    3. Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalists Climb Mt. Monadnock
    4. Soliton No. 1
    5. Symmetry
    6. Soliton No. 2

    Natural Phenomena Set 4 Nos. 1-5
    for Digital Piano (1995)

    1. Double-eyed Fish (Bathylychnops exilis)
    2. The Dark Surface of Pluto
    3. The Jesus Christ Lizard (B. bassiliscus)
    4. The Sargasso Sea
    5. Galaxy M51 in Canes Venatici (the Whirlpool)


    Music for Natural Phenomena Sets 1 - 4 is based on extramusical ideas exploring various natural phenomena ranging from subjects associated with astronomy and physics, to evolutionary biology, prehistory, and the brain.

    Events in our surrounding world are formed by coherent patterns of material and energy which are organized by natural forces. We tend to experience these events as discontinuous objects or processes. In contrast, the music is intended to provoke the listener to imagine events in the world as a series of discrete patterns, unique and independent, yet which occur sequentially and continuously in a variety of forms, at different times, and at different orders of magnitude and scale.

    Like many familiar processes in nature in which small independent elements become organized into larger entities, the music is intentionally combinatorial. Short musical sequences are generated independently of one another, then spontaneously combined to create larger structures and forms.


    Much of the music on this recording refers to phenomena which may require a definition. Others are self-evident and need no explanation.
    In Set No. 1, sonoluminescence refers to vibrating air bubbles trapped in a sound field which emit a blinking light as they expand and contract. These particles represent a true interaction of light and sound at an infinitesimal scale.

    The Dancing Venus of Galgenberg is a small figurine of a woman in an animated pose. This object is one of the first stone sculptures made by early humans. It was crafted 30, 000 years ago at a Paleolithic site near Krems, Austria.

    In Set No. 2, bioluminescence is the spontaneous emission of light by organisms such as a fireflies, some bacteria and fungi, and a variety of marine animals including the celebrated pony fish. The pony fish not only emits a glowing light from a small internal organ, but has a reflector located behind the light so that it shines in a specific direction. Bioluminescence probably originated 3 billion years ago as a response to the so-called oxygen holocaust. This was a major event in the ecological history of the Earth, in which 20 percent of the Earth's atmosphere suddenly changed from a carbon to an oxygen-based environment, allowing life to evolve as we know it. In recent times, much has been made of the American artist KJ’s ‘rendering’ of a ‘live’ fluorescent bunny. Working together, he and French biologist JK were able to introduce genetic material into the rabbit, so that it eventually glowed in the dark.

    Archaebacteria is an ancient form of single-celled organism found in extreme environments on Earth such as hot springs, volcanoes, and deep sea vents. Because of the unique characteristics of some of these organisms, which have been discovered in the deepest parts of the sea where there is a complete absence of light, archaebacteria as a taxonomic category has been considered by some scientists as a candidate for a separate Kingdom of life.

    Solitons are featured in Set No. 3. Solitons are unusual wave forms which tend to travel continuously through a medium. For example, a tidal bore is a soliton. Tidal bores are highly concentrated waves which may travel for miles down a narrow river or stream.

    Normally, waves spread-out, then disperse very quickly as the distance from their source increases. However, when the dispersion of the wave is exactly balanced by the tendency of the wave to narrow, the wave becomes focused, and will keep on going. In the case of the tidal bore, the wave maintains its narrow focus because the sides and bottom of the river provide just enough of a compressing force to counter the normal dispersion of the wave.

    Solitons may propagate in many different media, ranging from infinitesimal, to global and astrophysical. There are certain conditions in space in which quarks may form a soliton. Muscle movements in animals may involve solitons. The pumping action in a brain cell, and the unraveling of the two DNA strands during the genetic copying process are candidates. Other theories predict that solitons are related to movements at the center of a massive star, and can even be as large as several light years across.

    Boojums, compactons, fluxons, antikinks, and twists are all names for the types of solitons predicted in everything from supercooled fluids to empty space.

    In Set No. 4, the remarkable double-eyed fish has a normal pair of fish eyes looking outward in the usual way. In addition, a second set of eyes, which are embedded in the same wall as the main eyes, look straight downward, perhaps to defend against predators from below.

    The whip-shaped basilisk has been given the name Jesus Christ Lizard because of its ability to run on water. Living in the jungles of Central America, you might witness it upright on two legs skipping across the surface of a river. With each step, it slaps the water and strikes its foot down, creating an air-pocket, then moves into the next step on so-on, using the air-filled cavity to rapidly move itself across the surface of the water.

    The Sargasso Sea is a region of the North Atlantic Ocean, south of Bermuda and east of Florida, which is noted for its predominantly still waters. The name Sargasso, from the Spanish, means weed or kelp. The sea is characteristically congested with these weeds which continually converge in the peaceful basin due to the circular currents provided by the Gulf Stream.


    All of the music on this recording was generated by a computer from a set of microprograms which contain instructions for realizing the music. The instructions combine the simplest elements of musical texture (pitch, dynamics, duration, speed, rhythm, articulation, etc.) with basic structural elements (continuity, repetition, variation, and chord structures which are derived from the melodic flow of the music).

    Occasionally, melodic 'themes' are incorporated within the music. In some pieces, the themes are generated by the computer with a theme generator program, while in others they are freely composed. The themes are input into a data base where they are selected and modified automatically when the program is active. Some random variability is introduced in the program to provide structural coherence. The program then outputs the musical information in the form of MIDI data which controls the digital piano.

    The computer is programmed to select short, independent musical sequences or patterns, each with a unique musical identity. These mini-sequences, or sound-groups, complete in themselves and sometimes separated by silences, are then
    automatically combined within the program to form a coherent movement or short piece.

    The patterns which form the sequences are selected by the computer program from a set of musical options based on primary elements of musical texture, such as pitch, dynamics, duration, speed, rhythm, articulation, etc. These basic elements of texture, which transcend musical cultures, styles, or idioms, are combined to form various repeated patterns, ascending and descending patterns, rhythmic patterns, melodic patterns, varied and contrasting patterns, etc. Within a single piece, the program may select from over 100 different musical options.


    The digital piano is a commercially available Bosendorfer sample which has been modified by the composer to accommodate both aesthetic concerns and MIDI programming challenges.

    Although one cannot help but make the comparison, the digital piano is not intended to imitate or act as a substitute for a standard concert instrument. Rather it has been designed to function as a true digital instrument, possessing it's own unique qualities and character.