phos (2001)

for piano and percussion, 14 minutes


Instrumentation: piano, percussion


The percussionist plays inside the piano at the climax of this work. Premiered by the Contemporary Music Forum at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC in 2001.


Instrumentation Notes:



4 nipple gongs (tuned low to high F#, A, Bb, Eb)*
2 singing bowls (tuned low to high Ab, F)**


large suspended cymbal
medium tam-tam


*    Preferred tunings.  Nipple gongs are small tuned gongs with a depression, or nipple, in the center. If unavailable, other pitches, or other small tuned gongs, may be substituted.  The general requirement is that they vary in relative pitch from low to high for a total range of about a major 6th.  Octave of pitches unspecified.


**   Small bowls played by running a wooden beater quickly and continuously around the rim.  Preferred tunings; others are possible, keeping in mind the same requirements as for the nipple gongs.


***  A special instrument consisting of irregularly-shaped vertical metal rods surrounding an open center, the entire instrument shaped somewhat like a pear.  Water is to be poured inside the instrument through a hole in the top, and the waterphone is activated by bowing its rods with a bass bow, then slowly twirling or shaking the instrument as it resonates after bowing.  Cello bow on tam-tam may be substituted.




one hard rubber mallet (very hard yarn may also be used) *

*  For playing on low strings and piano lid



Program Notes:

phos is the Greek word for “light.”  Its application in this piece is to the exploration of luminosity in music.  In large part this consists of creating, for non-sustaining instruments such as piano, cymbals, gongs, and vibraphone, certain qualities of sustaining instruments such as trumpet, violin, or organ.  This is accomplished by the use of drones, pedalling, gradual accumulation and disintegration of chords, and faint, rapid repetitions - echoes - of struck pitches or sounds.  All of these techniques combine to stretch the natural sonic qualities of the instruments by delaying or negating the decay of sound.


The physical behavior of light finds analogues in phos as well; the reflection, refraction, bending and scattering of light all find musical counterparts here.  To discover how they appear in this work is a challenge and invitation for the listener.  Above this technical substructure, a gentle lyrical melody appears three times, each time paired with a countermelody. 


The harmonic and pitch material of phos is based on a division of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale into two 6-pitch systems, the second of which is the exact inversion (or “reflection)” of the first.  Melodic and harmonic procedure in phos is based entirely on this initial opposition.


Light also represents joy, but how that particular radiance illuminates this work, or any similar work of art, must necessarily remain private, mysterious, and, in the end, incommunicable.


-- Andrew Earle Simpson

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