Lost in the Funhouse
for symphonic band with digital sound
Indiana University Wind Ensemble
Ray Cramer, conductor
Available on Signals: Instrumental and Electroacoustic Music of Jeffrey Hass (from the IU Marketplace and online retailers)
1. Cheap Trills
2. Upon Reflection
3. Lost in the Funhouse
Lost in the Funhouse (1996) was completed with a commission from Indiana University celebrating the school's 175th anniversary and is dedicated to Professor Ray Cramer and the I.U. Symphonic Band. The title comes from a collection of short stories by John Barth, where the funhouse provided a metaphor for life. Growing up along the New York-New Jersey shore, I experienced some of the great literal funhouses dotting the beaches' many amusement parks, and Lost in the Funhouse is full of extramusical allusions to these remembered thrills: the first movement suggests the attraction's entrance, complete with pounding heartbeats and sudden slides down trick steps manipulated by some unseen hand; and the second, a series of variations on a chorale, distorts musical statements much like "funny mirrors" do reflections. Listeners can recall their own funhouse experiences in the last movement. Lost in the Funhouse received first prize in the 1994 National Band Association/Revelli Composition Competition and also garnered the 1995 Walter Beeler Memorial Award.
I. CHEAP TRILLS: While gathering the musical materials for the first movement, I had a conversation with a composer friend who admitted an unnatural dislike for Mozart's cadential trills. Perversely perhaps, I was inspired to go a step beyond Mozart and base entire melodies on this common musical figure. "Cheap Trills," therefore, revolves around an alternation between oscillating whole- and half-steps (not unlike the uneven steps of a funhouse).
II. UPON REFLECTION features introductory solos from the oboe and piccolo followed by a chorale, which proceeds through several rhythmic and harmonic variations before returning to and extending the original statement.
III. LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE: The final movement develops the close-knit figures of "Cheap Trills" into expanding wedges and open harmonies. There is a high-energy exchange between the musicians and the electronic tape, particularly showcasing the percussion.
The electronic portion of this multi-movement piece, which was realized at the Indiana University Center for Electronic and Computer Music, plays an equal, not dominant, role in the ensemble; it expands the timbral and rhythmic palette of the band without eclipsing the brass, woodwind or percussion sections. All in all, the true funhouse for me turns out to be the modern computer music studio, where, in the midst of remarkable technology, almost anything acoustically possible can-and sometime does-happen.