Lee Weisert is a composer of instrumental and electronic music and an associate professor in the Music Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he teaches courses in composition, electronic music, and musicianship. He has degrees in music composition from the University of Colorado, California Institute of the Arts, and Northwestern University. His primary composition instructors were James Tenney, Michael Pisaro, Jay Alan Yim, and Chris Mercer.
Weisert’s recent music has incorporated increasingly disparate elements such as orchestral instruments, found sounds, field recordings, digital synthesis, and analog circuitry, in an attempt to find, “through experimentation, tinkering, and unconventional approaches, a ritualistic and deeply expressive world of sound” (Dan Lippel, New Focus Recordings). His instrumental music has been commissioned and performed by nationally recognized performers and ensembles including Stephen Drury, the Callithumpian Consort, ICE, JACK Quartet, Spektral Quartet, Wild Rumpus, Yarn/Wire, Matthew McClure, Clara Yang, and Joann Cho.
His electronic music has been presented at numerous national concerts and festivals, including ICMC, SEAMUS, and NIME. Along with composer Jonathon Kirk, he is a member of the Portable Acoustic Modification Laboratory (PAML), a collaborative sound installation team. PAML’s most recent project, Granular Wall, uses robotics and motion analysis technology to translate the fluid motions of thousands of floating microspheres into a musical composition. Lee and Jonathon presented their work at the 2014 TEDx Conference at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Weisert’s compositions and sound installations have received grant funding from New Music USA, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Illinois Arts Council, the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, and the UNC Performing Arts Special Activities Fund. His music is published by New Focus Recordings. Wild Arc, his debut CD of original compositions, was released in 2014, and has been praised by critics as “dazzling” and “mind-melting.” Wild Arc is available for purchase online from Amazon, iTunes, and the New Focus Recordings label site.
An Album of Fluid Motion is a composition for two pianos and two vibraphones that explores phenomena described in Milton Van Dyke's book of the same title. Various fluid motion types are sonified and superimposed and/or juxtaposed to create a narrative structure. Symmetrical pitch sets are used to derive harmonic and melodic content, reflecting the highly dispersed, entropic nature of fluid motion. Sectional divisions refer to chapter titles from Van Dyke's book: Vortices, Turbulence, Separation/Instability, Laminar Flow, Shock Waves. An Album of Fluid Motion will be premiered in the coming year by Yarn/Wire.
The accompanying recording was performed by a computer sequencer.
A large suspended sphere of slowly melting ice drips into a metal receptacle. A contact microphone mounted to the bottom of the receptacle tracks the rhythms of the falling drops, triggering a computer-controlled speech sampler. Speech fragments from the Book of Genesis (The Flood) are played in order, on a loop. Both Man and Beast and the Creeping Thing was premiered at the Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC.
The note E acts as an elusive anchor throughout the piece; at any instant one of the four instruments is playing it. The rest of the pitch material is derived from a rotating set of all of the harmonic series which contain the note E (up to the tenth partial). This short piece showcases a "quick cut" technique which probably developed as an influence of working with electroacoustic music.
A collaboration with Jonathon Kirk (PAML).
Cryoacoustic Orb is a sound installation involving multiple illuminated polycarbonate orbs filled with slowly melting ice. Hydrophones frozen inside the ice amplify the sounds of the melting process, which are electronically processed and spatialized throughout the darkened gallery space. The result is a unique ambient soundscape that evolves over the course of several hours. Cryoacoustic Orb has been presented at venues across the United States, including the Ackland Museum and Morehead Planetarium at UNC, the University of Michigan (NIME, 2011), and Zhou Bros. Art Gallery in Chicago, IL (2011). It was funded by grants from Northwestern University's Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council.
The Dante Quartet was commissioned by the Pianos Without Organs festival, which occurred in Raleigh, North Carolina on October 7-9, 2016. The composition maps each frame of the eponymous film by Stan Brakhage, completed in 1987, to a corresponding sound event. There are a little under 5,000 hand-painted frames in the six-minute film, which took six years to complete. A variety of visual motifs (images, colors, techniques, etc.) in the film were identified and assigned a unique corresponding harmonic structure. The speed of the note events allows for a statistical approach to harmonic motion; chords can be brought more or less into focus in the same way that certain images fade in and out of the film. In addition to this more general correlation, individual frames in the film are highlighted through traditional methods of dynamic and registral contrast.
