New Music Series: Volume 2

Available at:
Neuma Records

Autumn Island (1986)
by Roger Reynolds

Liner notes by Roger Reynolds

Primary Artist: Gordon Stout

Label: Neuma 45072

Date of recording: 1988

Record engineering: Northeastern Digital Recording


Autumn Island is one in a set of works entitled Islands from Archipelago (Summer Island is for oboe and tape). The group is indebted to sounds and perspectives developed in the 1982-83 IRCAM work, Archipelago. In response to a National Endowment Consortium Commission, I undertook the present piece in a spirit of challenge, attempting to explore and extend the musical and technical horizons opened to the marimbist by the evolution of four-mallet playing technique.

An algorithmic compositional device, SPLITZ, which I developed in working on the flute concerto Transfigured Wind (1983), provided a fertile means of pursuing these aims. By means of it, one can systematically subdivide a musical subject, and then reposition the fragments in time. Generally speaking, this compositional method splits a passage apart, extending its influence over time, though altering the nature of its effect. This technique, as well as other algorithmic procedures is useful as an element in an overall formal design (much as were, traditionally, contrapuntal techniques), but not as the total determinant of form.

The form of Autumn Island can be thought of as a mosaic of sometimes overlapping sections. Three of them (those which begin and end it, as well as another reiterative one near the close) are the “thematic” sources of everything else that happens. All the remaining sections are derived from one of the primary passages by means of the SPLITZ algorithm. Thus, all of the material heard over the extended course of the piece comes from a rather small set of ideas. The fluctuation of mood and the changing pattern of interactions between musical elements stem from the continual bringing into new relationships of fragments from a variety of original locations within one or across several of the three themes.

There is an obvious benefit to musical comprehensibility to be found in the use of a procedure that limits the amount of actual material while concentrating upon fashioning new relationships between more familiar ideas. From the standpoint of my technical aims in Autumn Island, however, there is a further advantage. The basic patterns that pervade the work can be mastered by practicing the three source sections. In a manner analogous to the study of scales, arpeggios, and other etudes that a performer of traditional repertoire undertakes as a matter of course, the contemporary performer her also can build, in a sense, a basic technique by carefully rehearsing the thematic material in its original continuity.

While there have been, of course, a host of significant musical opportunities in our times – or dilemmas, depending upon how one chooses to view history – a particularly meaningful one arises in considering formal coherence. While materials themselves are in unprecedented abundance, and there is considerable variety in overall formal intent, the organization link between these local and global realities is often both insubstantial and lacking in rigor. Methods such as, in this case, the SPLITZ algorithm can directly address the strengthening and enriching of the intermediate bridge between the seed of the idea and its full elaboration as a total musical experience. Economy and consistency also can have, in theory, benefits to the generalization of performance techniques and to the listener's comprehension and enjoyment of the new in music.

 – from the liner notes