Year Authored (or revised): 


Instrumentation : 

String Orchestra and Fixed-media Electronics

Duration (min): 


First Performance: 

January 30, 2006, Maple Grove, MN

The title is a metaphor common to the English lexicon. We often speak of “Engines of Ingenuity,” “Engines of Democracy,” “Engines of …”

Engines of… began with visits to the Maple Grove Senior High School Orchestra, electronic music gear in tow. I programmed my equipment (a Kyma system) to electronically manipulate sounds created by the orchestra in response to qualities of the sounds they made. Together we improvised musical gestures and textures that were the result of the orchestra’s performance and its simultaneous electronic processing. Recordings of these improvisations provided the inspiration for the composition as well as some of the basic sonic material for the electroacoustic sounds heard in the work.

The nature of the sounds produced by the orchestra put me in mind of an old idea, that of the orchestra as a machine, an engine of sound, a collection of parts that combine in infinite ways to produce an infinite variety of engines of sound, each with their own life. From this I contemplated the idea of an entire world created by an inventor populated entirely of engines of his own design living in an entire ecosystem that is itself an engine of springs, wheels, rubber bands, squeals, rattles, and pops. What would a day in such a world sound like?

Engines of all kinds produce wonderful rhythms, parts building tensions that release in a polyphony of sound, predictable and not. Sometimes the sounds are organized in clearly "musical" ways, other times we have to concentrate just a little bit more to hear the music. We often think of engines as loud, intrusive and unwelcome in our sonic landscape, and sometimes they are. Frequently, however,  they operate in our presence as part of a quiet symphony that surrounds us every day. In fact, many of the most interesting and beautiful sounds are the quiet, delicate ones that exist on the threshold of our perception.

Engines of... is a plan, if you will, for an engine of sound that constructs a world out of the delicate and the harsh, the quiet and the loud, the predictable and the surprising as one possible answer to the question above.

Engines of was commissioned by the Maple Grove Senior High School Orchestra, with the financial support of the Maple Grove Music Boosters.

Ensemble Type: 

duo or ensemble+audio playback
string orchestra

Listening Sample: 

Internal Fields


tape (audio) fixed media
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