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

Kris Peysen      Composer

Ex Nihilo

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