Closing Time (2002/2004)

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Commissioned and premiered by Flexible Music contemporary ensemble, a quartet comprised of Tim Ruedeman (sax), Dan Lippel (guitar), Haruka Fujii (percussion), and Eric Huebner (piano). They have performed the piece a number of times in NYC and around the US.


Closing Time, written 2001-2002 and revised 2004, was composed for the new-music ensemble Flexible Music. The title is in part a semi-serious reference to my own past experience as a guitarist in various “bar bands”, an experience which, for me, is recalled unavoidably by the presence of electric guitar and saxophone in the ensemble. Beyond this, the title describes the work’s particular attitude towards its seemingly traditional formal schemes – its basic arc is reminiscent of a rondo fitted into an A-B-A scheme. Within this rather straightforward shape, the piece explores different kinds and degrees of repetition, making dynamic formal parallels by literally repeating information from certain domains (rhythm, contour, phrase-lengths, etc.) while transforming the rest of the material. Through this incomplete repetition I wanted to create a complex continuity that is linear but suggests non-linearity; which is end oriented, yet contains cyclical elements. 

A slow opening melody in the guitar initially forms an introduction to the main body of the piece, but the subsequent fragmentation and recurrence of this melody’s component parts at key moments over the course of the work give it the progressing functions of a refrain, a summation, and, ultimately, a framework for the entire composition. After the guitar’s introduction, the piece’s primary materials and sections, some fast and busy, some slow and austere, are introduced and partially repeated and varied through processes of contraction and recombination. As the music builds in density and concentration, interrupting itself with new recalls and juxtapositions of events from its recent past, the opening melody becomes more and more disjointed and removed from its original identity until its final segment is literally restated as the work’s coda.

One of the most challenging aspects of the piece for me was the handling of the electric guitar. Although it is my original (and still primary) instrument, I had never been able to compose for it before setting out on Closing Time. This work forced me to begin to come to terms with this strange and frustrating gap in my musical life, and I am grateful to guitarists Dan Lippel and Kris Ricat for encouraging me to follow through. I'd like to thank Haruka, Dan, Eric, and Tim of Flexible Music for all of their hard work and wonderful artistry.