Marc of Santa Barbara
for Flute and Live Electronics

A little while back, when taking the Santa Barbara Airbus to down to LAX, I saw the words "Santa Barbara" written backwards on the inside of the window. Perhaps because it was backwards, I was struck by how much internal repetition there was in the name, a feature which—because of who I am—made me think of Markov chains.

Later, when I was contemplating a flute piece that I was to write for my friend, Adriane Hill, this memory came back to mind. The piece was to be for my final PhD recital at UC Santa Barbara, and it seemed an appropriate tribute to this place that I have called home to base the piece on the town's name. Here is Adriane's beautiful performance from that recital:

For audio only, click here.

The piece, punnily titled "Marc of Santa Barbara," uses a low-order Markov analysis and re-synthesis of the phrase "santa barbara california" as its basic structural material. Letters have been mapped to notes and short gestures, with the exact nature of this mapping evolving over the course of the piece. There is also a live electronic backdrop based on the same kind of spectral freezing technique that I used here:

Markov analysis and resynthesis, as applied to a string of text, looks at the transitions between letters and resynthesizes something statistically similar. For instance, in the phrase "santa barbara california", the letter "b" is always followed by "a"; the letter "i" is followed half the time by "f" and half the time by "a"; the letter "a" can go to "n", " " (a space), "r", or "l", with "r" and " " being especially likely; and so on. If we create a new text using this same set of transitions (with the same probabilities), we might get something like:

"antania babaralianta sarliana..."

In this work, the Markov process is applied to an evolving window of the phrase "santa barbara california". For instance, near the beginning, we might only be using "ara ca" as our source material, which generates phrases with a limited vocabulary of letters (corresponding to a similarly limited vocabulary of notes and gestures):

"a ra cara acara"

Towards the middle of the work, larger subsets of the phrase are used, resulting in a richer vocabulary of notes and gestures.

Although the work began life with this generative process, at some point in the process I copied down the results by hand, freely altering them as suited my taste.