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Robert Gibson: "The Sound of Light"

The Sound of Light

Robert Gibson

Born: 1950, Atlanta, Georgia

Instrumentation: Orchestral Winds

Composed: 2010

Duration: 12:00

Gibson writes,

The title of my work, The Sound of Light, has many implications that relate to my thoughts while writing the piece: first, there is the fact that sound can literally become light under certain conditions in a technical process called sonoluminescence. The fact that vibration can take the form of sound or light depending on frequency led me to imagine how light would sound, if I could hear it. These imaginings, of course, are of a very personal nature, and not meant to be literal or programmatic. Light exists at virtually all times with some degree of darkness, and this dynamic is very much a part of my composition.

When talking about musical timbre, we often refer to the “color” of sound, and there is no group of instruments with a greater range of tone colors than the orchestral winds. Thus the choice of instruments for my piece is predicated on this range of tone-color variations that is often described in relation to lightness and darkness.

Light also has metaphorical—and metaphysical—implications, and the musical influences for my piece include the sonic worlds of David Hykes, who practices a form of overtone singing that allows him to create harmonies using only his unaccompanied voice, and the Eton Choirbook, which includes wonderful examples of late fifteenth-century polyphony. My piece quotes the final exquisite melismas of Richard Hygons’ Salve Regina from the Choirbook. Both of these musics (Hykes and Hygons), for me, suggest a transcendent form of “light” in sound.

The Sound of Light is dedicated to Michael Votta and the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, for whom it was written.

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