Nautilus is a systematically structured composition whose form is somewhat organic in the sense of a growth cycle. The performer stands in the centre of four families of percussion instruments (drums, woods, hard metals, soft metals) arranged in a diamond shape, and has eight parts from which to choose, the only constraint being to alternate the direction that each part takes around two sides of the diamond. The performer chooses one of of the 1152 possible combinations of ordering the parts.
The tape part is composed of computer-synthesized sounds which are modeled on the characteristics of each percussion family. These sounds are in constant rotation in both directions, but due to reverberation, seem more distant when slow, and closer when quick. A faint ambience of wind and water may also be heard. No fixed synchronization between the tape and specific parts is required by the score, thus leaving the performer and ultimately the listener free to construct the immediate relations between the two.
The title refers to the chambered nautilus, a sea creature whose shell grows in a logarithmic spiral, similar to the proportions of the durations and other characteristics of both live and tape parts. The work was inspired, somewhat retrospectively, by the I Ching hexagram The Well, and it is dedicated to Russell Hartenberger who first brought it to life.
Both the tape and live parts were realized with the composer's POD6 and POD7 programs for computer sound synthesis and composition at Simon Fraser University. The frequency modulated sounds on the tape and the live parts were composed with a Poisson-determined frequency-time field whose density and frequency range are variables in time. The four-channel tape was mixed in the Sonic Research Studio of the Department of Communication at Simon Fraser University using two pan-pots for the rotation of the sounds.