FeXIV (Iron Fourteen)
For alto saxophone and live electronics with video
The image of the sun has had powerful associations across a wide range of cultures. It serves equally well as the source of life, sustaining and nurturing, and as a chaotic, destructive, and untamable force. When considered as a physical entity, a seething mass of violently erupting plasma, it is certainly this latter tendency that predominates. For many years the physical makeup of the halo that surrounds the sun, the solar corona, was a source of great debate. In the late 1930s it was finally determined to consist of a species of highly ionized iron capable of existing only at extremely high temperatures, Fe XIV, or “iron fourteen”.
FeXIV (Iron Fourteen), the composition, is about noise, distortion, and chaotic feedback, as contrasted with placid harmonic motion. The piece progresses through a series of sections, half of which are based on a sequence of chords and half on noise elements. Over the course of the piece the noise sections become increasingly harmonic, and the harmonic sections increasingly noisy and violent. The harmonic content is based on a quarter-tone system designed to convey an audible sense of development, while the melodic contours are drawn from several chants attributed to Hildegard von Bingen. Hildegard, an abbess and composer from the 12th Century, had a series of visions which she chronicled through text and illustration. The content of these visions often included corona-like images of light, similar enough to the visual effects of certain types of migraines to lead many to believe that she suffered from such a condition.
FeXIV (Iron Fourteen) was commissioned and premiered by Michael Straus.
Performed by Michael Straus
Video by Scott Draves (click to enlarge):