Entropic Death can be described as a "process piece" in which rigid precompositional algorithms determine the evolution of the music. Two sine tones start at 400 Hz and randomly move up or down one Hz every five milliseconds. When each of the tones gets to a point either 50 Hz above or below where they started, they "split" into four, with two tones at 350 Hz and two at 450 Hz. This process continues until there are a total of 14 sine tones spanning a frequency range of 50-750 Hz. When the last tone of the last generation reaches its destination, a short coda articulates all of the destination frequencies along the way (a harmonic series with a fundamental of 50 Hz).
Érard was written for Clara Yang, an incredible pianist and great friend. The piece is highly virtuosic and rigidly mechanistic, both rhythmically and harmonically. Every note belongs to a type of additive harmony, built on stacks of increasingly or decreasingly large intervals. The title refers to Sébastien Érard, who designed many of the modern features of the grand piano, most famously its "double-escapement" action.
Étude Géologique No. 2 is the second in a series of electroacoustic compositions that uses natural (geological) materials as source sounds. All of the sounds in the composition were created by glass objects. Several hundred recordings were made of bottles, crock pot lids, window panes, carboys (large vessels used for brewing beer), crystal glasses, and salad bowls. With the exception of amplitude shaping, the recordings are heard in their unaltered state. The formal structure consists of 33 sections ranging in duration from four to thirty seconds. Thus, the concept of formal section veers at times indistinguishably into that of gesture.
The accompanying recording is a stereo reduction of the original multichannel (quadraphonic) version.
Forqueresque was written for my good friend and colleague Brent Wissick, a virtuoso performer of cello and viola da gamba. When Brent asked me to compose a piece for his undergraduate cello studio, I immediately had the idea to fuse two of Brent's great passions: early music and acoustics (Brent frequently teaches a first-year seminar called "The Interplay of Physics and Music" at UNC). The cello group acts as an artificial resonating force for the harpsichord. There are various acoustic effects presented in the cello part: reverb (sustaining certain notes taken from the harpsichord), echo (pizzicato sections), overtones (harmonic series-based pitch material), and one section of acoustic feedback (mm. 27-29 where the B and the D from the melody get "stuck").
A collaboration with Jonathon Kirk (PAML).
A 4' x 4' custom tank is filled with water and several thousand neutrally-buoyant, fluorescent microspheres, each only a half a millimeter in diameter. Spiraling eddies and colliding cross-currents fill the visual field of the viewer, resulting in a hypnotic, immersive, and dynamically-evolving visual experience. Accompanying the visual elements is a spatialized musical soundscape, generated in real-time through the use of motion tracking technology. As in the artists’ previous projects, the technological aspects of the piece—though essential to the work and hopefully interesting in their own right—serve a secondary role: as facilitators of a very primitive and basic human experience.
Breath, the typical means of sound production in wind instruments, is completely absent in Hohle Fels. The performers create the sounds by striking the holes and keys of the instruments with their fingers. A tablature-based notation was required since many of the fingerings used in the piece have no function in traditional pitch-based music. The title refers to the location of the discovery of a 35,000-year-old bird bone flute, the world's oldest known instrument.
Starting from the pioneering work of Merce Cunningham and John Cage, COMPANY (choreographer Justin Tornow) and MW Duo (saxophonist Matthew McClure and composer Lee Weisert) explore the numerous ways in which coherence and development can arise in a multimedia context. Laser beams traverse the space in which dancers perform. By breaking the beams with their bodies, the dancers trigger samples from Cunningham’s text “Space, Time, and Dance.” Syllables, words, and phrases fuse and detach, and accumulation rather than linear narrative moves the work forward. Within this matrix of movement, light, and music, what leads and what follows, and how do we create meaning?
