and COMMENTARY on four compositions for MIT Csound
                              Art Hunkins

Dr. Arthur B. Hunkins
316 Trail One
Burlington, NC 27215
336 227-0917

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Born into a musical family in New York City and raised in southeastern Ohio (Athens), Arthur Hunkins began composing at an early age - under the watchful eye of his mother, composer Eusebia Simpson Hunkins. He studied violin, piano and later cello, graduating with a BA in music from Oberlin College. He then spent two years in Paris under the tutellage of Nadia Boulanger (composition) and Andre Navarra (cello). It was during this time that he converted to Catholicism. Returning to the US, he mastered in composition at Ohio University (under Karl Ahrendt) and earned a DMA in composition under Ross Lee Finney (minoring in cello with Oliver Edel).

After short periods of teaching at Southern Illinois Unversity (Carbondale) and the University of North Texas, he spent the major portion of his academic career teaching cello and bass, theory and composition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Hunkins' interest in electronic music dates from the earliest days of analog synthesizers. He attended Bob Moog's Trumansburg, NY workshop in electronic music in 1965 and shortly thereafter established one of the earliest analog synthesizer-based university electronic music studios at UNC Greensboro. He was studio director there for 32 years, until his retirement in 1997. A composer of a wide range of electro-acoustic (especially live-performance) and conventional works (particularly for choral groups), he creates music that is spiritual in inspiration and largely meditative in mood.

His introduction to digital synthesis took place in the early '70's at a workshop on Music360 sponsored by the NEH at the University of New Hampshire. The pieces discussed here are Hunkins' four compositions for MIT Csound. All should be playable on any platform for which a version of Csound is available (see

VIA CREATIVA/VIA TRANSFORMATIVA is his earliest Csound endeavor, completed in 1990, but having its roots and initial trial runs during the NEH workshop (using Music360 in a mainframe environment - I remember vividly the late-night rendering sessions, when the off-line mainframe was entirely dedicated to playing our fledgling studies!). Nearly 20 years later it was completed on a desktop PC! It has the only "fixed" score of the group, designed without the score preprocessor nGen in mind. Alternating a single, built-up harmonic series with a seven-inharmonic bell tone, it features random modulation of sinewave frequency with audio-range noise; it "transforms" from pure tone to noise bands and back again (so becoming involved in negative sample increments).

GIFTS (1991) is the second piece solely realized in Csound; but here nGen preprocessing is required--in this case for the basic purpose of randomizing start and duration times while retaining control over "average event spacing." Several other parameters are randomized as well: frequency, and "cloud rhythm"--including whether "clouds" are repeated in total or in part. (The "cloud" instrument is #7). A global reverb (instrument #8) is used for the "cloud" only.

Whereas the previous works are mono, both LUX HOMINUM (1994) and IN VITAM VENTURI (1995) exist in stereo, as well as in mono and several alternate versions. Both make important use of nGen preprocessing, and additionally invite the user's involvement in customizing the realization.

LUX HOMINUM actually comprises eight variable and fixed forms (four written in "straight" Csound; four requiring nGen preprocessing). (A previous version of the work is for 2-op FM sound card and MIDI file player. In Cakewalk implementation, several of the randomization and user customizations described below are accomplished through CAL routines.) Among the several versions: a "fixed" one using luxm.sco and luxm.orc, and one in which luxgen.txt is to be processed by nGen and its "score" output paired with luxmgn.orc. Of particular interest in these editions is the "numinous" quality of the instruments, which is created by applying small amounts of random subaudio amplitude modulation to the audio signal (this, in the "MD" versions). A similar technique (but in this case random frequency modulation) applies in ET VITAM VENTURI.

User customizable parameters in LUX HOMINUM include the following: variable tempo, basic transposition level, choice of modulation waveform (the piece consists of simple FM bell tones, each based on the identical carrier frequency), and modulation index (for "tone color" control). These factors are fine-tuned in either .sco or .orc files. Additionally, tone color entry order can be manually regulated by the user in the .sco file.

ET VITAM VENTURI III exists in two previous--in this case live performance--incarnations: ET VITAM VENTURI for two Yamaha PSS480 or PSS680 synthesizers, and ET VITAM VENTURI II for Yamaha FB01 or TX81Z Tone Generator and MIDI Keyboard. The Csound rendition (III) is variable, not fixed, requiring nGen for actual score generation. Its randomized elements are event start/duration and stereo placement. User customization comprises tempo specification, starting pitch (including an option for random selection), and several choices of modulation index (this piece too is based on simple bell tones).

The most unique feature of ET VITAM VENTURI III is its invitation to the user to create his/her own unique bell tones. Vitamt.orc and .sco are furnished for this purpose. Complete instructions for such creation are included in the vitamt.sco file (which is not to be processed by nGen). From the sonic output of the vitamt files, the user selects the sonorities he/she prefers, and inserts the corresponding values in the scorefile generated by nGen and vitamgen.txt.

As can be readily understood from the above commentary, the composer is particularly interested in variable and multiple renderings of his Csound and other electronic works. In the case of Csound, he does this by randomizing crucial parameters (within specified limits) and by inviting the user to "customize" realizations. A major motivation for these efforts is the desire to recreate in the Csound environment some of the "you are there" excitement of live (concert) performance, where each rendition is unique to some degree. In this regard, MIDI-controlled, real-time Csound is a new creative adventure on which the composer has recently embarked with great expectation. (Currently, all of his Csound works are of the live-performance variety.) The first fruits of this new undertaking are the multiple versions of THAT ALL MAY BE ONE and ASCENSION, both composed in 2003 for live performance CsoundAV, with optional external MIDI control. (These were soon followed by CLOUD OF UNKNOWING.)

N.B. A word about nGen:
The excellent Csound score processor, nGen, authored by Mikel Kuehn, is downloadable from The download includes a thorough HTML manual. Both nGen and Csound are free, and available for a wide variety of platforms. In addition, zip archives for the works discussed above include traditional .sco scores--so that representative renditions of these compositions may be readily experienced apart from nGen.

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