percussion quartet and electronics
Memory Palace was made possible by a grant from the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation and is dedicated to Owen Weaver.
Version for percussion quartet commissioned by the LA Percussion Quartet and premiered at Chapman University’s MUSCO Center for the Arts on April 10, 2016.
When I was asked by the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet to write a new piece this past year, I realized that between a forthcoming new work for mezzo-soprano and percussion quartet and an existing solo percussion piece—Memory Palace—that it wasn’t quite my moment to write a third piece in that medium. However, as I spoke to the quartet and got a sense of their musicality and enthusiasm, the thought occurred to me perhaps I did have something additional to say. I suggested that Memory Palace, which is originally scored for solo percussionist and electronics, could become a brand new work as a quartet. In the original version, one percussionist makes a series of new instruments out of found objects and performs live with resonant electronic drones. The downside of this is that the result is a one-way dialogue between soloist and the drones. I wondered if by transcribing the drones acoustically—for vibraphone, marimbas, and Tibetan singing bowls—the work could take on a life as true chamber music, with each of the parts truly interacting with one another. In the process, new connections were made: now that the piece features both found objects and more traditional percussion instruments, the piece becomes about the interaction between “found” and “traditional” instruments as much as anything else.— Christopher Cerrone, Fall 2015, Rome
Almost every object struck, plucked, or blown in Memory Palace, a 22-minute work for amplified percussion and electronics, has to be made by the percussionist. The rest—a few bars from a glockenspiel, three high-pitched crotales, and the kick from a drum set—have been disembodied from their original context.
In the first movement, ‘Harriman’, the performer plucks a re-strung guitar lying on its back—a kind of makeshift dulcimer. The second movement, ‘Power Lines’ is scored for seven slats of wood, carefully tuned by sawing them to the correct length. The third, ‘Foxhurst’, is a forest of bells: tuned metal pipes alongside the aforementioned glockenspiel bars and crotales. The fourth movement, ‘L.I.E.’, adds even more wooden slats, creating polyphony from the homophony of ‘Power Lines’. The last movement, ‘Claremont’, features six blown bottles, tuned to different pitches with varying amounts of water. In each movement, the percussionist also triggers a series of electronic drones using a foot pedal, a resonant background aura that enhances the live music throughout.
Each movement is titled for a personally important place. Harriman, NY is where I spent a week camping with two of the musicians who have most influenced me. Against the crickets of the woods, I imaged music of simplicity and familiarity. ‘Power Lines’ is a hard grid of glowing high-voltage wires, their intersecting patterns seen from a moving car. ‘Foxhurst’ is named for the street I grew up on, and uses the windchimes which rang throughout my childhood. ‘L.I.E’ (Long Island Expressway) is another automotive movement, evoking the rumble strips on the side of a highway, their rhythmic pulsing playing against steady drone of the car’s motor. ‘Claremont’ is the street of my college—with another close friend, I had tuned two full octaves of beer bottles where we kept them as a household instrument.
By stringing these places together, I wanted to create a memory palace, a virtual series of locations I can “walk” through in my head, remember some important things from my life and how they have shaped me.