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Composed: 2006
Length: c. 20 minutes
Orchestration: Quadrachord, Marimba Lumina

In discussing Silicon Valley, the Bay Area’s mighty technological center, one writer observed: “Perhaps the strongest thread that runs through the Valley’s past and present is the drive to ‘play’ with novel technology.” It is not surprising, then, that one finds the home base of composer Paul Dresher and his Electro-Acoustic Orchestra a mere 35 miles to the north, in the heart of San Francisco’s performing arts center. Just as the “SV” is known for its unmatched creative innovations in the realm of advanced computer technology, so follows the reputation of Dresher and his ensemble – the fearless virtuosity of the group has led to the premieres of not only new works, but – in the tradition of West-Coast forefather Harry Partch – the design and creation of the instruments themselves. In his program note, Dresher discusses both the piece and the instruments used:

Glimpsed From Afar represents a compositional approach that combines, in much the same way as jazz or many non-classical traditions organize their forms, germinal composed materials (including the layering and technical manipulation of the sounds) and a predetermined sequence of distinct sections with substantial improvisational development within each of these sections. Perhaps this is reflective of my musical roots, which are in many improvised musical forms, from blues, through free(ish) jazz and into North Indian classical music. While not sounding like any of these, this work shares both a philosophical desire and emotional imperative that all these musics embody: the need to combine freedom and structure, the rational (and expected) with the intuitive (and unexpected).

Glimpsed from Afar has its roots in a choreographic collaboration, but in this case, the concert work was premiered prior to the completion and premiere of its dance partner, A Slipping Glimpse, which is an evening-length dance by the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company whose score is performed live by a quartet of musicians from my regular ensemble. The concert work was premiered in March 2006; A Slipping Glimpse premiered in May 2006.

“The Quadrachord is an instrument invented in collaboration with instrument designer Daniel Schmidt as part of my music theater work Sound Stage. Of all the instruments created for this production, the Quadrachord is to me the most compelling invention and the only one whose sonic attributes have continued to inspire me to explore and develop its compositional potential. The instrument has a total string length of 160 inches (though smaller versions have been built), four strings of differing gauges but of equal length and an electric-bass pickup next to each of the two bridges. It can be plucked like a guitar, bowed like cello, played like a slide guitar, prepared like a piano, and hammered on like a percussion instrument.

“A recent instrument design by synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla in collaboration with Joel Davel and Mark Goldstein, the Marimba Lumina is a sophisticated electronic instrument that has more expressive control than a typical electronic keyboard. Modeled somewhat after its acoustic namesake, it is a dynamically sensitive electronic mallet controller. The Marimba Lumina’s playing surface includes a traditionally arrayed set of electronic bars. Each bar is made up of two overlapping antennas that receive proximity information from each of the four mallets. This allows the Marimba Lumina to respond to new performance variables such as position along the length of each bar. In addition, each mallet is tuned to a unique frequency, which allows one to program different instrumental responses for each mallet. This all augments the potential for expressive control with easily implemented pitch, volume, and timbre modulation.”

Percussionist Deanna Hudgins is Publications Coordinator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.