Windmills (1995) by Curt Veeneman
for electronics

Traveling on Interstate 580 in northern California, one is struck with the powerful visual impact of the wind turbines of the Altamont Pass wind farms. Posed dramatically on these hills are more than 7,000 rotors that spin as the Pacific Ocean's cool air funnels into the Central Valley. There is myriad variety: some rotors have two blades and some three — while others slice the air on a vertical axis, resembling nothing more than 100-foot-tall eggbeaters. But it is not until one gets far enough away from the highway that another dimension becomes apparent: these machines not only dance, they sing! When I first had an opportunity to walk amongst the wind turbines, I became enthralled with the complex polyphony of sound they produced. I imagined a computer work comprised entirely of the rare acoustic environment of Altamont Pass, and Windmills is the result.

The opening section of Windmills explores the natural sounds of the wind farms, layered and contoured to depict the landscape made up of flowing curves. At the same time the dramatic stance of the wind turbines is evoked by digitally sampled, computer-transformed turbine sounds with iterations that decrease logarithmically, much as the lines of actual towers on the Altamont Pass visually diminish toward a vanishing point. Soon, the dramatic roar from inside the tower of a spinning rotor carries the listener into a more active sound environment. Now the sampled sounds of various wind turbines are further transformed and re-juxtaposed in a demonstration of the powerful essence of the turbines — it is a ride on electrons.

Gradually, striving toward the surface of this brutal activity is a celebration of a precursor of the modern wind turbine — a Dutch folksong about windmills. At first lending itself only to the intervalic structure of the composition, and then dissolving again after its atoms are arranged into a recognizable state, the folksong creates the underlying chiastic form of Windmills. In this sense, the musical design forms an X (as in the Greek letter chi, hence chiastic) by gradually progressing from a general to a specific and back to a general disposition of the folksong. After the wind turbines' celebratory rendition of the folksong (complete with bladeknocking klompen), the music begins a journey backward through time. Remaining at work's end is the sound of a lone, multi-vaned pump windmill. Sadly, this pump windmill no longer stands among its high-tech counterparts. However, its last song is preserved as a part of Windmills.

Special thanks go to Jeff Crawford for engineering assistance and to Bill Chapman of WindMaster USA, Inc. This work was made possible by a Scholarly Activity Grant from the University of the Pacific.

— C. V.    

[from program for November 3, 2007 concert]