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Satellite Canons

Satellite Canons for brass sextet, 2014

Written specifically for this Music for Contemplation concert (11/1/14) featuring Affinity Brass, Satellite Canons is a six-part un-coordinated, un-conducted canon. Each part is played independently of one another, with each player using a silent metronome set to a unique tempo. The material for each player is simple and repetitive, and in concept and design the work is part of an ongoing series of works I call Periodicity Pieces. The idea behind these pieces is to set in motion a number of un-related cycles of repetition at very slow tempos and see what happens. While I have, through trial and success, arrived at what I feel is a satisfying composition using these simple phrases and tempos, this realization could be considered merely as an “arrangement,” with many other versions possible that would retain the underlying idea and identity of the piece.

What gives the work it’s distinctive identity in whatever arrangement, is the particular pitches, which are drawn form the first three bars of Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love from his 1972 album Transformer. Over the last several years I’ve been experiencing quite an immersion in the music of Lou Reed, and at the time of his death last year was particularly in the grip of Transformer, with a particular fondness for Satellite. It also happens that in my recent compositions I’ve been exploring the use of quotations as a primary element, so when the opportunity to write this work for brass came up, also last year, it seemed an excellent opportunity to work more in this way. It didn’t take me long to figure out what to quote – not only is it an obvious tribute to this important and quintessentially New York artist, it’s also a vehicle for contemplation, of life, death, time, New York City, music history, brass instruments, counterpoint, chords, intervals, timbre, breath…

But it’s also, for me at least, an opportunity to contemplate the making of music in a church, a setting I have long been ambivalent about, and often outright resisted. My religio-spritual identity, like many Americans, has always been fairly confused, and if I identify with anything, it’s my Jewish heritage. But even with that limited sense of identification, I have never felt comfortable in places of worship, despite their obvious charms. In this way, contemplating Lou Reed in a church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn seems an appropriate way for me to explore this extra-musical issue in my life.

And to add one additional layer:  Both the generously spacious layout of the Church of the Annunciation as well as the idea of the satellite as expressed in both the quotation and the cyclical nature of my musical lines, suggested a circular arrangement of the performers for tonight’s performance. In this way the moving of the musical lines around the room and their entrances and exits, suggest a group of satellites moving around the earth, each on their own individual path, and each sending their own signal of love…or something like that!
 

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