Peter Lucas Hulen


I was classically trained as a composer of music for acoustic instruments and voices. When looking for a doctoral program, I was interested in learning about composing electronic music from the standpoint of having no background in it. That's how I ended up at Michigan State studying with Mark Sullivan. I didn't realize at the time that I would make a shift toward most of my work being electronic. It's just as well. I consider most of the work I did before the about the age of 40 to be a form of juvenalia—artefacts from a long slow process of technical and artistic development. In the meantime I have continued to be somewhat self-taught as technology has evolved and I have developed new courses for my electronic music students. So now, most of my compositions are of experimental computer-generated electronic music, but they are informed in some important ways by training in acoustic composition. Below are examples of some of my more recent works.

The Organum series (2002-15) consists of four individual electroacoustic pieces for fixed media that share a common style and approach to composition. The four pieces are entitled:
     I - Organum on Ash Grove (2007)
     II - Organum on Foundation (2002)
     III - Organum on St. Denio (2009)
     IV - Organum on Westminster Abbey (2015)
In each of these pieces, fundamental frequencies of digitally synthesized tones are related to each other according to superparticular sets of ratios. In the cases of Foundation and Ash Grove, the ratios range from 17:16 to 32:31. These form microtonal sixteen-tone per octave logarithmic scales. In St. Denio and Westminster Abbey, the ratios range from 33:32 to 64:63, forming thirty-two tone scales of the same design. The textures of these pieces are analogous to organum, a form of European choral polyphony dating from the 12th century, albeit with frequency relationships as indicated. Phrases from US American hymn tunes corresponding to each title are slowly described in low pitch ranges and long temporal values (analogous to the tenor in an organum texture), while rapid, randomly generated higher frequency gestures in harmonic-series relation occur within pre-composed range patterns (analogous to the duplum part in organum). St. Denio is an eight channel surround-sound piece remixed in stereo here. Foundation was composed with sounds produced through digital Frequency Modulation synthesis and sampled speech, and was originally the soundtrack of an animated video piece entitled Psalm. The other three pieces were composed with sounds digitally synthesized through a variety of techniques. Foundation was composed without regard to documentation of its structures, and its data files were dependent on the Yamaha TX-802 at Michigan State University that was used to create it. The data files for Ash Grove could still be read and analyzed were their back-up not neglected before being lost forever to a hard drive failure. Data from St. Denio and Westminster Abbey were preserved and used to create musically notated analysis scores (St. Denio SCORE). The little positive and negative numbers by each notehead in the scores indicate the number of cents the note is detuned, according to the frequency ratios above. Here is a PAPER explaining the theory behind that.

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (2014) is for a cappella SATB chorus. Here is a copy of the SCORE.

A canticle is the lyrics of a song embedded in an otherwise non-poetic biblical text. The Magnificat (Song of Mary) and the Nunc Dimittis (Song of Simeon) are both canticles in Christian scripture, and are spoken or chanted as part of the daily liturgies in a variety of traditions. In the Anglican tradition (Episcopal in the USA), the two canticles are set to music together, often in a traditional English translation, for performance as part of the choral Evensong service. The music for this setting is adapted from a very different liturgical tradition. It is based on contemporary performances in Greek of the Byzantine Good Friday hymn Έξέδυσάν με τὰ ἰμάτιά μου (They stripped me of my garments). In this way, music associated with the crucifixion in Eastern Orthodox traditions is imported into a daily liturgy or office within Western traditions. This recording is by the Composers Choir of Hamden, Connecticut under the direction of Daniel Shaw.

Primitive (2013) is a piece created for playback from fixed media in eight channel surround-sound. The version posted here is stereo because of the internet.

This is an octophonic study of call and response. While this form is pervasive in Sub-Saharan and African-American cultural traditions, the inspiration for this piece came from a rural U.S., white religious congregation singing with a precentor lining out and the congregation responding in harmony. A mockup of this type of singing was recorded and processed through a patch that created randomized 30 ms grains from 64 tracks, distributing the results across eight signals, which were processed according to a formal scheme. Also included are processed samples from a 1942 Alan Lomax recording of Southern Sacred Harp singing.

In Sitting 328b (2014), inspired by the ambient micro-sound piece "Null Drift" by Kim Cascone from his album CathodeFlower (Ritornell 1999), one can hear a diffuse background drone embellished by pitched bass, and a continuous, periodic foreground stream of dry, sinusoidal grains at eighth-tone intervals, occasionally punctuated by samples of high-frequency metallic scraping and indistinct speech. The guiding aesthetic concern was to create an ambient drone piece that was both repetitively 'industrial' and meditative at the same time.

