The Vile Rainbow

ENS.2001.1 | 16′
String Quartet


1. Electric Pulses

2. Scintillant Orange

3. Still

4. Medical Radiography

In 2001 I composed The Vile Rainbow, an epic six-hour extravaganza for my four-person improvising group Vertigo. About fifteen minutes seemed worth salvaging.

Inspired by William T. Vollmann, Damien Hirst, Hermes Trismegistus, Peter Kubelka, and Sol LeWitt (among others), The Vile Rainbow consisted of a series of what were essentially etudes, each movement exploring a single compositional idea. For example, one consisted entirely of quarter note A naturals played evenly in the same octave for twenty minutes by a solo cello, each however performed in a slightly different way, over which wailed a tenor sax solo. Though the piece was highly conceptual and not entirely successful—to say the least!—it represented an important step in my evolution as a composer, and several movements pointed toward future directions my work would take. Four of these I transcribed for string quartet, stripped of any improvisational decoration, and arranged in a set.

In Electric Pulses, a seven-beat figure is arrayed against constantly changing versions of itself in different meters. Scintillant Orange follows a series of permutations to create an aural simulation of a Sol LeWitt wall drawing. Still depicts Damien Hirst’s vitrines, small cells of musical material boxed up and placed next to one another in slowly shifting patterns. Medical Radiography closes out the set, a serene viola solo gradually becoming harsher and harsher as a grinding bow reveals the physicality of sound beneath its surface, the music X-raying itself.

The Vile Rainbow was composed in 2001 and 2002 and lasts about sixteen mintues. It is dedicated to Peter Hess and Jeff Hudgins of Vertigo, who first performed this music and helped teach me what works and doesn’t work outside my own head.