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Orchestrated Ragas (MP3)

An Alarm Will Sound commission by Asha Srinivasan

Alarm Will Sound follows, as do So Percussion and Eighth Blackbird, among other economically proportioned ensembles, along the admirable path that Kronos Quartet helped pave, in that it actively engages with composers to produce new works. Alarm Will Sound frequently posts the resulting audio, such as a series of pieces that had their live debuts at the Mizzou New Music Summer Festival, part of the new music initiative at the University School of Music. Most recent among these is a 2012 performance of a piece by Asha Srinivasan. Composed for chamber orchestra, the work, titled “Svara-lila,” builds drama and portent out of Indian ragas.

The performance was recorded on July 28 of last year. Srinivasan is an Assistant Professor of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. She writes of “Svara-Lila”:

The title, composed of two Sanskrit words, “svara”meaning musical note and “lila”loosely meaning play, refers to methods of manipulation of an 8-note pitch collection, which is derived from a conflation of two closely related Indian modes (ragas). More than just notes in a scale, a raga traditionally evokes strong emotions and moods. The exceedingly lovely and expressive ragas used to form my pitch collection are generally associated with sadness and longing. Thus, the piece begins with an expansive, slow progression of dissonant harmonic sonorities that explore various intervallic relationships within the pitch collection. Simultaneously, the top notes of the progression form the basis of a recurring modal theme that guides the entire structure of the piece. As the slow and dramatic growth unfolds, the modal nature of the pitch collection is gradually revealed through increasingly active melodic and rhythmic gestures. The piece remains harmonically driven to the very end when the previously unresolved main theme returns in full force only to have its final resolution undermined by achingly conflicting sonorities whose colliding dissonances linger in the air to the last moment, denying the much anticipated release.

That description comes from the website she shares with her composer husband, Andrew Seager Cole, twocomposers.org. Among the subjects Srinivasan teaches is electronic music, and if you look through the “works” section of the site you’ll be treated to samples of numerous works that employ a mix of standard orchestral instrumentation in addition to electronics, as well as an experiment with SuperCollider, among them a kickstarter.com tuba project that surpassed its $5,500 goal thanks to an impressive 113 backers.

Track originally posted for free download at soundcloud.com/alarm-will-sound. More from Alarm Will Sound at alarmwillsound.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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