The title of this piece refers both to the physical demands of performance (particularly the second movement) and to the mathematically exhaustive way in which the material unfolds. In the first movement, each note on the keyboard is "activated" starting with every octave C and continuing on through the series of fifths (all the G's, all the D's, etc.). The electronic component consists of sine tones that reinforce the sustaining piano notes, eventually building up to an 88-note cluster. In the second half of the piece the pianist "shuts off" the sustaining notes in the same order that they were activated.
The second movement is a 8-part unison canon at decreasing time intervals. In the first half the melody descends to a middle C in successively smaller pitch intervals and with successively shorter rhythms. In the second half the process is reversed: the melody starts on a middle C and descends with successively larger pitch intervals and successively longer rhythms. As in a traditional canon, the voices begin and end independently.
Each movement of Minutiae is a composed interpretation of a corresponding drawing that I created using a computer program. The drawings are not dissimilar to other classic experimental graphical scores, such as those created by Cornelius Cardew, Earle Brown, Anthony Braxton, and Mark Applebaum. Unlike these examples, I decided to interpret the pictures myself, as a composer, rather than give them to performers to freely interpret. The aim of this method of composition was to force a schism or kind of "aesthetic indeterminacy" in converting something that was generated and organized from a purely visual perspective—with no forethought of the potential sonic ramifications—into a work of sonic art.
Two very high sine tones are heard, the difference of whose frequencies are the melody of The Star-Spangled Banner. The tune itself is not actually present in the recording, but is perceived as a kind of aural illusion. Difference tones are believed to be a psychoacoustical phenomena rather than an acoustical one, meaning that they are the result of neural processes within our brains.
This recording should be played quite loud in order to hear the difference tones clearly.
New England Drift was commissioned by Stephen Drury and the Callithumpian Consort to be premiered at the 2011 SICPP music festival at the New England Conservatory of Music. Being aware of the group's expertise with and affinity for open-form works by composers such as Christian Wolff and Earle Brown, I decided to compose my first open-form piece specifically tailored to the ensemble. At any moment in the piece, performers may be playing material from one of five distinct musical "layers." The conductor decides in real-time which performers are playing which layer. This piece is different from many open-form works in that the materials available to the performer change over time, ensuring a degree of parametric evolution which has been determined by the composer.
A polychoron—also referred to as a hypershape—is a closed 4-dimensional geometrical figure. The most famous polychoron is the tesseract, which can be thought of as a "cube of cubes." In this piece, the metaphor is that of a hyperpyramid, in which the 6 nodal points of the polychoron consist of the four corners of the room (articulated by the spatialized quartet), the center of the room (represented by the audience), and the center of the ceiling (the boundary of the acoustic space). Geometric concepts also play a significant role in the musical material itself—individual sound events (notes and chords) are treated as elements of unique vector paths traversing the base square.
A polychoron—also referred to as a hypershape—is a closed 4-dimensional geometrical figure. The most famous polychoron is the tesseract, which can be thought of as a "cube of cubes." In Polychoron (for Three Trumpets), the metaphor is that of a hyperpyramid, in which the 5 nodal points of the polychoron consist of the front center and back two corners of the room (articulated by the spatialized performers), the center of the room (represented by the audience), and the center of the ceiling (the boundary of the acoustic space). Geometric concepts also play a significant role in the musical material itself—individual sound events (notes and chords) are treated as elements of unique vector paths traversing the base triangle.
Replika is an experimental short film by the Polish filmmaker Kazimierz Bendkowski, to which I created a newly-composed electroacoustic soundtrack. The film—made in 1975—is a time-lapse capture of a children's playground in Warsaw, shot from a single angle from dawn to dusk. In my composition, tiny filtered "grains" of noise are generated in rapid fire iterations and matched frame-by-frame to the film. This technique has clear structural similarities to film, in which individual frames are shown in rapid sequence, creating the illusion of continuity. Similarly, the activities of the people on the playground, when viewed at this angle and speed, seem to occupy a space somewhere between conscious deliberation and automated reactive process. The unceasing activity of the grains is sometimes accompanied by recordings of modern-day Warsaw, offering another, more elusive, access point to the images on the screen.
