” The steelpan, native to Trinidad and Tobago and appearing in the early-mid 19th century, is an instrument produced through an especially slow, laborious process. In the first stage, called “sinking,” the flat surface of one end of an oil drum is crudely hammered in to create the concave bowl shape of the instrument. Next, the areas that will correspond to individual notes are marked on the surface of the bowl, and smaller hammers are then used to raise each of these circular patches of metal away from the surface, creating distinct, individual tones. As each note is fine-tuned, the first, second, and third harmonics must be tuned separately, and in such a way that tuning the second and third harmonics does not detune the fundamental; if the tuner’s careful hammering properly tunes the higher harmonics but shifts the fundamental from its correct frequency, the note must be hammered down again and the process must start over. The resonance, modes of attack, and unique timbre of the steelpan provide much of the musical material of Pan, Sinking. In addition, the process of the instrument’s construction—specifically the ideas of carefully applying a single process (“hammering”), and of bringing sonic material into alignment (“tuning”)—is treated as a metaphor that guides the work’s structural organization. In Pan, Sinking, the incorporation of this metaphor produces a linear, directional form that takes the acoustic resonance of the tenor pan’s F6 (the highest and least-characteristic note on the instrument) as it’s initial material, and then submits this musical object to one continuous process of distortion and dilation, arriving at a point where the distinct roles of the steelpan, piano, and ensemble are slowly brought towards rhythmic, gestural, and harmonic alignment. ” Quote of ‘Abstract’ from the Full Text.


Jeffery Bowen