The Davis Square Symphony

DSS Grab


The Davis Square Symphony is supported in part by a grant from the Somerville Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and The Awesome Foundation. It will be part of Miller’s installation “Transforming the Prosaic: The Davis Square Symphony and Modified Vinyl” at the Brattleboro Art Museum March 14 – June 14, 2020.

What follows is a rough demo.


The Davis Square Symphony is both a movie and an orchestral score.  Composer Roger Clark Miller filmed Davis Square from 5 different locations, in the 4 different seasons.  This footage was edited down to 18 minutes and forms the structure for the composition.  Each season has a different harmony – spring is the most consonant, winter the most dissonant.  The score was created by applying grids with the appropriate seasonal harmony to the footage.  Vehicles are strings, pedestrians are woodwinds and brass, bicycles are snare drums, etc.  Miller sometimes refers to this piece as being “a Populist John Cage” approach to music.  Once various decisions were made concerning harmony, instrumentation and dynamics, the piece played itself based on what showed up on-screen.

INTRODUCTION: Film with MIDI orchestra Demo.

The Introduction is deliberately spare, to make it very clear how the composition is structured.


PORTION of MOVEMENT II: Film with MIDI orchestra Demo.

This Portion of Movement II is considerably denser than the Introduction.


The techniques Miller used to generate the score are as follows:

Automobiles require a full string section.  Colors define either violin, viola, cello, or bass.  Using various grids superimposed on stills from the footage, the position of the car in space generates pitches.  For each vehicle, two pitches are generated: From the roof (higher pitch) and from the base of the car (lower pitch) above the road.  Volume (mf, mp, etc)  is based on size or distance ratios.

People utilize wind instruments (breath), and each individual generates two pitches.  Woodwinds were chosen for females, brass for males, flutes and piccolos for children.  Height from bottom of the foot to top of head controls the upper pitch, and distance from bottom of foot to waist controls the lower pitch, utilizing a grid.  When people are walking, the two pitches alternate. Volume (mf, mp, etc)  is based on color or distance ratios.

Bicycles, motorcycles and animals (dogs, birds, etc) are played by percussion.


Roger Clark Miller studied composition at California Institute of the Arts.  His setting of the Epic of Gilgamesh (commissioned by N.E.C.’s Callithumpian Consort) premiered at the New England Conservatory in Jordan Hall on Feb.18, 2016.  He is also the guitarist/vocalist in the highly acclaimed rock band Mission of Burma (July 2015 at Fenway Park with Foo Fighters) and keyboardist/composer in the equally, yet differently, acclaimed Alloy Orchestra.  Miller’s main Composer Page is HERE.


Roger in Graves’ Woods, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Photo Debra McLaughlin

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