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Reeds by the Shore

 

This was my first foray into electronic composition, a fact that is perhaps surprising given my background in computer software. It began as an experiment in transforming acoustic sounds electronically. I liked what I was hearing and decided I needed to do something with it.

 

The only acoustic element in the piece is the piano repeating C above middle C as a kind of ostinato. There are other quasi-instrumental voices throughout the piece, in particular those that sound a bit like saxophone, and those that sound like drums. But these are completely synthetic.

 

I wrote the piece in the Audacity audio editor. This is because I started using Audacity in my experiment, and I just continued using it. I like the fact that I have complete control over the wave form. (In software, although I have done much work towards raising the level of abstraction at which systems are specified, at heart I remain an assembly language hacker-type.)

 

“Complete control” is a misnomer, however. There is a lot of trial and error in applying transformations to create the right texture of sound. A lot of the work in Reeds was put into creating the sax-like sounds, roughening them up from what began as sterile sounding sine waves.

 

The title reflects the visual image that the piece conjures in my mind. I imagine a group of musicians, chiefly reed players (like saxophones), improvising on a beach. The locale is suggested by the “waves” that periodically surge in the background.

 

There is a heavy jazz aspect to the whole piece. Jazz has always influenced my composing. I learned most of my craft from Hall Overton at Juilliard, and he himself had a strong jazz background, among other things having done arrangements for Thelonious Monk. The music of John Coltrane was an early influence on me. I do not make a conscious effort to incorporate or emulate jazz in my work. It is simply part of the musical language that I speak.

 

This is perhaps strange as I am not trained in jazz. If you were to ask me to sit at the piano and improvise jazz, I could not. But somehow it creeps into my composing, and I embrace it. Imitative counterpoint plays an important role in jazz, and it is a fundamental aspect of my more recent music – again, not by predetermined design, but rather it is just what I hear in my head. Multiple voices playing off against each other, reinforcing or contradicting each other, building towards a climax: all of this is present in a big way in Reeds by the Shore.

 

I think that Reeds may be the happiest piece I’ve ever written. I don’t like using adjectives to describe music: they are always inadequate. But there is a joy in this piece, an emphatic dancing that culminates in the crazy cacophony at the end, reminiscent of (but maybe a little less crazy than) Coltrane’s Ascension.

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Ravello Records is the contemporary classical label imprint of audio production house PARMA Recordings. Dedicated to highlighting forward thinking composers and musicians from around the world, the New England-based label's eclectic catalog offers listeners a cross-section of today's up-and-coming innovators in orchestral, chamber, and experimental music.

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