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Like Billy Pilgrim, He Had Come Unstuck in Time

Here's my new piece for radio, "Like Billy Pilgrim, He Had Come Unstuck in Time."  It was premiered on Nov 7 on EarsHaveEars, hosted by Brooke Olsen and produced by Scarlett Di Maio for FBi Radio in Sydney.  If you want to listen to the piece on their Soundcloud site, here's the URL:


Here's the program note:

“Like Billy Pilgrim, he had come unstuck in time”

Composition for Radio – duration 18:00

By Warren Burt

“If you truly wish to know nature, you must know her in her bad moods as well as her good moods.” –Henry David Thoreau

In early October, we experienced nature in one of her bad moods.  A very strong windstorm struck Victoria.  We were staying at Portarlington, on the Bellarine Peninsula, when the storm struck in all its fury.  We were staying at a bed and breakfast, and I noticed that by placing a sound recorder near the windows, we could get very good recordings of storm sounds without any wind noise on the mics.  House as windscreen, if you will.  With gusts of up to 100km/h, that’s about the size of windscreen that was needed. I made two recordings, one at the front of the house, the other at the rear.  These recordings form the basis of the piece.  In August, I also made recordings at several locations in Malaysia – in the lobby of the G-Tower Hotel, in the Ampang Park Shopping Mall, and at the Kuala Lumpur Airport.  These, combined with a 5am October recording of our back yard in Daylesford, form the material of the piece.

As well as using the raw recordings of the environmental sound, I also took 1 minute segments from each sound, and using the program Photosounder, I inverted the spectrum of each sound – literally, I turned the sound upside down – and time-stretched these to last 3 minutes.  I also took the one minute segments, both original-form and upside-down, and using the program Melodyne, converted the sound to MIDI information.  This MIDI information then played a variety of virtual pianos using the Pianoteq virtual piano. Each piano segment was also put into a unique microtonal scale, based on the “Mt. Meru” scale diagrams of Mexican-American music theorist Ervin Wilson.

So what we have in the piece are unaltered environmental recordings, inverted and time-stretched environmental sounds, and sequences of piano music, which are a conversion into notes of the original and inverted environmental sounds.  All these sounds are placed into a form that is fairly unrelenting, and very high energy.  Like Billy Pilgrim, the hero of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Slaughterhouse Five,” the listener is also “unstuck in time,” being hurled from one soundscape to another, sometimes recognizable, sometimes distorted beyond recognition.  Various surprises happen throughout the piece, some humorous, others verging on the macabre.  Time becomes surreal and fluid here, despite the fact that the piece proceeds in implacable units of 1 minute each.  The storm is not only a physical one – in this mix it is a psychological one as well.

Sounds were recorded in August and October 2013 in Malaysia and Victoria.  Mixing, processing and editing took place on October 19-20, 2013, and the piece was completed on October 23, 2013.  It was requested by Scarlett de Maio for her program Ears Have Ears on FBi Radio, Sydney.

And if you want to listen to it here, here it is:




Once again, thanks to Scarlett and Brooke for asking for it, and putting it on their show.


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