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Meander, Spiral, Explode

Below are the notes for my new percussion quartet concerto, premiering tonight at Chicago’s Symphony Center:

In April 2019, my friend Tim Horvath, a novelist, texted me, “Do you know Jane Alison’s Meander, Spiral, Explode? It’s a book that focuses on unusual structural elements in novels.” I always trust Tim’s suggestions, and I tore through the book over the next few days, finding it unique and deeply insightful. I experienced what Melville called “the shock of recognition”—seeing someone describe your own efforts (in this case, an in-progress percussion concerto) without ever having seen a note of it.

The three words of the title seemed to pertain specifically to each movement of my concerto. The first movement—while dramatic and intense—seems to meander through different landscapes, where the gunshot-like sound of four wooden slats morphs into marimbas and bowed vibraphones while changing volume, key, and context.

The second movement (played without pause after the first) is structured like a double helix. A rising scale on two vibraphones slowly expands, speeds up, and finally blossoms into a sea of polyrhythms.

As for the last movement (again played without pause): the explosion seems fairly self-evident. A single exclamation point ejects lines of 16th-notes into the ether which return, again and again, to a white-hot core. The propulsive patterns in this movement constantly shift emphasis but always maintain energy.

The end of the work brings us back to the first three notes of the piece, suggesting one more shape that Jane Alison discusses in her book: a fractal. The simple shape of the opening turns out to have contained the entire form of the work to come.

Meander, Spiral, Explode is dedicated to Third Coast Percussion, who have brought to life nearly an hour of my music over the last three years, and the two fine conductors who will give the world premieres of the work, Teddy Abrams, and Ken-David Masur.