Phenomenal Hum

Program Note

Commissioned by Hocket.

Humming is one of the smallest and most intimate musical gestures—it is something done mostly to ourselves, often while alone, and happens without much thinking. There is also a particular physical and timbral quality to this inward expression: closed-lipped, the sound is pinched and direct, but the feeling of humming fills one’s head with vibrations. On the other hand, there is the humming of machines, which can be as mysterious and they are powerful. Such hums are completely artificial and alien to our bodies, even though they are the by-products of human invention. Sometimes they can be more felt than heard, but they also have the ability overwhelm the senses with volume. Perhaps a common quality to all machine-hums is that they are persistent.

Phenomenal Hum maps these acoustical musings onto a single piano through the efforts of two performers. The double-harmonics activated in the bass strings create a persistent percussive quality to the work, yet the resultant overtones are smooth, organic, and clear. The duo collaborates in bringing out a sense of lyricism from these percussive elements as well as sound masses and other chromatic filigree. The interdependence of parts culminates into one of the players acting as assistant to the other, through solely manipulating the strings—a brief, silent role that has dramatic repercussions on the sounds produced. Finally, the piano is perfectly suited as a producer of hums, simultaneously representing both vocality and intimate domesticity as well as the notion of a complex musical machine.

About Tonia Ko

Tonia Ko’s creative evolution is largely guided by three conceptual pillars: texture, physical movement, and the relationship between melody and memory. These ideas permeate her recent works across a variety…