The Bohlen-Pierce Symposium
First symposium on the Bohlen-Pierce scale, Boston, March 7 – 9, 2010
Roads: Purity

Curtis Roads: Purity (1994)

Purity is one movement of my composition Clang-tint. The point of origin of Clang-tint can be traced to December 1990, following a visit to an installation of photography by the Starn twins at the Akron Museum of Art. These works combined large prints and transparencies with wood, tape, and metal to create three-dimensional sculptures. Several aspects of this work struck me. These artists integrated “sampled” (photographed) imagery with unusual materials and innovative methods of construction. The unconventional bending, cutting, and framing techniques “spatialized” their photography in three dimensions.
In the hour following my departure from the gallery, I conceived a detailed design for a new composition. It would apply certain aesthetic concepts that I experienced in the gallery to the realm of sound. The primary source material for the composition would include sonic “photographs” or sampled sounds, as well as synthetic electronic signals. The spatial architecture of the work would be intimately bound with its inner form.
The piece would be organized in four contrasting movements, each concerned with a specific theme, and each with its own sound materials. The themes that I chose were: Purity, Filth, Organic, and Robotic.
Shortly after this experience, I received a commission for a composition from the Japanese Ministry of Culture and the Kunitachi College of Music. I decided that the realization of this new work, Clang-tint, would be an ideal project for the commission. Parts of the work were composed during residencies in Tokyo in 1991 and 1994, as well as my studio in Paris.
Purity is the first movement of Clang-tint. It explores a simple musical world of sinusoidal waves and harmonies derived from a microtonal scale. It begins with a contemplative section, as if played on an organ. Over time, this material transforms into a vast open territory of sine wave arcs, echoing in space.
Purity took over a year to complete. I spent much of this time exploring the harmonic possibilities of the Bohlen-Pierce scale. This is a spiraling 13-tone scale, which cycles at the 3:1 ratio instead of the usual 2:1 octave. I was attracted to the expressive potential of this scale, which is both more sweet and more sour than the common equal-tempered scale.
The piece premiered at the Kunitachi school in April 1994. The French premiere took place in December of that year at the Messiaen Auditorium of Radio France using 48 loudspeakers of the Acousmonium sound projection system of the Groupe de Recherches Musicale.

Download pdf of presentation.