Into the Desert 3rd take

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I’ve been taking 4 passes through each of the pieces, and then listening to them to see which one has the best presentation of the key ideas. I’ve grown fond of take 3 in tonights walk through the Mercer Island forest. Damp, swampy, cold. Not at all like the desert. But this take captures the key focus. The sun is the short bent springs. The percussion is the relentless footsteps. The long springs are the threats that will not go away.

Into the Desert


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The next piece is to be used as the backdrop for crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert. From the Wiki, we can read:

* August 30, 1846: The Donner Party reaches Redlum Spring, the last source of water before the dry drive begins, then sets out to cross the Great Salt Lake Desert.

* September 1, 1846 (?): On the third day in the desert, the water runs out. That night, the Reeds’ thirsty oxen run off, never to be found; the Reeds take a few things and set out on foot.

* September 3, 1846 (?): The emigrants finish the five-day journey across the eighty-mile desert, which Hastings had said was half as wide. They have lost 36 head of cattle, half of them Reed’s, and four wagons have to be abandoned. They spend the next week at the foot of Pilot Peak recuperating from their ordeal, hunting for cattle, and caching their possessions.

It was very dry out there, I’m sure. This piece is scored for bent piano wires of various dimensions and appearance, amplified by magnetic transducers and sampled; my contact microphone wooden dry percussion board; a few orchestral cymbals; and samples from Jay C. Batzner’s Mancala Samples. They’re the ones that sound like a rattlesnake of sorts. The tuning is based on the utonality, but the samples are so enharmonic as to render the tuning moot.

Echo Canyon

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Today’s work is in support of the scene when the Donner’s are told that they basically have to hack their own path through the Wasatch Mountains. The Hastings Cutoff is bogus, and they are told to send someone ahead for further instructions.

The music is more like space lounge music, with little resemblance to the scene of the movie. Oh well. It’s based on the utonality to the 15 limit, modulating to new keys by steps of the otonality. In the chart at the right (click it to enlarge), the utonality goes up and to the left, the otonality up and to the right.

We start in the bottom row C Ab F D+ B- Gb E- D-, then move up to E, then G, then Bb.

The piece is scored for Alto Flute, Vibraphone, Finger Piano, Tuba, French Horns, Trombones, dry spring percussion, and some other percussion samples. Enjoy the utonalicious triademonium.

Inside Echo Canyon

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Alto Flute, Vibraphone, Tuba, Finger Piano in a minor key, going in opposite directions.

At the Mouth of Echo Canyon

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August 6, 1846: The Donner Party stops at the mouth of Echo Canyon; Hastings has left a note for them, warning them that the road ahead is impassable and instructing them to send someone ahead to get instructions. James Reed and two others set out following the wagons tracks of Hastings’ group.

Hasting’s Cutoff – take three

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I’ve added a flute and oboe part, and also balloon drums. This is when they make the fateful decision to follow the Hastings Cutoff. The piece falls by a 53rd root of 2 (77:76) every few measures. By the time it finishes, we’ve gone down by 7:8. Slipping away…

Hasting’s Cutoff

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Finger Piano and harp so far. I’d like to add some alto flute and some other instruments, but haven’t had much success so far.

July 31, 1846: James Reed writes “Hastings Cutoff is said to be a saving of 350 or 400 miles and a better route. The rest of the Californians went the long route, feeling afraid of Hastings’s cutoff. But Mr. Bridger informs me that it is a fine, level road with plenty of water and grass. It is estimated that 700 miles will take us to Captain Sutter’s fort, which we hope to make in seven weeks from this day.” At the fort the emigrants take on some new members. Now numbering 74 people, the Donner Party leaves Fort Bridger and starts out on Hastings Cutoff.

Wagon Train Hoedown

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I finished the first draft of the second piece.

May 19, 1846: At Indian Creek, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Independence, the Donners and Reeds join a larger wagon train, which is led by Colonel William Henry Russell.

The piece is scored for violins, violas, cellos, double bass, and flutes. The intonation is the overtones to the 11 limit, in C, Ab, F, D+, which are the utonality keys to the 7 limit.

On to the Hastings Cutoff next.

Westering Journey – another cut

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April 14, 1846: Journey begins at Springfield, Illinois. The travelers are George Donner, his brother Jacob, and James Frazier Reed, with their families. Each man has three covered wagons and has hired men (teamsters) to drive the oxen that pull them; Reed also has two servants. The destination of the first leg is Independence, Missouri, where the Oregon and California trails begin; the distance from Springfield to Independence is about 250 miles (400 kilometers). The trip is timed to begin when the spring rains have subsided and grass for the draft animals is available, and to end before snow makes the Sierra Nevada impassable.