Broken Cycles (2014)

Stacey Jones-Garrison, percussion; Brad Blackham, piano.
Navona Records.

See the score.

Program Note for Broken Cycles (2014)

Broken Cycles was written during the summer of 2014 for Stacey Jones and Brad Blackham, who gave the premiere at Hillsdale College in October of that year. The title refers to the compositional technique used to organize the piece. The work is essentially a chaconne, although I decided to experiment with the traditional design of a chaconne. Instead of presenting the chord progression clearly at the beginning, I combined a chaconne and the minimalist method of additive technique, an example of which can be found in Frederic Rzewski’s wonderful Coming Together. In Broken Cycles, the first “variation” or section presents only the first chord, then the second presents the first two chords of the progression, the third section presents the first three chords, and so forth. In writing this work I was also inspired by fractal images, such as the self-similarity of the Mandelbrot Set. In fact, the work was originally titled Mandelbrot Variations. The influence of fractal images is found within each section such that in the second section the two chords are presented twice in two keys related to the two chords, the third section presents the three chords in three keys related to the harmonies, and so forth. The influence of fractal art played a roll in the large scale construction of the work as well. Each section is begun on a new tonal center that relates to the chaconne progression so that if one were to look at the tonal center of each section the result would reveal the chaconne progression. This was to be the organizing principle for the work as the progression and variations expand until reaching all the harmonies in the progression.

In order to have some aural logic to the piece, the percussionist plays a variety of instruments to the halfway point, and after a pause presents them in the reverse order. The percussionist starts on the marimba, then proceeds to the temple blocks, then to the tom-toms, the vibraphone, and finally some suspended cymbals and a large tam-tam. After the pause, the percussionist plays each instrument in retrograde starting with a bowed vibraphone, and ending with the marimba with a kick drum.

The problem with this plan in combination with the organization of the chaconne was that as material returned, it was so extended that there was a serious imbalance to the entire work with the later sections far longer and extended than in the initial sections. In order to have greater formal balance, I realized I had to break apart the formal plan, and this happens in the later sections.

The final section, which acts as a sort of coda to the work presents the formal idea of additive technique, but with more rapid harmonic changes yet starting always on E, the tonal center that begins the work. The work ends with the cycle literally breaking apart into pieces.

Broken Cycles lasts approximately 9 minutes.

Broken Cycles Score and Parts