Wayne Siegel (b. 1953 Los Angeles, California) studied composition and philosophy at the University of California at Santa Barbara from 1971 to 1974 but decided to complete his BA degree in Denmark while studying with Per Nørgård. In 1977 he completed his further degree in composition at The Royal Danish Academy of Music in Aarhus and, as with many artists who initially plan a short study break abroad, fortuitous elements conspired to persuade him to stay. In 1978 Siegel won a three year grant from the Danish State Art Foundation to pursue further compositional projects which in turn laid the ground for a successful progression of work, first as a free lance composer, then as administrative director of the West Jutland Symphony and the Esbjerg Ensemble and ultimately, in 1986, as Director of DIEM, the newly formed Danish national cen-ter for computer music in Aarhus. His leadership and expertise in the field of computer music both as a composer and director of DIEM quickly established the cen-ter as one of Europe’s finest.
The demands on his time as Director of DIEM are considerable but Siegel remains first and foremost a composer, active on the European and international scene. Recent commissions have come from a variety of ensembles: Kronos Quartet, the symphony orchestras of Aarhus and Zealand, Singcircle, Danish Music Theatre, Danish Contemporary Dance Theatre and the Dutch bass clarinettist, Harry Sparnaay.
Working and living in Europe for over two decades, however, has had only marginal influence on Siegel’s own compositional aesthetic. His musical roots are not the European modernists or avant‑gardists, but American, West Coast and minimalist. As with many expatriates, the image of the distant homeland seems to intensify with absence. The warm sea and sunshine of his native California sparkle through his music with bubbling energy, drive and power. It is repetitive and complex but translucent. His keen ear magically welds traditional forces to the latest technology and creates ‘supersonics’. It is a unique and compelling voice.
Stephen Montague, 1996
Devil’s Golf Course (1986) for orchestra, synthesizers and drums was commissioned by the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra and the NUMUS Festival with support from the Danish State Art Foundation and premiered at the NUMUS Festival in 1988. The title refers to an area formed by several dry lakes in Death Valley, California, where temperatures reach 140˚ F in the summer. The area called Devil’s Golf Course consists of 95% pure salt about 1000 feet thick, spanning an area of 200 square miles. The music is inspired by my experience in this place, where the heat and light reflected by the salt are even more overwhelming than the enormous heat and blinding light that beat down from the sky, and where all of one’s senses are overloaded by the oven‑like heat and the sound of one’s own footsteps crunching on the strange salt formations that reach into infinity in all directions.
The work consists of a single movement with three main overlapping sections. The first throbbing rhythmic section dissolves into a textural wash in which the instruments of the orchestra play in independent tempi. The middle section fades into the final section which begins with a lyrical soloistic dialogue between instruments and synthesizers and builds gradually to a pounding climax. The full symphony orchestra is supplemented with two synthesizers and two drum sets.
Jackdaw (1995) for bass clarinet and computer was commissioned by Harry Sparnaay with financial support from the Danish State Art Foundation and premiered at the Musiana95 festival in Denmark. A jackdaw is a small, European crow, and the character of the piece as well as many of the sounds are inspired by this audacious yet clever bird. Since I have a tame, pet jackdaw, I was able to record the bird under ideal conditions. Many of the sounds played by the computer consist of these recordings processed by the computer, such as jackdaw cries filtered by the formant of a bass clarinet, or long bird calls stretched to ten times their original length using the phase vocoder. Bass clarinet sounds sampled and processed by the computer as well as computer-controlled live processing that changes the sound of the instrument during performance are also used. As the composition progressed my hunch was confirmed: the jackdaw and the bass clarinet are related!
Eclipse (1992) for four voices and computer. On July 11, 1991, one of the longest total solar eclipses of this century could be observed in a zone stretching from Hawaii in the west to Columbia in the east. The totality – the span of time in which the moon completely blocks the sun – had a maximum duration in an area in the western part of Mexico. I was fortunate enough to be able to witness this total solar eclipse in San Blas, a small fishing village on the west coast of Mexico, where a handful of very different people from all over the world were brought together at the harbor to experience the event. The totality occurred almost exactly at the stroke of noon. As early as 11 o’clock it began getting gradually darker, and just before totality, a wall of darkness could be seen rushing towards us over the ocean. Suddenly it was as dark as night and we could look directly at the sun without protective glasses. What we saw was the large disc of the moon surrounded by a ring of fire – the atmosphere, or corona, of the sun. Huge flames, called protuberances, projected outward like long fingers. The totality lasted about seven minutes, after which the sun’s blinding rays, and daylight, gradually returned.
The piece Eclipse for four voices and electronics is inspired by this experience. The piece uses four texts written by the composer based on four roles or imaginary characters represented by the four singers: 1) Sopra-no – the curious child (in Mexican Spanish), 2) Mezzo soprano – the worried mother (in Mexican Spanish), 3) Tenor – the nervous tourist (in English), 4) Bass – the astronomer father (in English). The voices are treated electronically using various techniques including filtering, delays and spatialization, which are controlled by a computer during performance. The texts are digitally transformed into a type of sound collage, in which the meaning of the words cannot be understood. In some of the sung passages, delays are used to create a rhythmic canon in combination with the singers. In other passages, computer processing is used to transform the sound spectrum, spatial location and reverberation of the voices. Eclipse was commissioned by the British vocal ensemble, Singcircle, with support from the Danish State Art Foundation.
Tracking (1990) for string quartet and computer was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet and the Danish Radio and premiered in Copenhagen in October 1990. The computer part was realized at DIEM’s studio in Aarhus, Denmark. The electronics are used as an extension of the acoustic instruments. The computer controls both sound treatment of the live musicians as well as a number of synthesizers, which play digitally altered string sounds as well as completely synthetic material. The digitally altered string sounds were created by recording string instruments and treating these sounds by means of frequency modulation, amplitude modulation, various types of filtering and spectral inversion. The synthetic sounds were created by means of frequency modulation. Sound treatment of the live instruments includes pitch shifting, reverberation and delay. The synthesizers as well as the live treatment and the balance between live instruments and electronic sounds are controlled by a computer synchronized with the musicians.
Wayne Siegel, 1996