Baroque Organ Enters 21st Century With Electronic Music

Award-winning electronic music composer Kevin Ernste, professor of music and director of the Cornell Electroacoustic Music Center, will open the organ dedication’s keynote concert on Saturday, March 12 at 5:30 p.m. with a special inaugural composition. “It’s an exciting opportunity to showcase the organ as a vehicle for new music,” says Annette Richards, professor of music and conference organizer.

Kevin Ernste at consoleThe piece is titled “Anacrusis,” invoking the anticipation and the suspension of time that happened in the construction of this organ, says Ernste, as well as the name of Anabel Taylor Chapel, the organ’s home.

Ernste opens the piece with the hissing of a misaligned organ pipe and the sounds of woodwork and construction, performed by representatives of the organ project, including case maker Chris Lowe, organ designer Munetaka Yokota, volunteers Maureen Chapman and Jeff Snedeker, undergraduate students and others.

Then comes a blast of all the organ pipes at once. The ensuing resonant silence creates an awareness of the physical space, says Ernste, while sounds of hammers and hand planes invoke the organ’s creation.

This opening sound cluster recurs but eventually gives way to a borrowed melody from the beginning of J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, itself filled with suspensions and anacrusi. Ernste transforms the Bach into an elongated series of suspensions using special software he wrote especially for this piece.

Late in the composition Ernste brings in recordings of other Cornell organs. “I had this idea that even the other organs on campus would have some sense of anticipation, almost like welcoming a new sibling,” he says. “Their collective character turns into a kind of haze, but they’re also each in slightly different tuning systems, so that blast of sonic richness that begins the piece becomes, at the end, an amalgamation of all of these voices coming together.”