Shirt of Noise is a composition for piano, guitar, percussion, and electronics. With the exception of the electronics, all of the sounds in this piece are produced by metal objects and instruments. The guitar and electronics are tuned to the overtones of a Burmese kyeezee bell, which introduces each of the increasingly long sections. A paratactic approach is taken with regards to form—a mathematically derived macrostructure is inhabited by gestures and collisions that provide the listener with the illusion of narrative development.
"SHIRT OF NOISE: Garment, fabric, or residue that absorbs and holds sound, storing messages for journeys. Its loudness cannot by soothed. It can destroy the member which inhabits it."
Eight percussionists playing unspecified instruments with graduated pitches strike repeated quarter notes at similar tempi. Over the course of six minutes, Player 1 (with the highest pitched instrument) plays 450 notes, Player 2 (second highest pitched instrument) plays 449 notes, and so on. Separate click tracks for each player are required for live performance. Similar Speeds was premiered by the UNC Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Cameron Britt in spring 2012.
Sonolumen is a collaborative set of compositions that involve the real-time projection of oscilloscope patterns generated entirely from sound. The images result from plotting the voltages of two distinct audio channels (left and right speakers) against each other on an illuminated X-Y graph. By the creative combination and mapping of complex mathematical equations to electronic waveforms, an infinite variety of shapes and patterns can be achieved. Crucially, no extraneous sounds or images are included in the presentation—a complete one-to-one relationship is maintained between the sonic and visual domains.
A collaboration with Jonathon Kirk (PAML).
Using ultrasonic, hyper-directional speakers, three rotating "beams" of newly-composed electronic music are transmitted in an outdoor public space. Using computer-controlled motors, the speakers are made to rotate 360 degrees at varying speeds, with speakers rotating every minute, hour, and 12 hours, respectively. Three separate musical compositions are projected, each with a linear arc that repeats in sync with the rotation of its designated speaker. Depending on the time of day and their relative position to the installation site, casual passersby will experience a fleeting and distinctly personal sonic immersion as the clock "passes through them." SOUNDIAL was awarded a New Music USA grant award and was premiered at the Currents New Media Festival in Santa Fe, NM in June 2016.
The Weights is a 35-minute work merging live music and dance. The dance is built around an immersive seating design, allowing the audience to engage with the work from a different perspective than is usually afforded. The accompanying sound score by Lee Weisert and Matthew McClure explores various sound worlds; a marriage of composition and improvisation for electronics and saxophone. Weisert uses live processing, previously recorded sounds, and digital synthesis to create an evolving and immersive soundscape. McClure employs many traditional and extended techniques, reacting and improvising to both the music and the dance.
Matthew McClure, saxophone; Lee Weisert, electronics
"A curved polyhedron in spherical n-dimensional space Sn will be said to be tamely imbedded if there is a homeomorphism of Sn on itself which transforms the imbedded polyhedron into a Euclidean polyhedron; if no such homeomorphism exists we shall say that the polyhedron is wildly embedded. It is a corollary of classical results in plane topology that every curved polyhedron in 2-dimensional space is tamely imbedded. On the other hand it was shown by Antoine that there are wild imbeddings in 3-dimensional space. A well-known example of this is the Alexander 'horned sphere'."
—Ralph H. Jox and Emil Artin, "Some Wild Cells and Spheres in Three-Dimensional Space"
A worm and wheel is a type of gear drive in which a screw-shaped component (the worm) meshes with a rotating wheel. The tuning pegs on some string instruments use a worm and wheel mechanism. In relation to the piece, it alludes to the many pulsing cross-rhythms and tempo modulations that form the architectural framework. Tempo ratios with integers 2-5 are used in every combination (2:3, 2:4, 2:5, 3:2, 3:4, 3:5, etc.). This scenario results in 12 sections, each defined by a metronomic pulse articulated by a distinct pitch in an ascending twelve-tone row. Within the sections, gestures and hits collide unpredictably, like decorative shrapnel peeling off a lumbering machine.
The accompanying recording was performed by a computer sequencer.