Release Date: March 13, 2020
Catalog #: RR8031
Format: Digital & Physical
21st Century

First Light

Jackson Greenberg composer

Ravello Records is proud to announce the release of FIRST LIGHT, featuring performances of two innovative works by composer Jackson Greenberg. In FIRST LIGHT, human inspiration and the machine mind come together to produce music of startling richness and beauty.

The album opens with First Light, in which ethereal drones gradually dawn as seconds blur into minutes. Trance-like, this gentle meditation determinedly builds in dynamic intensity throughout the piece. Almost indiscernibly, instrument families join the accumulating harmonic roar like the rays of daybreak cresting over some desolate, faraway planet. The music was composed by feeding short compositions into a computer program that stretched them up to ten times their original length, creating vibrant distortions that stir the soul with their strange humanity. The second track is a musical setting of the Rainer Rilke poem, “The Panther.” Greenberg eschewed the use of a singer for this performance, instead composing music around a decades-old public domain recording of the poem, recited in its original German.

In FIRST LIGHT, Jackson Greenberg constructs a series of musical cages from which the listener—scratching, clawing—yearns to escape. Yet, he also offers the hope of transformative progress and eventual freedom. Those who thrill at the mingling of human creativity with electronic manipulation will recognize and celebrate the powerful beauty of FIRST LIGHT.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 First Light Jackson Greenberg Slovak National Symphony Orchestra | Arturo Rodriguez, conductor 16:00
02 The Panther Jackson Greenberg Jackson Greenberg 7:57

Arranger: Arturo Rodriguez
Recorded April 15, 2018 at the Slovak Radio Concert Hall in Bratislava, Slovakia
Recording Session Engineer: Peter Fuchs
Mixing: Frank Wolf

Arranger: Jeff Tinsley
Recorded May 15, 2019 at Igloo Music in Burbank CA
Recording Session Engineer: Erich Talaba
Mixing: Frank Wolf

Cover Design & package artwork Allison Clark

Executive Producer Bob Lord

Executive A&R Sam Renshaw
A&R Director Brandon MacNeil

VP, Audio Production Jeff LeRoy
Audio Director Lucas Paquette
Mastering Shaun Michaud

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Sara Warner

Artist Information

Jackson Greenberg


Jackson Greenberg is a Los Angeles-based composer, producer, and performer born and raised in Philadelphia. From a young age, Jackson was a featured soloist in various Philadelphia all-city youth jazz ensembles. He was close to pursuing a career in jazz performance when, during his senior year, his high school drama teacher insisted he write the score for her two plays: Dracula and The Tempest. It was these experiences of witnessing his compositions supporting drama that led Jackson to instead pursue a career in composition.


The composition of First Light began with an act of randomness, of chance. I had become infatuated with recording pieces of short duration and stretching them 8 to 10 times their original length, turning them into an ethereal slow burn of their initial selves. Mostly, this process generated thirty-second increments of novel soundscapes, but mostly the outcomes failed to capture my attention for an entire piece’s duration. One day that changed as I felt I was listening to something written by someone else— something complete and otherworldly. There was something to the process of not knowing how the stretch would turn out— of ceding control to the gods of music— that allowed me a needed remove from my work. It was as if I had not written the piece, but had created a set of circumstances that allowed the piece to birth itself.

After listening the whole way through the product of this electronic alchemy, I walked around my neighborhood in Los Angeles with a total buzz. I grew obsessed with trying to figure out why I had such a strong emotional response to something that was just as much the software’s creation as it was mine, and it was not until I shared the piece with some friends on a drive up a mountain into Sequoia National Park that it hit me. I had been stir-crazy, claustrophobic, and unhappy in Los Angeles, working on music for a very sad TV series where the score often receded into the background at the final mix. In another act of randomness, the peak of the swell in the electronic version of First Light coincided with the arrival of the first giant sequoia on our drive. I suddenly knew: the piece mimicked the feeling of swimming in the darkness, grasping for something to hold onto, and finally catching a tree branch that will lead me to the surface, lead me to air. The feeling of being artistically and emotionally frustrated, and the release that comes from having your faith—faith that driving four hours north to visit some giant trees will bring you mental clarity— rewarded.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I began to compose an orchestral vessel that would be fueled by the original electronic elements. My goal was to highlight the electronics in the beginning and have the power of the orchestra take over and climb to new heights by the end of the journey, re-humanizing the experience. And, in homage to the initial act of randomness, I decided to weave chance back into the orchestral score. If you look at the score, the performers are often given choices of notes and rhythms to play at their discretion.

First Light is about being at the bottom of an ocean— an ocean of water or an ocean of darkness within yourself— where the light cannot reach. Everything is dark. All is quiet. You have no choice but to carry on. You try to climb upwards, swim upwards, maintaining faith that up is up, until maybe you start to catch a glimmer of light, a glimmer of life. First Light.

— Jackson Greenberg

The Panther had a much less auspicious beginning. I was reading Rilke translations at the time, and this particular poem struck me as something that would be challenging and fun to set to music. But set as a loose adaption, without a singer. Instead, I used an old anonymous recording of the poem. It was only after finishing the composition that I recognized the similarities in theme between the poem and First Light: being trapped, stuck, simultaneously imagining your way out, and clawing while imagining a brighter, or different, future. Out of a cage, out of your own way, out of the chains created by your own physical habits and habits of mind. Both these pieces are about imprisonment and escape, darkness and light.

— Jackson Greenberg

Der Panther, Rainer Rilke

Sein Blick ist von Vorübergehen der Stäbe
so müd geworden, daß er nichts mehr hält.
Ihm ist, als ob es tausend Stäbe gäbe
und hinter tausend Stäben keine Welt.

Der weiche Gang geschmeidig starker Schritte,
der sich im allerkleinsten Kreise dreht,
ist wie ein Tanz von Kraft um eine Mitte,
in der betäubt ein großer Wille steht.

Nur manchmal schiebt der Vorhang der Pupille
sich lautlos auf –. Dann geht ein Bild hinein,
geht durch der Glieder angespannte Stille –
und hört im Herzen auf zu sein.

The Panther, Rainer Rilke

His gaze is from the passing of bars
so exhausted, that it doesn’t hold a thing anymore.
For him, it’s as if there were thousands of bars
and behind the thousands of bars no world.

The sure stride of lithe, powerful steps,
that around the smallest of circles turns,
is like a dance of pure energy about a center,
in which a great will stands numbed.

Only occassionally, without a sound, do the covers
of the eyes slide open–. An image rushed in,
goes through the tensed silence of the grame–
only to vanish, forever, in the heart.

(tr. Cliff Crego)