Lincoln's portrait Pulse Aria
for viola and electronics

Stephen Andrew Taylor, 1998

PulseAria.mp3 (5.7 MB)

Pulse Aria was inspired the first time my wife Hua and I heard the sound of our unborn baby's heartbeat, using a special Doppler detector at the doctor's office. Even though the baby was smaller than a pea, there was already a quick pulse. The sound was strange, like a vast ocean wave, but at the same time intimate and lonely--a tiny, indomitable spark.

Several months later, I sampled the heartbeat and used it as the foundation of a groove. Over the groove, the viola's rubato aria reflects the dark, earthy power and fragility of immanent life.

Tools I used to build this piece (some of this equipment is out of date):

Recording Lincoln's pulse
Jackie Deffenbaugh, our nurse practitioner, recording the baby's pulse (all you can see of Hua is the baby). Steve is holding the DAT machine. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lin Gu-Hui, Hua's mother.
With Peak, I captured and edited two important samples for the piece. The first is a loop of our unborn baby's heartbeat, which we recorded with a Sony portable DAT machine at the doctor's office. (It was convenient, since the handheld Doppler machine they use to detect the pulse has a miniplug jack.)

Waveform of an unborn baby's pulse

Out of the minute or so of raw material I cut and found a good loop point, making the basis for a groove in 7 (you can see seven pulses in the waveform). Since the original recording was noisy, I used a lowpass filter plug-in, Hyperprism, available for free from Arboretum's website. The filter took out most of the high-frequency noise, leaving a relatively clear sound.

Hyperprism plug-in example

The other sample is a Tibetan singing bowl, an instrument which I have been obsessed with for awhile. It has a beautiful, clear ringing sound. Besides the clear version of the bell, I reversed it, played it at a higher pitch, and added distortion to create a buzzsaw-like effect.

Waveform of Tibet bell


Last updated June 5, 2005 .
Copyright 1998-2003 by Stephen Taylor, staylor7@uiuc.edu.