Sitka is a twelve-minute work for piano and seasonally variable electronics that explores the relationship between music, technology, and nature. Since Steinway piano soundboards are made exclusively from Sitka spruce, the trees and the forests in which they grow served as the conceptual material for many of the piece’s musical components. Environmental elements including forest density, weather, and the Sitka tree’s shape informed the composition’s structure, density, frequency spectrum, rhythmic activity, and live electronics.
The composition’s form models the United States Geological Survey species range map for Sitka spruce trees, which grow throughout Alaska, Canada, and the United States. Curiously, when the map is rotated ninety degrees it becomes a fitting graphical depiction translatable into musical form. The piece’s growth and rhythmic density mirror this graphic, as does the rhythmic language, with more active rhythms appearing at times when tree growth is denser in corresponding map regions. In addition to conceptual translations, I connect the piece to Sitka, Alaska, in real time via an audio software program I developed using Cycling 74’s Max/MSP. The program polls real-time weather data from a weather station in Sitka, Alaska during performance, which in turn influences the piece’s accompanying live electronics. For example, when polling on a sunny summer day, the software generates higher pitched sonorities to create a light, open sounding accompaniment. Conversely, on a cold winter day the live electronics exhibit a darker, denser tone. These and other live electronics are projected over small speakers placed in front of the piano, mixing with the acoustic sound and emanating from the same physical space.