© 2018 by Joshua Keeling. All rights reserved.

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Flying Machines

Chamber Ensemble

2012

Instrumentation: flute/piccolo, oboe, clarinet/bass clarinet, percussion, piano, 2 violins, viola, 2 cellos (optional 1 cello version), contrabass

Awarded First Prize in the 2013 Emil and Ruth Beyer Chamber Composition Awards

1. Ezekiel's Airship [Computer Realization]

2. Cloud Construction [Computer Realization]

3. Oiseaux Mécaniques [Computer Realization]

Flying Machines is inspired by the concept of flight, which has fascinated humankind for centuries, but especially captivated us at the dawn of the 20th century, just as powered flight was on its way to becoming a reality. Each movement is attributed to themes that might have enthralled the minds of those who dreamed of flight at this exciting time in history, as well as those who still do today.

 

“Ezekiel’s Airship” is an imagining of the reported flight of the Ezekiel Airship, a craft constructed in 1902 by East Texas pastor/inventor Burrell Cannon. It consisted of a wide canvas canopy and four wheels with propellers built into them. (The propeller-within-wheel design was inspired by the Biblical account of the prophet Ezekiel—specifically, his vision of four “wheels within wheels.”) As a child, I saw a replica of the machine in a museum and heard about how it flew years before the Wright brothers. Years later, I was a bit disappointed to realize that, like many other attempts at powered flight during that time, the Ezekiel Airship probably did not actually fly, at least not very far. In this piece I "re-create" the flight I imagined as a child—embellished with elaborate images of engines, gears and propellers, spinning and sputtering in turbulent flight. The movement is built on two key musical features: metric dissonance—the overlapping of different tempi, and interval cycles—repeating and evolving patterns of notes that permeate the music at every level.

 

In the second movement, “Cloud Construction,” I have ascribed different musical materials to types of clouds. The motives move both independently of and in connection with one another, undergoing subtle transformations as the movement progresses. Two pitch patterns are revealed, these are the "structures" upon which the entire movement is based - one of them a set of descending fifths, the other a large, symmetrical chord. The movement builds to a dark and ominous climax that eventually dissipates, leaving behind a colorful piano motive that elaborates on the original pitch structure.

 

The third movement, “Oiseaux Mécaniques,” is named after the small, rubber-band-powered ornithopters (machines that fly by means of flapping wings) constructed in the late 19th century by a French inventor named Pichancourt. Here, I imagine thousands of them filling the sky. The movement is in perpetual motion, based largely on 3-note motives that are flipped back and forth until they expand upwards. About halfway through, a long chord progression begins, underscoring the music with a sense of dramatic development that builds until the end of the piece, where the original motives return and multiply into an intense, upward surge.