solo saxophone (doubling harmonica and beer bottles) and electronics


17 minutes

Commissioned by/Premiere

The version for saxophone was made in collaboration with Julian Velasco and released as a recording in August 2022.

Originally commissioned by New Music USA and Miller Theatre for Tim Munro; the flute version was premiered November 10, 2016 at Miller Theatre at Columbia University.


Purchase from Project Schott New York


Available on various platforms here. Released on Cedille Records.


Download electronics. Liminal Highway is an electroacoustic work. The saxophonist is asked to cue a series of prerecorded samples that blend seamlessly with the live performance. In addition, the saxophone is run through a few forms of very simple electronic processing: reverbs and delay. Three movements utilize click tracks as well.

Everything is done through a simple patch made in Max that can be downloaded for free (as can the program). It is suggested that unless the saxophonist is fairly familiar with live electronics they collaborate with a sound engineer for at least the first performance.

Balancing the live instrument and the electronics is essential. It should be noted that movements II and IV need significant amplification to get the key clicks and saxophone loud enough. A clip-on (DPA) mic might be of significant help here (the patch is set up to take two inputs). The piece however can be performed with a single mic. It’s strongly suggested you consult the video online of the work for setup details.


Liminal Highway was originally conceived as a work for flute and electronics on a commission from Tim Munro. Inspired by a poem of the same name by the poet and songwriter John K. Samson, the five-movement work sought to explode the idea of a traditional flute solo by incorporating new techniques such as key clicks, multiphonics, air sounds, and pre-recorded and live electronic processing.

The work premiered in 2016. A few years later, I began adapting Liminal Highway for the saxophone. Many saxophonists had approached me about a new work; I thought that many of the percussive sounds employed in Liminal would naturally lend themselves to the instrument.

Around this time, I ran into Julian Velasco at a performance at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival at Mass MoCA. We got to chatting and he mentioned how much he liked Tim’s performance of Liminal Highway, so I broached the idea of
a sax version; the rest is history. The translation of the work was quite smooth, although some challenges, like a stratospherically-high piccolo, required some creative solutions.

The work is cast in five movements, each one mirroring a line in Samson’s poem. The first, “When you fall asleep in transit,” is focused on layers of flutter-tongue (playing the instrument while rolling the tongue). It is played both on the soprano sax and also the harmonica — the solution to the above-mentioned piccolo issue. The second, “A dream you don’t recall,” features the rhythmic and insistent clicking of keys before layers of slap-tongue, air, and overblown sax take over. The third, “Between consciousness and sleep” alternates a stabbing high note against a bed of quiet multiphonics (using the “wrong fingering” to get two notes at the same time). The fourth, “Liminal,” mirrors the second movement. And the fifth and final, “Suddenly it is needed,” reprises the harmonica and another found object — discarded beer bottles, which are also played with the same flutter-tongue technique.


Cerrone’s gentle duet—a world premiere commissioned by Miller Theatre—made a strong conclusion and was the evening’s highlight. Electronic tones—a soundbed, perhaps—emanated from the back of the room like a lullaby. As if encouraging the audience to drift off—the calm at the end of a frightful night—the result plumbed the subconscious, a realm less peaceful than one likes to imagine.

Kurt Gottschalk, Seen and Heard International

The second movement of “Liminal Highway,” performed by the flutist Tim Munro (who doubles on piccolo and beer bottles), begins with expansive, hard-core repetition before spiraling into its melodic material.

Seth Colter Walls, NY Times

“The concert ended with Christopher Cerrone’s mammoth Liminal Highway (2016), a work for flutter-tongue piccolo and four-channel electronics, incorporating sampling to create the illusion of an entire wind orchestra. Thematically, this layered sound evokes falling asleep in transit, the premise of the Canadian indie rock musician John K. Samson’s poem of the same name. The work is supremely enchanting and hypnotic, minimalist in conception but employing stunning harmonies. Again the Romantic sonic-conjurer Munro drew me to the words of Keats: “Away! away! for I will fly to thee, / Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, / But on the viewless wings of Poesy, / Though the dull brain perplexes and retards”. Cerrone is obviously versed in the classical tradition, as this piece in five movements, with an arch-like form where seeds are sewn in early movements to be picked up in later movements, is a nice nod to the cyclic symphony beginning with Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. No great Romantic performance is complete without a nod to the effects of alcohol; in the final movement Munro sets aside the flute for a set of mounted beer bottles to add to the sonic mix and another transformation on the acoustic highway. As Keats reminds us, “O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been / Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth”

Andrew Luboski, Limelight Magazine