Program Note – JUICY: Spectral Studies for a Citrus Juicer (2013-14)
JUICY, a shimmering little piece for electronics, represents two things for me: an homage to a classic piece of postmodern design, and a chance to fully embrace the lifelong habit I’ve had of smacking steel things together and listening to the resultant sounds.
The “design” homage is to the Juicy Salif, an aluminum squid Philippe Starck created as a citrus juicer as part of his contract with the Italian housewares maker Alessi in the late-‘80s. Starck’s genius isn’t in improving functionality (the Salif is actually a pretty awful juicer). It’s in redefining the lens through which we observe the built environment around us. He turns things askew so that we examine them, discuss them, come together and laugh and think a bit. This has become the droll go-to for a generation of postmodernists, but in the twilight of the Reagan years it was something novel and important.
When I finally found a Juicy Salif on sale, I leapt at the opportunity. It arrived at our doorstep a few weeks later, a gleaming, angular cephalopod just begging to be struck against a hard surface.
Let me explain.
Since I was a child, I’ve been endlessly fascinated by the ringing overtones that erupt whenever certain objects collide. I could honestly sit alone in a room with a triangle and a steel beater and be perfectly content for hours. Maybe days. It’s this same appreciation for harmonic partials, I think, that attracted me to music in the first place. Striking a supported piece of metal is like shining a light into the acoustical darkness with which we surround ourselves—one perceives that fundamental, resonant frequency, but one also hears buzzing, beating tones stretching out ad infinitum. When I knocked one of the Juicy Salif’s legs with a fork, I immediately perceived an extremely strong G and C (-ish), but this quickly dissolved into a harmonic wash that spread out and surrounded me. I knew immediately that I’d have to find an excuse to write a piece using these sounds.
As an homage to Starck, I’ve turned off (or at least quieted down) the left side of my brain in composing JUICY. The only pre-compositional work I undertook was analyzing the various spectra of the Salif being struck with assorted implements. I tried to highlight the relationships of the constituent harmonics with one another, to amplify and diminish certain intervals, to magnify interesting aspects of the juicer’s timbre, to manipulate and transpose partials, etc. The resultant piece is nothing more than a chance to bathe in the refulgent complexity of a piece of aluminum being struck with all manner of household objects.
I hope you enjoy it.