Last modified 28 July 2015

Watershed I (1995)
(Solo Percussion)

by Roger Reynolds

The phenomenon of the watershed has iconic force, whether in reference to continental geometries, or a decisive circumstance in an individual's life. There is an attractive aura around those increasingly rare realms that is decisive. The twentieth century saw the emergence of percussion as a musical resource – its capacity to manifest unbridled energy, as well as its unmatched diversity of sounds. But achieving with percussive resources the satisfaction of the more traditionally developed domains of strings and winds has proved elusive. To this end, I decided on two complementary strategies: the giving of individual, almost theatrical character to families of percussion instruments, and the global immersion of listeners in the physicality of sonority itself.

The instrumental setup for Watershed involves four families: six drums which are rational, almost didactic in their precision; eleven "oddities" functioning as a contorted alter ego that mimics parodistically; five metallic instruments portrayed as organic, intuitive, and temporally elastic; and four wooden drums assigned only a small vocabulary of reactive interjections.

The skins and oddities dominate more than half of the piece, establishing an explicit and reasoned world. This perspective finds its limits, so to speak, and there is a metaphoric "realization", after which the closing portion of the work is then carried by the more subjective and inferential ways of the metallic resource. An assured, logical approach gives way, in short, to something less well-managed, perhaps, but more true to the lives we lead.

Watershed I was premiered by Steven Schick on 1 December 1995 at the Manhattan School of Music in New York.

– Roger Reynolds, Del Mar, California