In the autumn of 2012 I was working on some musical ideas on acoustic guitar for a swirling repetitive piece, and wondering if it would be something I could adapt for Solistenensemble Kaleidoskop, a string ensemble from Berlin who had commissioned me to write a piece for them. A few weeks later, around this same time, on October 29, 2012, New York City was struck by Hurricane Sandy, one of the most severe storms to hit the city in a long time. My home was not flooded, as many were, but we were without power, lights, heat and water for a week or so.

On the day of the storm, in the late afternoon, about two hours before the full force of the storm was to arrive, I went out into the streets with a hand-held recorder. Sitting in my loft in lower Manhattan on that day, I could hear the wind coming off, through and around all the tall buildings and making the most amazing sounds: overlapping drones, swirling and repetitive, sometimes sounding like choirs of voices, tonal clusters and harmonies, close and dissonant, but also at times clearly consonant chords with clear root, third and fifth. The city became a massive Aeolian wind harp like the Greeks once made!  As I walked the streets in my neighborhood the sounds shifted on every corner. I recorded what I could. Water began spilling over the river and into the streets, forcing me out of the storm.

Over the next couple days I sat at the piano and did a basic transcription of the sounds. It fascinated me to think they were produced by violent winds moving through the city’s streets. Listening to these sounds led me to the idea of using them as the basis for my piece for the strings, with the thought of recreating some of the tonalities I heard on that evening.

During the week we spent without power, I spent my nights strumming acoustic guitars by candlelight, and ideas for some of the songs for my next album (Last Night On Earth) came along, also inspired by the events of the storm. I decided that it would be interesting to integrate some pieces, in song form, with singing, into the work for strings; to have the music ‘flow’ into, and out of, song forms, into, and out of, the storm, if you will. The idea was to get a sense of what was going on both outside in the storm, and inside the safety of our apartment.  I also liked the idea of challenging the ensemble to address both abstract segments and more traditional song structures. The piece is modular, the ‘wind transcription’ sections can also exist without the song interludes, as the songs often do exist without the abstract elements.

Lee Ranaldo
New York City
March 2013

Hurricane Sandy-wind transcriptions 026M IMAGE

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *