Kris Peysen      Composer

This piece was ambitious. It was, in many ways, meant to consolidate all the various strengths of my previous pieces. In essence, I wanted to return to the very heterogeneous type of ensemble and colorful orchestration I had written for Pagan Dance, while incorporating the improvements to my writing I had achieved with the following pieces. More specifically, from Bloom I took my increased pitch language and more focused attention on musical gestures. From Crucible I took my attention towards economy of musical materials and overall cohesiveness of a piece, although this time with a piece twice as long and with a much more complicated formal structure. And from The Chimney Sweeper I took my increasing variety of textures, attention to harmony, and writing of counterpoint. I decided I wanted to put all of these elements together and create a “super-piece,” one that could represent me in all my aspects as a composer. Certainly no easy task!

I ALSO wanted to expand my rhythmic language. I was certainly no stranger to changing meters and complicated rhythms at this point, but I wanted to take that up a level. (I think I’m maxed out now in that regard, but we’ll see.) I also wanted to explore ideas of polymeter, as well as more complicated divisions of the beat (i.e. quintuplets, septuplets, etc.) In the polymeter goal I went even farther than I had originally intended. If you want to really examine it, take a look at sections O and P. I originally had something simpler rythmically going on there, and I kept struggling with it until I realized that what I have written – actual dual meters on the page – is what I was really hearing. I certainly don’t make it easy on myself.

In addition, the odd ensemble I have for the piece was also the result of me trying to work some things out. With the saxophone, I was interested in both the classical and jazz styles that you can hear the instrument play in (largely based on whether the genre is classical or jazz/rock). I decided to explore that idea by including a saxophone and having the performer play both styles. And then there’s the percussion. In previous pieces, when I had written for percussion, I had locked the player on one instrument. For this piece, I wanted to score more traditionally, having the percussionist play a variety of instruments, as well as being more coloristic with my writing. And I certainly did that. I originally planned for two percussionists, but as I was writing I realized I needed to have three to play all the instruments I was using. The end result is that this piece uses almost everything. This obviously isn’t ideal for rehearsals, but I do think it’s what the piece called for. On the positive side though, I felt MUCH more comfortable writing for percussion after I wrote this piece.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, there were a couple of things I ended up discovering while writing the piece that I ended up working on. One thing I really had to focus on was the balancing of the ensemble, in levels of detail that I had never done previously – the quirkiness of it in this piece demanded such attention. It was also during this piece that I became acquainted with what is now a dear friend, the octatonic scale. It ended up becoming a major element of this piece and part of its harmonic structure, as well as featuring prominently in later pieces. I like using it so much that it’s a wonder to me that I didn’t start exploring it until this point. But better late than never I suppose.

In any case, if you haven’t surmised as much from everything above, there is a LOT going on in this piece. Perhaps even too much. But it certainly stays interesting throughout, I believe. Lots of ideas, lots of nuances. Not everything came out in the recording that’s currently on this site. But then, the piece is hard. Really hard. When I make it hard on myself, I seem to also make it hard on the players (and conductor in this instance – though that happened to be me). It is what it is. I’m still glad I wrote this piece, as it was a significant step for me as a composer.

​April 2015


​November 14, 2012:  University of Louisville

For flute, oboe, tenor saxophone, violin, cello, and three percussionists

Ex Nihilo