Computer-generated sounds; 1996-7 ; Duration 20:02

Breath of Life is a portrait, or perhaps more accurately a remembrance, of my son Ryan Mark during his first two years of life. For me, it also is a work about expectation, discovery, intimacy, tenacity, growth, change and even, in a few respects, loss.

The pivotal sound sources and musical gestures were culled from recordings that I made of Ryan between the ages of four and twenty-five months, and ancillary recordings of some of his favorite toys (rattles, shakers, squeakers, a toy piano and the like). Sometimes these source recordings are combined and mirrored in fairly straightforward fashion, highlighting, I hope, the inherently musical nature of almost all sounds made by infants. At other times, as in the two minute anticipatory surge that opens the work, these vocal and toy sounds undergo extensive processing and transformation.

Technically, the greatest challenge I faced in the composition of this work (beyond difficulties in coaxing a high energy toddler to project clearly into a microphone, without pawing or spitting upon this tantalizing object), was to integrate what at first seemed like a grab bag of very short, isolated sound sources into coherent, interconnected, ever larger patterns. Formally, the piece might be likened to a large, intricate mosaic or jigsaw puzzle, constructed from thousands of interlocking musical fragments, some of which recur twenty or more times during the course of the work.

The piece was realized on SGI computer systems at the Eastman Computer Music Center. Principal software employed included Csound (Vercoe) and Score11 (Brinkman), rt (Lansky), various analysis-and-resynthesis procedures (including linear prediction, phase vocoder and Spectral Modeling Synthesis), and algorithmic compositional programs I wrote that generate note or event streams incorporating probabilities or other user-specified characteristics. The work is dedicated to all of my children -- Garrick, Danielle, Ryan, Jethro and Elena (who lived only two days) -- each of whom has brought me special joys.

MP3 audio excerpt
This passage begins 4 minutes and 14 seconds into the piece. During the first 40 seconds of the excerpt, source recordings of Ryan's voice, many only a second or two in duration, are superimposed and layered. During the latter, quieter half of the excerpt, recordings of Ryan's voice, although still interwoven with synthetic sound sources and the sounds of his toys, generally are used singly and are treated more soloistically.
Duration : 1:56; size 3.6 MB ; encoding 256 kBit stereo

Breath of Life was premiered on a multimedia Evening of New Computer Music and Experimental Film show in Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman School on March 19, 1997. Subsequent performances have included the 1998 International Computer Music Conference in Ann Arbor (in which the work was spatialized to 16 loudspeakers) and computer music and multimedia concerts at several universities.

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