for viola and tape (2006)

World Premiere: Melia Watras, viola; October 23, 2006, Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle, WA

Program Notes:
The original Tacoma Narrows bridge opened for traffic on July 1, 1940 and collapsed in a spectacular manner into the Puget Sound on Nov. 7, 1940 just six short months after it had opened. Unbeknownst to the bridge's engineers, the thin wide roadway they designed would act as a giant airfoil and cause the bridge to oscillate up and down in the face of strong winds blowing in from the ocean. Indeed, the up-and-down motion of the roadway was quickly noticed by the driving public and the bridge became known as Galloping Gertie almost as soon as it had opened. On the day of its collapse, a strong steady 40 mph crosswind began to move the bridge in a new torsional mode of vibration (.2 Hz) and the entire structure began to twist and buckle in addition to its more typical up and down motion. The resonance of this .2 Hz destructive vibration mode eventually built up enough amplitude that the roadway began to fracture and the bridge collapsed into the deep waters below. A famous film shot by Barney Elliot captures the last moments of this beautiful and graceful structure as it literally shook itself apart. The spectacular twisting and fracturing motion of the bridge's last gallop provides the inspiration for the melodic material that is continually developed throughout this piece. The main source for the composition is an untempered pentatonic scale made from partials 17, 19, 23, 27 and 31 of the harmonic series (roughly C# D# F# A# B#) that is "fractured" in two different ways to create all the pitch material in the work. In the first type of of fracturing, foreign tones (the partials 2, 3 and 5) are sequentially added to the pentatonic collection to build increasingly dissonant microtonal scales of 6, 7 and 8 tones. The microtonal clash of these new tones with the original pentatonic set are then featured in different musical ways over the course of the work. In another sort of fracturing, the tape sounds are generated by superimposing many copies of the fiddling music, but each shifted and stretched in time by prime numbers so that a non-periodic harmonic smearing takes place. Finally, the .2 Hz destructive mode that produced the fatal twisting vibration in the bridge provides an incessant, steady fiddling pulse that underlies the entire work. Tacoma Narrows was composed entirely in the Common Music software package with audio produced by Common Lisp Music, developed by William Schottstaedt at CCRMA, Stanford. The performance score was generated using the FOMUS music notation package developed by David Psenicka at University of Illinois. Tacoma Narrows was commissioned by, and is dedicated to, Melia Watras of the University of Washington. Funding support for commission and CD recording was granted by the University of Washington Royalty Research Fund.

—Heinrich Taube

Heinrich Taube: Tacoma Narrows for viola and tape (2016)
Melia Watras, viola