2(II=afl).2(II=corA).2(II=bcl).2-18.104.22.168-timp.perc(2):I=crot/t.bells/vibratone/susp.crash/tam-t/3tom-t(lo,med,hi)/BD(horizontal); II=vib/spring dr/tamb/4susp.cym(ride,crash,splash,sizzle)/3SD(lo,med,hi)/BD-harp-pft(=cel)-strings
The electric cello is an electromagnetic instrument. The kinetic energy of the strings is transformed into electromagnetic energy that can be manipulated in numerous ways before being reconverted into sound. This is the main feature of this instrument and the very source of its amazing power, so I decided to find the biggest possible magnet to base my work on. Reading some articles online, I learned about the existence of some rare type of pulsars that had the biggest magnetic fields in the universe known as MAGNETARS.
After learning about the existence of magnetars, I contacted Dr. Jonathan Arons from the University of Berkeley (an astrophysicist who happens to play the cello) who kindly agreed to have lunch with me. It was then that I learned all I needed to know (and more) about magnetars and its flares. He also put me in contact with Dr. Kevin Hurley – one of the authors of the articles I read – who was kind enough to share with me data from three flares produced by three different magnetars collected by Venera, Ulysses and Rhessi spacecrafts. I used this data to construct the base materials for my work.
Once I had the materials ready, I ripped off two strings from my electric guitar and tuned it as a cello. Then I jammed over the materials to find out what could be done with them. I composed the solo part first, and showed it to Johannes Moser, who crashed in my studio for a week. During this time we defined how the final version should sound like, leaving the score ready to add the e-cello FXS patcher and the final orchestration.
The work has three movements: fast, slow, and brutal. The data from the flares had some seconds of cosmic noise before and after the blast, so the first movement comes from and goes back to cosmic noise, which is represented by the use of hands and feet – ideal instruments for controlled noise chaotic textures. The core of the movement has the time line reversed: the decay of the flare becomes a gradual build up towards the big blast that dies out into the solo cadenza. This cadenza represents quiet and peaceful times; when magnetars chill out and return to balance. The second movement explores melodies that build up to a mini flare (magnetars also have small bursts), then falls into a cool jam, and dies out to the same ethereal ambience of the cadenza. The third movement bursts from nowhere into a fully distorted e-cello that leads into a brutal riff, that gradually builds up to the giant final flare.
Needless to say, the effects patcher [This FXS patcher was programmed by Esteban Chapela.] is the most exciting part of an e-cello concerto. This software controls all digital as well as analog effects. It’s based on MAX/MSP and does many things: it governs the effects configuration during the entire piece, it analyses the audio signal and provides a real time stream of information that is used to adjust the response of the effects to the playing of the soloist. Finally, it performs all digital FXS (delay, granulation, ring modulation, spectral freeze) while storing the MIDI data that turns on and off the analog FXS (distortion, wa wa, chorus, phaser).
"A major e-cello concerto ... rich in jazz, rock, and Latin-American influences, and quotations, that are seamlessly integrated ... For 25 minutes, Chapela charts a riveting narrative of sounds that create their own reality of love, excitement, and drama ... The crowd roared." —Strings Magazine
"The piece started with the orchestra members putting down their instruments and rubbing their hands together. When they did play, they produced whooshes of glissandi. The cello part was fast, furious, rhythmic… Here the cello wailed and wa-wa-ed and did things that an electric guitar can do and other things that it can’t do. The spacey slow movement, in which the cello sounded underwater, also got interesting at the end. A kind of jazziness took over. The cello mimicked a trumpet wa-wa-ing with a mute and a saxophone. I imagined astronauts playing “St. James Infirmary” while on a spacewalk. The last movement was pedal to the metal. Magnetar in the end, was full of – sorry, metal freaks – charm."
“The concerto is filled with unusual sounds, vividly complex rhythms, and evident originality in the
melodies and orchestral writing…No stuffy “old” music here—but originality and a modern sensibility at
every turn.” —Calgary Herald