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.



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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