Jaclyn WappelLes substances botaniques (2013) is a four movement piece for solo harp. The movements are entitled:
     I - La caféine
     II - Les opiacés
     III - Les cannibinoÏdes
     IV - L'éthanol

Here is a copy of the SCORE.If it had a style descriptor, this piece might be called 'Neo-Impressionist'. Its simple, somewhat contrapuntal textures are based on non-modal 'synthetic' scales. It has been performed beautifully by Jaclyn Wappel (Photo), who graduated in 2009 with her B.M. in Harp Performance from the University Texas at Austin and her M.M. from Ball State University in 2012. She was a doctoral teaching assistant at the time of this recording, studying with Elizabeth Richter at Ball State. She finished her doctorate in harp in the spring of 2015.

This video of Lamentationes Jeremiae I (2012) is staged, but it shows how the piece appears when performed live.

The choral sound you hear is not the performer's voice. It is a polyphonic digital vocoder. The performer is speaking the words very softly into a wire headset microphone that is invisible in the video. The computer is providing digitally synthesized sounds for the singing. Another way to say it is that the performer is providing the mouth for the words, and the computer is providing several digital larynges for singing them. The music is microtonal, contains sub-audio elements, and draws heavily on the Lamentations (ca. 1560-69) of English composer Thomas Tallis. Here is a copy of the SCORE used in performance.

This video of Buzz Feed (2014) was a test performance for purposes of illustration. In a darker performance setting the arc from the tesla coil shows up more brightly than in the video. Here is a copy of the SCORE.

Buzz Feed includes a live sequence of synthesized sound, digitally processed audio from an amplified crumhorn, and a tesla coil activated by a spectrally rich audio signal. Against the backdrop of a frequency-sweeping mixture of pulse waves and noise, the crumhorn and tesla coil are engaged in whole-tone call-and-response as the frequency-sweeping pulse tones coalesce on augmented triads, duets when the whining background abates, and combinations of the two when it returns. The medieval crumhorn was chosen for its buzzing timbre against the crackling static of pitched tones from the tesla coil. Also included are vocoded David Lynch style reverse-speech phrases from banal clickbait headlines.

Virtual Duet (2008) is for solo bassoon and electronic sound from digitally edited bassoon samples. Here is a copy of the SCORE. It is composed for performance with a spherical loudspeaker array designed by the composer. The speaker array may be seen in the video below and next to the performer. The purpose of the array is to create point-source diffusion of the electronic part so that it physically spatializes (reverberates) in the same way as the unamplified instrumental part. This follows an inside-out model for addressing the problem of blending electronic and acoustic parts in electroacoustic music. The piece is performed expertly here by Susan Nelson, who at the time was completing her doctorate in bassoon at the University of Michigan. She is now Assistant Professor of Bassoon at Bowling Green State University. (Please Note: The soundtrack to the video is accurate; the video is compromised and sometimes doesn't sync with the audio.) Here's some information about making the SPEAKER BALL, and here is a PAPER about it.

The Student is Expected to Conduct Himself at All Times Both On and Off Campus as a Gentleman and a Responsible Citizen (2009) was created as a test piece for the new eight channel surround-sound system in the Electronic Music Studios at Wabash College. Offered here is a stereo mixdown for internet listening. The composer extends his apologies to former Dean of Students Tom Bambrey for abusing his 20 minute Chapel Talk on the college's Gentleman's Rule, in which some form of the word "gentleman" was uttered 34 times (and also sung in samples from 1970s-era pantyhose commercials), and to the Glee Club for disrespecting their recording of the school song, Old Wabash.

The soundtrack of Les Baptistes englouties (2007) represents application of wavetable and granular synthesis to the production of signals combined and sequenced in a formal structure of exposition, fragmentation and condensation. Pitch, onset and duration data derive from a time-compressed performance of "La Cathédrale engloutie" by Claude Debussy, though it sounds nothing like Debussy. Raw material for the video consists of over one hundred edited clips of immersion baptisms.

Klirrfarbenstructuren (1997) is an electroacoustic piece for fixed media. It was composed as a stand-alone piece, but ended up being incorporated into my doctoral dissertation (entitled The Madman's Diary). What amounts to an analytical score covering most of the piece is included as a musical example in the text of the dissertation. Here is a scan of that SCORE.

All sounds in Klirrfarbenstrukturen are products of digital Frequency Modulation synthesis. They are all rather metallic in character. FM synthesis is good for that. Their fundamental frequencies are related to each other according to superparticular sets of ratios ranging from 2:1 to 16:15. These form logarithmic microtonal scales with the same pitch relationships as the harmonic series. The low, crashing sounds function as pedal tones with the higher sounds in harmonic-series relation to them. Frequencies of the pedal tones are in ratios of 9:8, 10:9, etc., so each transposition of the harmonic series has frequencies in common with all the others. These common frequencies are used for modulation between transpositions of the series. Here is a PAPER that explains all that.