Rocks and Clouds for Chamber Orchestra (2003)
Cleveland Chamber Symphony


The notes from this piece come from the abstract to my BGSU Master's Degree Document.

My current compositional approach and aesthetic lies in exploring the properties of sound as a means to create sonic texture-based objects. This parallels much of the research and experimentation conducted using computers in electroacoustic music during the mid- to late-twentieth century. While I view this process as stemming from the tradition of western art music, my approach differs in that it is not linked specifically to the idea of motivic development found in the large majority of the western art music repertoire. My work for chamber orchestra, Rocks and Clouds, is an outgrowth of this ideology.

The large-scale structural material is divided into two main texture-types that are juxtaposed and manipulated throughout the composition. The first type (A) is smooth and sustained and features layers of chords. The second type (B) comprises a combination of individual instruments or groups performing short, percussive gestures and longer broken chords. The generative material of both textures stems from a frequency-based sieve—an expansion of the sieve concept developed by Iannis Xenakis. The original sieve idea is a means of generating a pitch collection within pitch space. Specific intervallic properties are achieved by selecting a generative base pitch and through successive iterations, adding an accrued interval or intervals over the course of a predetermined pitch-space range. I have expanded the sieve concept to perform calculations above a base frequency using ratios that fall both in the harmonic series (9:8, 4:3, 3:2) and outside the series, the results of which were mapped onto the equal-tempered scale. This approach maintains a correlation between pitch structures and the properties of sound (the overtone series in this case) and creates blocks of sound (chords) that blend homogenously, which I was able to dismantle,layer, and distort to create a continually varying, undulating texture.

The form of the composition consists of five sections. The second and fourth sections (using material from the B texture-type) are the most energetic sections of the piece. Both of these sections conclude with a thick chord involving the entire orchestra playing at a forte dynamic. The opening, closing, and middle sections focus on material from A.

The title of the piece illustrates the two different textures found in the work. It also alludes to the “natural” pitch organization scheme and the spiritual associations of earth and sky. The origination of my approach for this composition extended out of my fascination with the music of composers such as Morton Feldman, Toru Takemitsu, Kaija Saariaho, Gyorgi Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, Gerard Grisey, and Pierre Boulez. Their passion for “sound for sound’s sake” served as a model throughout my compositional process.