All the Bells and Whistles
for wind ensemble and digital sound
Indiana University Wind Ensemble, Ray Cramer, conducting
All the Bells and Whistles was written with a commission from the Monroe-Woodbury Wind Ensemble in the early part of 1996. The ensemble director, John Lynch, had heard a previous work of mine for symphonic band with electronic tape, Lost in the Funhouse, and had approached me with the idea of composing a similar work for high school wind ensemble and tape. I was excited about interweaving electronics with the smaller forces of a chmber-sized group and about combining electronics in a composition for students whose lives were surrounded with such sounds. The title, All the Bells and Whistles, came from an old expression that described something made with all the latest technology.
In deciding on the structure for the piece, I wanted to make use the rich palette of contemporary musical language but also to employ a procedure which was discernible and rewarding to follow. I selected the idea of a series of variations on a short melodic fragment. Because the melody is short, the variations are also brief and tend to flow into one another, rather than producing separate sections. I had also planned to use the electronic portion as a timbrel extension of the band -- no more or less important than any of the other sections. Finally, in selecting the material for the electronics, I wanted to draw from the diverse resources of our musical culture, selecting very modern sounds, such as digitally altered pianos sounds, percussive metallic sounds, Latin percussion and even rap to be used in an integrated texture within the ensemble. Because of the complexity of the rhythmic structure, the conductor is supplied with a click-track to better coordinate the ensemble with the electronics.
The work opens with an introductory chorale statement of the melody in the trumpets over a pedal tone, immediately echoed in offbeats and in another key by the winds. When the tape enters and a fast tempo begins, each variation provides a new compositional procedure for altering the chorale melody. The first is to restate it in parallel harmonies of a driving rhythmic background. The basic melody is then altered by a flurry of woodwind ornamentations. A variety of different double-tongued articulations in both brass and winds follow. The fast section culminates in a dense stretto (or overlapped repetition) of the melody in the full ensemble.
The slow section which follows features a flute and oboe solo over a triadic accompaniment by the low brass. The top voice of the brass accompaniment is actually an augmented version of the melody. Meanwhile, the flute and oboe solos are made up of reordered and/or extended fragments of the melody.
The final fast section begins with a reentering of the tape and the melody in canon (imitative statements in various instruments), followed by a triple-tongued version in the brass and full ensemble.
This commission and the subsequent process of composing All the Bells and Whistles was particularly enjoyable to me. I received correspondences from the director, Mr. Lynch, and from the students and band officers (even a video) during the project, keeping in touch and making suggestions. Through electronic means, a sample of the work at various stages was sent to the ensemble and returned with their reactions. My composing career began with my high school band. I have great memories of both the important musical moments, and also of the fun and comraderie. In that regard I wanted to produce a piece for them which, while making a serious musical statement, was also fun to prepare, perform, and ultimately to be heard. I hope I have done justice to the Monroe-Woodbury Wind Ensemble for their enthusiasm and hard work that went into making the project a reality.