Sea Songs

In 1995, Dexter Morrill composed Sea Songs, a four-part work for soprano, computer-generated tape and real-time effects processing. Premiered by soprano Maureen Chowning in October of 1995 at Colgate College, the four songs set text based on poems by Ezra Pound, Agha Shahid Ali and Yvor Winters over a pre-recorded accompaniment generated using an E-mu Morpheus synthesizer and Paul Lansky’s Cmix. Morrill’s use of Max Mathews’ Radio-Baton as the real- time controller for the Digitech TSR-24 hardware stereo effects-processor broke from earlier uses of the Baton as a synthesizer controller and allowed the soprano to incorporate fluid gestural control of real-time processing into her live performance.

While Sea Songs was performed numerous times throughout the 1990s and subsequently recorded on Morrill’s Centaur Records release entitled "Music for Stanford", the piece’s exposure to a larger community of performers was limited by its reliance on the availability of a Digitech TSR-24 effects processor. As time has passed and the TSR-24 became first more difficult then nearly impossible to find, the piece has faced an uncertain future due primarily to its reliance on this specific hardware device.

The project to recreate Sea Songs began in the summer of 2006 with a plan to feature a software-based version of the work at CCRMA in the Spring of 2007 as part of a series of festivities honoring Max Mathews’ 80th birthday. With a new wireless version of the Radio-Baton already in use at CCRMA, it was suggested by Max Mathews that one work which should be included in such a celebration was Sea Songs, as Morrill’s composition represented “a unique and powerful way of being expressive with the Radio-Baton”. The goal was to create a modernized and extensible version of the piece in a popular and well-supported interactive computer-music language running on a laptop computer, thus making the piece accessible to a new generation of performers and audiences alike. With the support of Mathews, soprano Maureen Chowning and Dexter Morrill himself, system design and development on the new Sea Songs began in earnest in the Fall of 2006 and culminated with Chowning’s performance of the newly recreated work on April 29, 2007 in concert at the Computer History Museum as part of CCRMA’s MaxFest celebration.


Programming: Rob Hamilton