The Magical Highway of the Midwest (2014)

for solo violin and fixed electronics

The Magical Highway of the Midwest, my first venture into electronic music, juxtaposes a live violin part with a prerecorded electronic mix. All of the electronic sounds in this piece are derived from recordings of an actual violin, processed and often distorted through editing software. In the second movement, for example, the violinist performs the so-called “seagull effect,” sliding two fingers down the string to mimic the cries of gulls, accompanied by a wash of electronic sounds which include a recording of this same technique.
Poetically, I think of the piece as a set of musical images of a certain corner of America, inspired by the idea of a mythical road stretching across the prairies towards the mountains and eventually the sea. The first movement refers to an evening I spent in downtown Chicago on spring break in college, depicting the bustle of Michigan Avenue, the monolithic heights of the skyscrapers, and the honking of taxicab horns. Eventually, the buzz of the city, heard in the electronic mix, drowns out the violin, which plays ever louder in an effort to be heard above the din.
Several years later, I had a dream about that trip, in which the details had been muddled with those of other times I’d visited that part of the country. Just as such dreams often juxtapose events with no rational connection to each other, so the second movement juxtaposes wildly different electronic textures, from the wind and waves of Lake Michigan to the noise of train cars to the eerie quiet of a small town.
The third movement returns to the same evening as before, to a moment when I happened to notice the setting sun lighting the clouds pink and orange above a street lined with neon signs glowing in the same colors. It was almost as if the signs were attempting to capture the beauty of the sunset in a form that could be bottled, commercialized, and sold. The pathetic foolishness of this idea moved me in a way that I struggled to put into words but now hope to express through this music.

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