Brianna Drevlow’s piece “David’s Run” is a soundscape-turned-nightmare, depicting a recurring dream she has:

“Named after the Operation Lifesaver film I watched as a young child about train safety, “David’s Run” depicts a recurring nightmare I experience where I am being hit by a slow moving train, but I wake up before impact. This piece captures the lucidity of my nightmares and though these dreams are incredibly terrifying, I am oddly fascinated by the strength and beauty of the locomotive that metaphorically destroys me.”

The piece explores the many ways in which soundscape can merge with a plot or story-line.  It utilizes a variety of space-creating and pitch-honing effects in Logic X to both build the sound world and execute the story.

The first roughly two minutes of the piece initiate a sound world marked by high bell-like frequencies, wavering between pitches, clear tones colliding in dissonance, and a sense of openness, or at least hollowness, in timbre.  While this textual description makes the sounds seem relatively mundane, the effect is quite the opposite.  Like Cowell’s Banshee, we are led into this piece as if called by a ghost, a frightening terror that is held back, but plummets us into darkness by the two-minute mark.

The darkness of the next portion of the work focuses on a basement, high bells, and undulating figures in the middle.  At certain points the bass is more prominent, some points the middle takes over, and at some points the high is pointed out more prominently.  However, the overall effect is an ambient, drone-like ether in which the listener swims.  If this is Dream Theater’s “A Nightmare to Remember”, Drevlow’s middle section, especially around 4:45, is akin to the rock band’s 4:58: https://youtu.be/jas_RyIFl64?t=4m58s.

The closing figure, after the ambience is established, is the train.  The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is really a light heading straight for us, but Drevlow’s use of panning makes it pass from right to left, honking at us as we either narrowly escape death; or are dead, languishing by the tracks, as it passes in by us post-impact.

But, this is art, right?  So, what does all this mean?  What statement is Drevlow looking to make?

It seems that this is an exploration of a current issue–a recurring thought (nightmare) and social cause.  Perhaps this piece is the composer’s way of deciphering her stance and understanding of the issue of train safety.  However, perhaps this dream and piece are, instead of being topical, a way of the composer recognizing her mortality, as it slowly edges towards her, until the impact of death.  I think the latter is far more likely, although I certainly cannot speak for her.

This all seems very morbid, but I want to stress that this is a story, a plot line, told both explicitly and through the lens of soundscape and sound art.  This fusion of plot and ambience is a strength of this piece, and makes it more effective.

So, what can we learn from this work?

  1. You can fuse seemingly opposite styles.  Drevlow weaves and blends drones with train sounds, bells and high squeals with dramatic volume and panning curves at impactful moments, and this makes the piece very effective.
  2. Pieces can be a way for the composer to understand a topic or issue.  They can also be a way for composers to tackle personal issues, for example their own mortality.  (I do not know if this composer used this piece to face it.  I am just speaking to what it says to me–it makes me face my mortality.)
  3. You do not need to use every effect available to create convincing art.  Restrict yourself.  Art needs parameters, boundaries, limits, in order to grow out and be boundless.  Here Drevlow uses a specific array of effects: reverbs, echoes, panning curves, volume curves, and harmonic exciters, and likely just a few more.

What do you think of this work?  Post a comment with your thoughts!

Happy composing,

Dan