Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

composer's corner

the rhythms of Desert Wind

February 22, 2007

Dear readers,
hope this finds you well. Today I’d like to tell you about the different rhythms (“grooves”) used in Desert Wind.

Before I get into details, let me say that grooves – offbeat-oriented rhythms originating in Jazz, Funk, Rock & Roll, Pop, World Music, Electronica etc. – are very dear to me. Actually, as a former jazz guitarist I’m somewhat of a groove addict. And the thing that I’m still missing in many orchestral and chamber music concerts is getting goose bumps from the presence of exciting rhythms, like it happens to me during great jazz performances.

When writing my concert pieces I try to incorporate such grooves by translating them into the idiom (instrumentation) of the moment. That idiom might be a solo bassoon, or a chamber orchestra. Direct translation – like assigning a line imagined for an electric bass note-by-note to a bass clarinet – often fails in this process. To make sure that the result sounds good and the groove comes across as such, alterations like adding or omitting notes have to be made. In general, things often have to be implied.

Desert Wind contains four distinct types of grooves.

The first – as an integral part of the opening section of the piece – is defined by the 2 percussionists (LACO principal Tom Raney and Wade Culbreath), who provide improvised rhythmic textures behind an agitated string tremolo line. The snare drum part (with the player using metal brushes instead of the customary wooden drum sticks) is inspired by the snare drum groove of a Pat Metheny composition from the 1980’s called “Last Train Home”. The cymbal part on the other hand is reminiscent of jazz drummer Jack De Johnette’s free flowing cymbal work on albums by artists like Keith Jarrett (Standards Vol.1) and John Abercrombie (Gateway).

The second groove, which provides the backbone for principal hornist Richard Todd’s improvisation, is a slow funk defined by the snare drum (again with brushes) and pizzicato celli/basses. Overall this section reminds of trumpeter Miles Davis’
work in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Thirdly, the strings function as “groove machine” in an up-tempo segment featuring a jazz-like oboe solo by principal Allan Vogel. In this section, they create momentum in the first halves of the individual bars, while snare drum (with
brushes) and swelling brass chords answer in the second halves and complete the measures. Bassoons and pizzicato basses add a funky, bluesy bass line.

Lastly, low woodwinds and strings team up to introduce the final push of the composition towards its ending. They are joined by the bass drum and the snare drum in a driving rhythmic pattern of 3+3+2 (within a 4/4 bar).

One challenge in writing the percussion parts for Desert Wind was the fact that I only had 2 players at my disposal, so the level of complexity of my intended rhythms was somewhat limited to begin with. However, as mentioned above, I tried to design the parts to imply a considerably larger percussion section (the snare drum gets to emulate almost an entire drum set). Additionally, the improvisatory character of much of the parts – together with the high quality of the players – should ensure a driving, exciting display of rhythms.

Next time I’ll tell you about the various, extramusical images that Desert Wind evokes – for me at least!

In the meantime, keep the music alive,

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