Playing Outside (2001)
Improvisers, Orchestra, Gamelan, and Chorus

Robert Morris

Program Notes

Playing Outside was conceived in 1996 and composed from January to August 2001. It is scored for about 65 musicians (chorus, orchestra, and four improvisers) and the Eastman Balinese gamelan "Lila Muni." playing solos and concerted music in ten locations in Webster Park, not far from Rochester, New York. The musicians move from one location to another to form different ensembles within the 100 minute timespan of the piece. Sometimes they play in transit from one place to another.

Playing Outside was designed to be played twice on September 30, 2001, at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Because of specificity of the composition, the piece can only be played in the park, and all future performances will be mounted there. The composition has 47 sections of music, each of which has a name, location, starting time, and duration from one to eleven minutes. (For instance, section 19 is called "Symphony 1 (The Altus)," is played at Onondaga cabin (location E), starts at 2:08 pm (or in the second performance at 5:08), and lasts ten minutes. Many sections are played at the same time, but in different locations.

I conceived this piece while hiking on the intricate web of ski trails in Webster Park in the summer of 1996. I was so fascinated by these trails I made a map of them with a friend. I felt a connection between these trails and the kind of music I write, so I thought it would be interesting to bring them together in a musical composition. This music would not be concert music per se, but something like ambient music, where the music blends into the environment--in this case, into the sounds and sights of the fields and forests of the park.

While many of my initial ideas for the piece had to be refined or dropped to make the piece practical for performance, one thing remained unchanged from the beginning. The music was not to be concert music played outdoors, even though it is written for musicians who ordinarily play concert music. The music is less formal than concert music and employs special notation to permit various degrees of improvisation. The pacing of the piece is often relaxed, spacious, and sometimes ritualistic, in contrast to the social rhythms of music in most cultural settings.

I chose the title "Playing Outside" since it so pertinently suggested my musical conception. In jazz, playing outside denotes the practice of playing without chords, either modally or atonally, and without clear meter or even beat; the emphasis is on gesture and timbre. The allusion of the title to sports such as baseball suggests a conception of time where there is a distinction between "time in" and "time out." A baseball game, for instance, has times in which the game action takes place versus times between these actions, between innings, batters, pitches, etc. Thus the 100 minute span of the piece contains people making music, but also people moving from one place to another, enjoying the natural setting, sharing all the sights and sounds in the park. Furthermore, this music has no musical "themes" or "accompaniments", no clearly articulated voices, no sections, nothing exactly repeated. Its form is flow. Not the fixed forms or formulas of some traditional music, but formation and transformation, multiple processes of growth and decay, continuously developing, not without points of repose or abrupt change. No one will be able to hear all of this piece; part of it is always imagined.

I composed Playing Outside in Webster Park, writing the music exactly where it would be played. The only difference would be the time of performance, autumn. While I composed, I was often visited by animals, especially deer. Autumn and Deer suggested texts for the singers to sing. I used fragments of Japanese Haiku, the Chinese classic I Ching, the Old Testament, Kalidasa's play Shakuntala, and texts by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Samuel Beckett.

Playing Outside was conceived for people who would like to explore the performance space strolling from one place to another to hear various sections of music performed in natural environments such as fields, meadows, groves, and wooded paths. In program notes I told the audience to keep in mind that there was no way to hear all the music in the piece, even if one attended both performances, so there was no need to rush about trying to hear as much as possible. A person might only hear ten different sections, but certainly enough to get a feel for the diversity and character of the piece. As a result, each person's experience of Playing Outside would be different. (This happens even in the concert hall where everyone is listening to the same performance of a piece.)

To help the audience get around the performance space of the piece--about a half a mile square, in the program notes I listed the ten locations of the piece, provided a map, and listed the sections of the piece in two formats, by time and by location. By consulting the map and lists, one could plan to be at a time and place to hear a particular section. Or one might want to stay a particular location for a while and have the musicians assemble there to play more than one section of music. A person would certainly also see musicians walking to their next playing location; so one could follow them around the park to hear the various sections they play. Guides were also provided to lead audience members to some of the musical sections. Of course, one might just want to walk about, coming upon music fortuitously.

The Performance on September 30, 2001


Playing Outside was performed by "Ossia" (a new music performance organization) and "Lila Muni" (the angklung gamelan of the Eastman School). I'm very grateful to the many people who made this performance possible, and especially to Dennis DeSantis, the Ossia Producer, who took care of hundreds of details and logistics. My deep thanks go also to: Eric Johnson of the Monroe County Parks Department; Clay Greenberg, assistant director, and Ellen Koskoff, director of Lila Muni; Ian Quinn, Ossia poster designer; Nigel Maister and Jocelyn Swigger, guides; the conductors Evan Feldman, Phillip Palmer, Alan Pierson, Ciro Scotto; the Improvisers Eli Asher (trumpet), Caleb Burhans (viola) Jose Encarnacion (tenor sax), Bram Glik (soprano sax); and John Graham, viola, who put in a cameo performance; and the people who played in the orchestra, chorus, and gamelan. These performers were: flute Daria Binkowski, Sara Traficante; oboe Kevin May, Bethany Slater, Sonja Thoms; clarinet Christina Block, William Kalinkos, Madeline Sturm; bassoon Lynn Hileman, Michael Parker-Harley; alto sax. Lynn Ligammari; tenor sax. Christopher Wicks; horn Abbigale Aresty, Meredith Gangler, Julia Fagan, Matthew Marks; trumpet Benjamin Hackbarth, Jason Price, Daniel Rosenboom; trombone James Hirschfeld, Michael Williams; tuba Jeffrey Meyer; percussion Michael Tetrault; Anneliese Weibel, Alan Pierson; keyboard Adam Roberts, Aaron Travers; electric guitar David Morris; soprano voice Winnie Cheung; tenor voice Kevin Ernste, Jon Forshee, Zachary Wadsworth; bass voice Gavin Chuck, Ian Quinn; violin Philip Chang, Andrew Fouts, Michael Jorgensen, Andrew Lisbin, Christopher Otto, Megan Wobus; viola Corrina Anne Lynch, John Richards, Shawn Snider; cello Patricia Garvey, Anne Gratz, Stefan Freund; double bass Marissa Arciola. Lila Muni (gamelan) Jeffrey Choque, Sarah Corrigan, Tracy Davis, Jennifer Graham, Clay Greenberg, Chappell Kingsland, Ellen Koskoff, Stewart Laird, Mary Lattimore, Allison Mayer, Beth Meyers, Christopher Murry, Lynda Paul, Heidi Remick, Theresa Remick, Amber Rogers, Masha Ryskin, Tim Scheie, Sara Shumway, Brian Sullivan, Brianna Winters.

To see the orginal web page for Playing Outside, which was made in July, 2001 to announce and describe the piece, recruit players, and provide driving directions to the park, Click here. The page contains examples of the notations used and an essay about the ideas underlying the composition.


"Concerto by the Brook" (Photo by Ron Weetman)

"Concerto by the Brook"

"Shadows Disagree"


"Insect Walk"

"Recounting Miracles"

Caleb Burhans improvising on viola in "On the Edge"

The Lila Muni Gamelan marches to "Beleganjur"

John Graham playing "The Rest Stop"

Clarinets and Saxophone in "It"

"Canon at Cattaraugus" (Photo by Pat Wheelhouse)

"The Gathering"

Me in the woods during the first performance