Title: Falling from Cloudless Skies
Year Completed: 2009
Duration: 15 mins
Instrumentation: Wind Ensemble with electronic soundscape controlled by a computer
Credits: Commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Funding provided by the Canada Council for the Arts. This wind ensemble version was requested by Mark Hopkins for the Acadia University Wind Ensemble
Premiere: Mar 20, 2010 Wolfville, NS: Acadia Wind Ensemble, Mark Hopkins, Conductor

Purchase/Rent: Canadian Music Centre

Note: the required Max/MSP patch for the soundscape is available directly from the composer. Please contact the composer through the Canadian Music Centre.

"A six-pound chunk of ice fell from the sky. The source of the ice wasn't immediately known. The increase of these extreme atmospheric events, incidents involving megacryometeors, balls of ice that fall out of the clear blue sky – possibly due to global warming – could be a new type of fingerprint of Climate Change."

Megacryometeors, a term coined by Dr. Jesus Martinez-Frias, is derived from "mega" which means big, "cryo" for ice and "meteor," the debris that streak through the atmosphere. A note I received via email from Dr. Martinez-Frias corrects an earlier statement which read, "the extraterrestrial debris that streak through the atmosphere." Instead he says that, "The ice is not extraterrestrial; it clearly comes (and was formed) from our Earth's atmosphere (more specifically in the troposphere). This is unequivocally confirmed by its isotopic composition."

Technology merges with the acoustic – is it natural? The start of this work sees one minute of soundscape; crashing, cracking, ripping, tearing and broken sounds. The ice is forming in the sky. A long development ensues and a rhythmic counterpoint plays out between a darabuka and pizzicato strings. Rhythm is altered between 3/4 and 6/8: the darabuka often transitioning to cycles of 7 and 5. Woodwind instruments interject along wth electronic sounds. A contrabassoon solo eventually ensues in its lowest register – out of place – our polar bear. Descending chromaticism follows, the ice is falling perhaps. Oboes enter, staccato, in major and minor seconds in the lowest register, a raw sound. Eventually the section builds until we get the first major climax of the work. Following this the lowest B-flat enters in the piano and bass instruments. Text is recited, "A six-pound chunk of ice fell from the sky. The source of the ice wasn't immediately known. The increase of these extreme atmospheric events, incidents involving megacryometeors, balls of ice that fall out of the clear blue sky - possibly due to global warming - could be a new type of fingerprint of Climate Change. A term coined from “mega,” which means “big,” “cryo” for “ice” and “meteor,” the extraterrestrial debris that streak through the atmosphere." The strings go a bit mad, quarter tones, harmonic glissandos and grinding sounds accompany a woodwind ostinato. Eventually this leads to a third and final section. Rhythm, harmony and melody becomes more regular, alternating between 3/4 and 2/4. At points we hear the sounds of dogs, ravens. A synthesized choir accompanies near the end, as the darabuka returns with its 7 and 5 pairings until the very end.

Falling from Cloudless Skies incorporates processed and synthesized sounds of ice – creaking ripping, tearing sounds to mimic the ice – flaw leads, water and underwater sounds. Electronic and ecological sounds are paired with the orchestra, both as an instrument in the orchestra, and also juxtaposed, as if in competition with the acoustic instruments. The ultimate goal is to place the musicians into an environment that is not normal; an abstraction of an all too familiar concept amongst scientists dealing with global warming. I’ll use the example of the polar bear that must attack the walrus, a prey that is too large, because it has no alternative. I began this new work by capturing (recording) sounds in the field, including the use of hydrophones for underwater sounds. Electronic sounds, other than the environmental sounds collected at the source include cracking, breaking, rubbing, tearing, ripping and crashing kinds of sounds that were created using mostly frozen ice, cardboard, plastic, creaking doors and velcro. Chunks of ice were created in my freezer and then smashed and cracked. I edited the sounds in my home studio using a combination of Max/MSP/Jitter, Pro Tools and Digital Performer. The orchestra score was then created in tandem with the electronic materials.

Electronic soundscape is controlled by a laptop computer in the wind ensemble.

"Derek Charke's “Falling From Cloudless Skies” was an enjoyable blend of electronics and orchestra. While the musicians played, Charke focused on his laptop, carefully executing more than 200 recorded sounds. The piece began with synthesized sounds and a mild pulse. Suddenly, it became chaotic as the audience was assaulted with full force chaos of the orchestra. There was a surprise when a recorded voice reported that a six-pound chunk of ice fell from the sky and that this and other extreme atmospheric events may be associated with climate change. The strings began undulating and the music took on a movie soundtrack quality. By the end of the piece, the orchestra sound had thinned out and the electronics had more prominently returned. It had an open feeling — perhaps the sky's relief after letting loose its ice chunks." – Chris Hay, The Manitoban


4 Flutes (flutes 3 and 4 double piccolo)
2 Oboes
1 Bassoon
1 Clarinet in Eb
3 Clarinets in Bb
1 Bass Clarinet in Bb
2 Alto Saxophones
1 Tenor Saxophone
1 Baritone Saxophone

4 Trumpets in Bb (Trumpet 1 optional doubles Eb)
4 Horns in F
2 Tenor Trombones
1 Bass Trombone
2 Euphoniums (Bass or Treble)
1 Tuba

2 Double Bass
1 Piano

6 Percussion

3 marimbas to be placed around the ensemble. Marimba 3 must be a 5 octave marimba. Marimba 1 should be at the back. Marimbas 2 and 3 should be on opposite sides. If 3 marimbas are not possible then marimba 1 and 3 can play together on a 5 octave marimba.

Timpani (4 drums)
Bass Drum
Concert Cymbals
Large Gong
High Hat
3 Sus. Cymbals (all different)
Lions Roar
Mark Tree
Sleigh Bells
Snare Drum
3 Tom-toms

derek charke falling from cloudless skies wind ensemble
Williams College Wind Ensemble: Steven Bodner, Conductor Acadia University Wind Ensemble: Mark Hopkins, Conductor