Safety in Numbers (2002)
Wind Ensemble

Robert Morris

Program Notes

Safety In Numbers for large wind ensemble was conceived in 1999, planned in 2000, and completed in the fall of 2001. The long genesis reflects the piece's twenty minute-duration, as well as its character and structure, which combines from one to four simultaneously evolving musical processes as they flow through its sixteen major sections to conclusion. The title reflects a concern with combining many instruments to form composite textures where contrapuntal textures can be heard as masses of sound, forming, interrupting, and embellishing slow-moving strata. The resultant sound tapestry is a musical response to the continuous yet often surprising, emergent processes of the natural world including the sentient beings that inhabit it.

The work starts out with an introduction to the first main section; the music of the high E-flat clarinet is soon joined by various instruments in an increasingly elaborate web of lines. This fugue-like section occurs twice more--but with its lines recombined--interrupting the series of sections.

The sixteen major sections are often configured so that each component process moves to the next in the smoothest possible way; yet sometimes processes contrast or succeed each other discontinuously creating dramatic ruptures in the form. The processes occur in four different domains. (1) A very slow fifty-five-note melody forms the backbone of the composition, each note of which provides a drone over which other music is played. (2) a series of six-note harmonies exhausts the entire repertoire of chord-types available in twelve-tone equal temperament--these range from chromatic to diatonic, smooth to harsh, intense to bland, defuse to concentrated. (3) A sequence of note-arrays puts variations of the slow melody in counterpoint at various rates of speed from slow to very fast. (4) A series of smaller note-arrays embellish the chords and the larger arrays. However, only the first and last section contains music in all four domains, and there are sections based on only one domain.

Safety In Numbers is dedicated with appreciation and gratitude to Donald Hunsberger, long-time champion of new music for wind ensemble, who has premiered two other works of mine, Cuts for large wind ensemble (1984), and Concerto for Piano and Winds (1988).