Skip to page content

About this Piece

Bob Becker (b. 1947) studied percussion and composition at the Eastman School of Music; he also spent four years doing postgraduate study in the World Music program at Wesleyan University, where he became intensely involved with the music cultures of North and South India, Africa, and Indonesia. A virtuoso performer on the xylophone and marimba, Becker is a founding member of the percussion ensemble Nexus. Becker's most recent compositions include There is a Time, commissioned by Rina Singha and the Danny Grossman Dance Company; Noodrem, commissioned through the Canada Council by the Dutch ensemble Slagwerkgroep Den Haag; Turning Point, composed for the Nexus ensemble; Cryin' Time, a setting of poetry by the Canadian artist Sandra Meigs; Never in Word and Time in the Rock, settings of poetry by the American author Conrad Aiken; and Music On The Moon, commissioned through the Laidlaw Foundation by the Esprit Orchestra in Toronto. Five of his compositions are included on his solo album, There is a Time, released in 1995 on the Nexus Records label. Becker has provided the following note about Mudra:

"The musical language found in [my recent works] has been evolving in my music since as long ago as 1982 with Palta, a kind of concerto for the Indian tabla drums accompanied by traditional western percussion instruments. The approach became explicit in 1990 with the percussion quintet Mudra, where the idea was to extract a functional harmony from a purely melodic source: specific ragas of Hindustani classical music. (The term rag was once succinctly defined by the musicologist Harold S. Powers as 'a generalized scale, a particularized mode,' although Indian musicians usually give the word a more poetic meaning: 'that which colors the mind.') Even though Indian music is generally characterized as being elaborately melodic with no harmony (by western European definitions) whatsoever, my personal experience has always been one of subliminally perceived harmonic movement, a sensation that is clearly related to my cultural background and musical training. This kind of cross-referencing is always experienced when one strong cultural expression encounters another and, in my opinion, this perceptual phenomenon will be the defining issue in all of the arts and politics of the 21st century. Musically, I have found this effect to be most pronounced in ragas which contain relatively few tones. The pentatonic modes containing no fifth scale degree (for example, the ragas Malkauns, Chandrakauns, and others) have, to my ear, the most ambiguous and intriguing harmonic implications. Rag Chandrakauns - traditionally linked to the full moon and late-night hours and with the scale degrees tonic, minor third, fourth, minor sixth, major seventh - has always attracted me. I have applied a variety of compositional and mathematical devices to these interval relationships to determine both the melodic and harmonic content of all of my music for the past twelve years. Most recently, I have used a matrix of four non-transposable nine-tone scales to derive the same interval relationships, resulting in a further expanded harmonic landscape. In 1971 the Montreal poet Louis Dudek wrote the following short but penetrating verse which seems to go to the heart of this method of working: 'We make our freedom in the laws we make,/And they contain us as the laws we break/Contained a remnant of an ancient music/That a new music in its laws contains.'"