This work creates a dynamic among four percussionists, whose
responsibilities to the piece include probing and revealing their own
psychological make-up as they assemble sound sources in accord with
specified roles. The piece is in three movements: Chatter/Clatter,
Oracle, and Song.

The first movement – Chatter/Clatter – is a percussion solo concerned
with discovery. The player’s hands strike, tremble, and scurry over a
collection of unusual, even odd, sound sources (gongs, bottles, bowls,
boxes) exploring the contours of proto-melodies.
Explore this movement

In the second movement – Oracle –  the quartet converses, positing
questions to which the oracle, positioned in the staging at center,
responds. The selection of the object that functions as the oracle is
made by members of the quartet and will shift in new realizations of
Sanctuary in the future. Within broad parameters established in the
score, the percussionists also assemble their own percussion array,
which includes, by design, a range of “oddity” instruments. Their
participation and elections are critical elements to this work and to the
nature of the sanctuary it intends to create in performance.

The interaction between the percussionists and the oracle, and their
interactions with each other in movement and music, involves the
recursive exploration of a long line, a contour over time that serves as
the “theme” of the work. This process mimics the way the eye scans
back and forth across the lines of a poem: dwelling, balancing,

In the last movement – Song – pitch enters the space as a new
resource. The quartet seeks, in stages, to rediscover the contours of the
earlier movements – now as melodies that themselves evolve towards a
culminating lyricism that emerges as song.

The Medium, The Instruments
Percussion is the newest member of the traditional instrumental
complement of the Western tradition. But percussion is also among the
oldest of musical strategies (as is song): find objects and bring them
together to produce sound: striking, rattling, scraping, building sonic
patterns. Or raise your voice as need requires.

Percussion as a musical resource can also be burdensome, since the
complement of percussion “instruments” for each piece can be
unimaginably varied, with implications for the composer, performer and
the ensemble. The collection of percussion instruments that may be
employed raises logistical issues: where do I put my instruments? Can I
reach everything? Can I see my collaborators? To address this, I have
tried to capitalize on percussion’s generality by composing the
conditions that the performers then decide how to fulfill.

In Sanctuary, the percussionists determine their roles, shaping their
repertoire of sounds and behavior by these decisions. The work also
plays upon their relative location in the staging, surrounding the
oracle. As a result, the geometry of the instruments and performers,
and the movement of the performers through the space, becomes a part
of the dramaturgy of the experience: where I am playing (in space) is as
important as what I am playing, and my interactions with the ensemble
and the oracle frame the performance overall.

The oracle in this performance is a waterphone. Waterphones are
typically built as unique creations using stainless steel and bronze,
and are acoustic, tonal-friction instruments that capitalize on echoing.
The waterphone in tonight’s performance a very large compared to the
norm, and was custom-made of parts from the inside of an old clothes

The Material
Sanctuary is partially about nascent lines that strive to become
melodies. What is a melody? Melody is fluctuation, a contour over time
parsed so as to invite our empathy, our engagement, and our invitation
to it to remain in our minds. In this piece, I am not, of course, thinking
of melody in the most direct and familiar sense. In this sanctuary, I am
rather musing on melody and its origins as persuasive contours in time.

In considering song, one usually thinks of pitches and rhythms. Of
these two, rhythm – especially in the percussive context – is the more
basic. I have composed explicit contours that take on different
meanings depending upon the decisions that the performers have
made about their instrumental resource. Communication is the
metaphoric subject here. Are we heard to say what we intended? Still,
from the initial chattering of the soloist’s fingers in the first movement
(equipped as they are with metallic disks that contain electrical
sensors) everything that happens is indebted to a central “theme” – a
pattern of ups and downs. This pattern is constantly evolving in its
realizations, but always informed by what has already happened in the
piece, and what is yet to come.

– Roger Reynolds
October 2007
The Sanctuary Project
by Roger Reynolds