Composer Samuel Pellman Discusses Collaboration With Miranda Raimondi '08

M45 2009 by Samuel Pellman and Miranda Raimondi '08
M45 2009 by Samuel Pellman and Miranda Raimondi '08
Samuel Pellman, the Leonard C. Ferguson Professor of Music, presented his composition NGC 2080, Variation 2 at the Emerson Gallery on Feb. 18 as part of the Gallery’s “Look Up” exhibition. Pellman’s piece, which was accompanied by a video created by his collaborator Miranda Raimondi '08, combines unique and innovative sounds with beautiful and meaningful images.

NGC 2080 is part of Pellman’s latest series, “Selected Nebulea.” The collection probes into the infiniteness and magnitude of space travel, as Pellman drew inspiration for the music from images of nebulae. The sounds that the music itself employs are highly intertwined with technology; Pellman explained that using technology in his work has allowed him to tune the music in just intonation, in which the frequencies of the notes are in simple ratios of whole numbers. According to the composer, this makes the tuning highly stable and very pure; by contrast, the music of the last 250 years is much more “irrational.”

The melody itself is calming and futuristic. Combined with the video, the effect is soothing, which may seem to contradict the technological nature of the piece. Pellman stated that a major aim of his work is to avoid sounding “like an alarm clock.” In other words, his brand of electronic sounds opposes the stereotype of the genre.

The visual component of Pellman’s art, created by alumna Raimondi, is also striking and surprising in its own way. The video that accompanies NGC 2080, for example, features a dodecahedron, the fifth Platonic solid, which Plato believed was used by the gods to create the universe. The shape has the appearance of a crystal, cut into a smooth, shining, multifaceted figure. It rotates at the center of the screen, reflecting rich, fiery shades of orange and red. The shape seems to be moving through space, emphasizing the importance of outer space in the collection. The effect is kaleidoscopic and engrossing.

Raimondi, who majored in art at Hamilton, described the process of creating the videos as deeply reflective, intuitive, and meditative. Each video requires time to understand the music’s content and attempt to form it into a something relevant and applicable to it. She stated that her work contains “great potential for order as well as chaos,” and that the goal is to balance the information into an entity that “makes sense to the senses.” Raimondi explained that she understands that audiences don’t frequently encounter shapes and sounds such as these, which is part of why her job is to help relate the information contained within the music to the audience.

Professor Pellman presented a form of music that may seem esoteric and unintelligible, and yet by looking at the images and simply listening to the music, it is easy to find the beauty in it. The sound and video form together into a gentle yet meaningful look at the importance of space exploration. They highlight the enormity of what advances have been made so far as well as the vastness that we have yet to encounter.

Student author Esther Malisov is a graduate of The Heschel School, New York, New York.

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