Crossings, a quartet for unpitched percussion, attempts to balance the freedom of collective improvisation within a strictly controlled compositional structure. It consists of three groove sections and a series of transitional episodes, in which the tempo increases incrementally by various metric modulations. There are two ways to play the piece. In the “tight” version (as recorded above), the durations of each section are specified, to take advantage of various proportional structures and symmetries. In the “open” version, the players improvise in each groove until they decide to move on.
The title, “Crossings,” has several connotations. At a technical level, it suggests cross-rhythms and the tempo modulations where the music crosses from one tempo-stream to another. It also implies a journey, such as an ocean crossing, or an encounter, as in “crossing paths.” In the sacred music of the Regla de Ocha (“Santería”) religion of Cuba, which inspired my original conception of the piece, an ensemble of drummers opens each ceremony by playing “the paths” of the spirits. Each deity is addressed in succession, invited with his or her individual “path” or groove. The first invoked is always Eleguá, the spirit of the crossroads—the intersection of the divine and the physical, which is mediated by music. I am not a Regla de Ocha practitioner, however, but a Christian, and the sign of Christ is of course the cross.
This work was composed while in residence at Copland House in Cortlandt Manor, NY, as a recipient of the 2000 Aaron Copland Award, and was substantially revised in 2010. It is dedicated to the Talujon percussion quartet, who gave the premiere performance at New York University on April 18, 2001.