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Peter V. Swendsen
Allusions to Seasons and Weather
Oberlin Music, 2014
American composer Peter V. Swendsen’s work Allusions to Seasons and Weather consists of four parts, each capturing the very specific feeling of being in a particular place, at a particular time, in a particular kind of weather. His experiences in the Norwegian landscape were the inspiration for the four parts of the title work – the first in a thick, autumnal freezing fog; the second, a short-lived day of winter sun; the third in the dynamic, windy mountains; and the fourth experiencing the midnight summer sun in the Arctic Circle.
In a phone conversation, Peter told me about how it was to spend time outside in unfamiliar landscapes and intensely sense the world. He records sounds from the actual landscapes and uses them as live electronics alongside instruments such as recorder, bassoon, cello and saxophone to recreate his experiences. The results are like ‘sound atmospheres’.
Peter had taken a lot of photographs while experiencing and recording the landscapes he was in. The photographs were an authentic record of his experiences and, as such, seemed to be the most honest visual material to use. My first design used Peter’s very atmospheric photos of fog, water and sun. I wanted to keep it as pure as possible, so I let the photos sit framed and isolated on a white background.
Peter, and Michael Straus – Oberlin Music’s manager, who plays saxophone himself on the recording – appreciated the minimal design but found it too empty. I could see what they meant – if you didn’t know that the images were taken by Peter then they were too quiet to get across the intense atmosphere of the works.
My solution was to take Peter’s images and make layered photo-collages from them. Combining the different aspects of weather into one image intensified the feeling of being engulfed by it, echoing the tingling, heightened sensation you get from listening to the music.