I have always wanted to write etudes, but it just never quite felt right. For a composer to write etudes, to me, they must have a personal relationship to the instrument for which they are writing. Standing outside of the piano-playing composer tradition as I do, it felt wrong to write etudes for that instrument, even though it tends to be the standard.
It has been a wonderful experience, therefore, to be afforded this opportunity to write percussion etudes for Sam Solomon. In part, because Sam in an amazing musician and a good friend, but also, having played percussion for many years, it felt right for me to write etudes for this collection of instruments.
I. (—)-I-Am. A perpetual motion figure in the vibraphone is redistributed among the other instruments on the left side of the set-up. Pitches of the melody are replaced with their non-pitched equivalent – i.e. the cowbell, sounding an F replaces an F on the vibraphone. Similar substitutions in the crotales create a melodic line derived entirely from the original perpetual motion material, essentially creating a melody and an accompaniment.
II. Son of (—) is about a rhythm. The title, I am sorry to say, is a pun. A “son” is a type of clave rhythm. In full disclosure, I must admit that the clave used in this movement is not actually a son, but rather a Bossa Nova Clave. Sorry about that for those clave purists out there. At any rate, the musical material is meant to suggest two conflicting personalities, eventually leading to a straight-jacket dance party. If you hear a dog talking to you during this movement, seek help.
III. Wicked Uncle (—) – named after a bearded military recruiter we all know well – deals with very subtle coordination, as the performer is asked to navigate a complex rhythmic field treating each mallet of a four-mallet configuration as an independent limb, including the feet. Basically, Sam becomes an octopus; a redheaded octopus with glasses. It might also be interesting to note that the octopus was a common symbol used in anti-imperialist agit-prop from the early and mid-20th century. That octopus didn’t generally wear glasses, however.