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Liminal Spaces (2018) for Alto Saxophone and Guitar

Liminal Spaces (2018) for Alto Saxophone and Guitar


A word about Liminal Spaces…


The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, which means, "threshold." Over the last three years, I have struggled with Focal Dystonia, a neurological condition that unfortunately affects musicians through the deterioration of micro-digital control and independence required to play an instrument.  In my case, the fingers in my right hand are effected. I have crossed many creative and psychological ‘thresholds’ in learning how to deal with the condition.  I often asked myself, “what am I, if I no longer play the classical guitar, the instrument I have practiced since I was 16?” This question caused a distressingly ambiguous space in my mind: a liminal space. After continual reminding myself that I can (and still do) ‘shred’ with a plectrum, compose, and sing, I have been fortunate to redirect my creativity, and thus, transition.


When saxophonist Rhett Bender commissioned me the this new duo, I wasn’t sure what the piece was going to be ‘about’.  During the process of developing material for the composition, however, I found myself ‘re-discovering’ the guitar. The pivotal moment revealed itself when I observed that my hands were separated by a capo at the ninth fret - my hands were cut off from each other.  Yet, I found myself improvising my way around the instrument, making music.  This music also began to reflect a genre of guitar-playing that was pioneered by guitarists such as Michael Hedges and those of the ‘percussive’ school.  Thrilled to learn what this piece meant to me, the saxophone music quickly sprang to mind. 


The saxophone acts as a sort of ghostly muse, emanating from what sounds like distant feedback in six brief “Threshold” sections.  These “Thresholds” bookend the work and act as interludes between five other movements (perhaps the liminal spaces?), in which the saxophone takes on different roles or characters:  a melodic driver, an obligato, a swirling shadow, a menacing Pierrot. While Liminal Spaces is a stand-alone work, it also fits into a larger series of compositions: The Modular Music Project.  The Modular Music Project is a developing series of compositions that break the 'fourth wall' of concert music performance. In several instances, the series utilizes real-time interactivity between computers and mobile devices using messaging ‘apps’ to create music along the deterministic - improvisational - aleatoric continuum.  While technology does not play a role in Liminal Spaces, the piece does embrace modularity.   Because of my affinity for jazz, progressive forms of popular music, and listening to different live recordings of a particular song, I am developing works that allow for different renderings, different versions.  In this duo, the six “Thresholds” and five movements (“Eddies”, “Chimes”, “I think I got it”, “Acquiesce”, and “Fits & Starts”) can be reordered at every performance.  The only limiting factor is that a Threshold separate each of the five movements. Thus, the piece is not ‘fixed’ in a particular order and can be re-experienced anew with each encounter.


I thank my friend Rhett for giving me the another space of creative discovery.  This piece is dedicated to him. 

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