MODULATIONS. For Two vibraphones and two marimbas. Duration: 21 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Modulations for two vibraphones and two five-octave marimbas was written at the request of the percussion quartet TorQ, a young, up-and-coming ensemble with whom I have collaborated in the past. Every few years, I teach a course at the University of Toronto called "Composing for Percussion." The first time I taught this course, some of the TorQ members were graduate students at the university. One of them attended the course as a student and a couple of them as Teaching Assistants. In subsequent incarnations of "Composing for Percussion," TorQ volunteered to act as ensemble-in-residence for the course, to the great delight of my students. They workshopped weekly the student composer pieces and presented them in concert the following semester. When I inquired with the ensemble about compensation for their considerable investment of time and energy in this undertaking, all four of them replied "we want a new piece from you." I composed Modulations as I was teaching the course, influenced by as much as influencing the in-class discussions and the emergent collective thinking about what is "cool" in keyboard percussion writing. My musical thinking in this piece owes as much to these discussions with my students and to TorQ's constant "editorial" injections as to my solitary process of soul-searching, which is typical of my other compositional work.

Two overriding interests combine in forming the fundamental thinking behind Modulations. An ongoing interest in metric modulation, to which I was exposed when I first listened to Elliott Carter's string quartets as a student, and minimalism. For some reason, it was not until this moment in time that I realized the musical advantage in combining the two: each exemplifies and needs the other for musical clarity and informational interest to ensue. Very often in the score, the music appears to be radically different after a bar line but continues to sound the same—a way of setting up the foundation for a new rhythmic situation which can be exploited by the performers a bit further along. I was interested in affecting fundamental rhythmic changes in the music which are nearly imperceptible at the time when they are initiated and which the listeners recognize only in hindsight (or "hind-hearing," in this case.) I was also interested in gradual and/or dynamic DJ-like shifts of harmonies or beats. Somehow, during this process, my own stylistic eclecticism managed to push its way into the creative process—to musical advantage, I hope. It was a fun piece to write, although this deliberate and calculating approach to composition is rather foreign to me and exceptional in my work of the last twenty years. Having said this, I have grown somewhat wiser, at least in the sense of never saying "never" so, as a consequence of a modulating moment in my own thinking, here is Modulations.

Premiere performance: February 5, 2012 7:30 PM. TorQ percussion quartet. Walter Hall, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada.

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