Spica—for percussion solo
from the StarCycle Project

clip of center movement I

(a fragment from the center of movement I for an ensemble of eight drums (page 2))

| pages I 1 | 2 | | II 1 | 2 | III 1 | IV 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | V 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | VI 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | VII 1 | 2 | 3 | VIII 1 | 2 | 3 |

preview the study score of SPICA—complete cycle I-IX
[ opens in a new window ]

DOWNLOAD mp3 of performance model
of SPICA-complete cycle.mp3

DOWNLOAD pdf of SPICA—complete cycle.pdf

The StarCycle Pieces

Most of the StarCycle pieces borrow names taken from the heavens. My reason for
doing this is simply my belief that, as a composer, to write for the accomplished solo
performer is a very serious endeavor, rather like going on a journey into the unknown
together. For me, this journey has the character of a dialogue, one in which the composer
sets out a course and draws the map, so to speak, while the performer corrects all
the unavoidable mistakes and misunderstandings made along the way. So one
can see that it is perhaps a good idea to have certain points of orientation—bright stars,
both literal and figurative—to help get each project started.

The name 'Spica' comes from the Latin and means "ear of wheat". It is by far the
brightest star in the constellation of Virgo, The Maiden. The ancients thought of
the goddess Virgo (or Demeter) as holding a culm of wheat in her left hand. Here's
a rough sketch:

clip of spica star

The eight instrumental 'stations' or ensembles

The entire cycle of pieces—nine altogether—is performed while moving clockwise
through a circle of eight 'stations' or groups or ensembles of instruments. The groups
always feature, with the exception of movement V for drum set, one homogeneous
sound family. Here's another rough sketch of the ensembles and their spatial
layout. (Note: the drum set in V is up on a slightly raised podium):

clip of spica intruments

Rhythmic 'straight', or constant tempo

The basic complemenarity of the opening movement of the cycle is between, on the
one hand, an energetic rhythmic music in two or three voices (that's why the music is
notated—for clarity, I hope—over three staves) and, on the other, a retreating, variable
rhythmic music which always getting slower. (For more on the rhythmic style of notation,
go to the introduction for another StarCycle piece, cih—for flute solo.) Here's a
fragment of a 'straight' or constant tempo music from the very beginning:

And here's a fragment of a 'curved' or variable tempo music, a pattern of movement
which I've borrowed from Elliott Carter, but which is used here very differently; it
begins the second half:

Rhythmic play of sharp contrasts

Another basic feature of the large-scale rhythmic flow of the first movement is the
sharp, radical 'side-by-side' of assertive, fortissimo tutti figures— all eight drums
playing as one—with very soft, diffuse ones. Many percussionists might
recognize here an echo of Edgar Varèse:

Performance of Spica, whole or parts?

I'm very aware that it would be quite an undertaking to attempt to perform the
whole of the Spica Cycle. The piece as it now stands lasts about a half an hour.
One must of necessity make quick and seamless transitions from station to
station of the instrument circle, which, because of the contrasting qualities of
the pieces and radically different playing techniques required, would be difficult
even for the most experienced new music multi-percussionists.

Then there is the problem of all the different families of instruments. It's only
natural that most percussionist specialize or limit themselves to one or two styles
of playing, for example, mallets, or set drums, or hand percussion. So Spica might
be undertaken by a percussion ensemble of three or four performers, the different
individuals taking turns as soloist as the piece "walks through" the circle, so to
speak. In addition, movements I, V, VII, VIII may all be played in ensemble
versions, with basically each line or voice in the score being taken by a different
percussionist. In this case, it might be striking to play a particular movement,
say movement VII for seven high metallic voices first as a group piece—in
spatially expanded form—and then solo—in contracted form.

It is also possible, especially after one gets to know the pieces better, to combine
Spica with other StarCycle pieces, for example, cih—for flute solo. One could
alternate movements, in their written order, or even improvise different sequences
once one is playing them without the music.

Two last performance notes: (1) Movement I for eight drums is played three times
during the cycle: As the initial piece, in short form: play to bar 40 and then stop.
And, after the short interlude movement III for tambourine, repeat movement I,
playing the entire piece this time. And lastly, rounding off the cycle, play either
the long or short version of I as movement IX. (2) All movements may be played

spica—movement II: 3 snare drums

(a fragment from page one )
| listen to a computer model of a movement II (REQUIRES QuickTime) Note: snares should be on, not off as in recording |
spica—movement III: "tss—a."
for tambourine and voice
(of the percussionist)

(a fragment from page one )

| listen to a computer model of a movement III (REQUIRES QuickTime) Note: voice should not be pitched as in recording |
spica—movement IV: "nightphantom"
for marimba
(5 octaves)

(a fragment from page one )
| listen to a computer model of movement IV  (REQUIRES QuickTime) |
spica—movement V: "fold-center-fold
for drum set

(a fragment from page one )
| listen to computer model  movement V  (REQUIRES QuickTime) |
spica—movement VI: "moonstone" for vibraphone

(a fragment from page one )
| listen to computer model  movement VI (REQUIRES QuickTime) NEW: listen in streamed RealAudio |
spica—movement VII: "double ice" for seven high voices (one player)

(a fragment from page one )
| listen to computer model  movement VII (REQUIRES QuickTime) |

spica—movement VIII: "earth & fire" for three congas

(a fragment from page one )
| listen to computer model  movement VIII |

| pages I 1 | 2 | | II 1 | 2 | III 1 | IV 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | V 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | VI 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | VII 1 | 2 | 3 | VIII 1 | 2 | 3 |

Download PDFs (Portable Document Files)

(0) spica: complete (332 K)

(1) spica: movements I, II and III (84 K)

(2) spica: movement IV (marimba) (49 K)

(3) spica: movement V (drum set) (64 K)

(4) spica: movement VI (vibraphone) (64 K)

(5) spica: movement VII (high metal) (35 K)

(6) spica: movement VIII (congas) (31 K)

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Created and maintained in Northwest Ohio, USA.
(IV.6.2001; last update: XI.20.2011)  
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