American Biomes is a concert-length work for percussion quartet, written for a consortium of percussionists around the world. Over the 60-minute work, ten movements will provide a glimpse into the natural makeup of North America. It is my hope that this piece will bring something new to the listener each time they experience it. I am incredibly thankful to the consortium members that elected to participate, and especially to consortium lead Dr. Tommy Dobbs and the premiering ensemble, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Percussion Ensemble. The premiere performance is below, followed by descriptions of each movement.
I. TUNDRASTRUCK - American Biomes
II. DESERT SHIFTS - American Biomes
III. PRAIRIE NOCTURNE - American Biomes
TUNDRASTRUCK is written to evoke a vast natural expanse, using a combination of huge, boomy sounds (concert bass drum, tam tam) and icy textures (vibraphone, triangles).
II. DESERT SHIFTS
DESERT SHIFTS is a non-stop adventure, and is the most typical movement of the percussion ensemble genre. There is constant rhythmic groove permeating this movement, with a circular main thematic figure that often obscures the meter.
III. PRAIRIE NOCTURNE
PRAIRIE NOCTURNE is contrapuntal and dark. This movement marks the first full iteration of the main melodic figure that is developed throughout this work. I like to imagine a single-bedroom cabin on a hill in the prairie, lit by a small lamp. Dark, but not in a foreboding way.
IV. DECIDUOUS INTERLUDE (FAUNA)
DECIDUOUS INTERLUDE (FAUNA) is colorful, with three gestural bursts. Imagine the forest and all of the life that it supports.
V. CAT O' NINE-TAILS AND THE NUTRIENT WATER
CAT O' NINE-TAILS AND THE NUTRIENT WATER is written in what is roughly a song form: there is an intro, a verse and chorus that alternate, a bridge (in this case it is in a new tempo), then a return to the verse followed by an outro. To my ears, it is a day and night in a swamp. The murky fluids (nutrient water) traversed by various amphibians and insects, decorated with various foliage (cat of nine-tails), with an overnight party in the swamp. The outro might serve as the sun rising on a new day.
VI. HEARTLAND (1202021)
HEARTLAND (1202021) is, to me, the heart of the piece. I live in a "flyover" state and I am in love with the landscape and the scenery. Call me an optimist but I believe this American experiment can work if we take care of each other.
VII. COASTAL PASSACAGLIA
COASTAL PASSACAGLIA is a single-form work, with each iteration of the theme developing into a more aggressive form, ultimately creating crashing waves of sound.
VIII. ALPINE SHADOWS
ALPINE SHADOWS is by far the most difficult work, written to demonstrate the limits of percussion quartet performance. The duality is present here as well - between the difficulty of climbing to the highest heights and the breathtaking and expansive view you find there.
IX. CONIFEROUS INTERLUDE (FLORA)
CONIFEROUS INTERLUDE (FLORA) is a dry, exploratory work for any number of performers. The material is largely un-pitched, save for a reference to the first movement. The listener might imagine this as the sonic perspective from the forest floor.
X. SUBURBAN SPRAWL
Written to be the true finale, SUBURBAN SPRAWL begins with four performers in close quarters. As they disperse, they" build out" and expand the setup. As the work progresses, there are various "builds" that are not completed. After a particularly large build, we visit each of the previous movements before truly arriving and releasing the tension created throughout this movement.