Matt Gilbert

Visual Score for Vermont Counterpoint

Vermont Counterpoint was composed by Steve Reich for 1 live flute and 11 tracks of prerecorded flutes, alto flutes, and piccolo. This visual score is a display of the piece's complex structure. It was originally shown with flutist Jessica Peek Sherwood as part of a night of performances by Sonic Generator on March 26th, 2007.

Steve Reich writes: "Vermont Counterpoint (1982) was commissioned by flutist Ransom Wilson and is dedicated to Betty Freeman. It is scored for three alto flutes, three flutes, three piccolos, and one solo part all pre-recorded on tape, plus a live solo part. The live soloist plays alto flute, flute and piccolo and participates in the ongoing counterpoint as well as more extended melodies. The duration is approximately ten minutes. In that comparatively short time four sections in four different keys, with a third in a slower tempo, are presented. The compositional techniques used are primarily building up canons between short repeating melodic patterns by substituting notes for rests and then playing melodies that result from their combination. These resulting melodies or melodic patterns then become the basis for the following section as the other surrounding parts in the contrapuntal web fade out. Though the techniques used include several that I discovered as early as 1967 the relatively fast rate of change (there are rarely more than three repeats of any bar), metric modulation into and out of a slower tempo, and relatively rapid changes of key may well create a more concentrated and concise impression."

I was asked by Jason Freeman in Georgia Tech's Music Technology department to create a video to go along with Sonic Generator's performance of Vermont Counterpoint. He mentioned the idea of having an animation that visually explains the complex structure of the piece. This sounded like a good opportunity for an interesting visual music piece, so I ran with it.

Each of the three groups of colored dots represent, from left to right, the three piccolo, the three flutes, and the three alto flutes. The larger blue dot represents the live part as it participates in the counterpoint. The three rings represent the canons played by the three main groups of instruments, and each loop on the rings represent one note. The height, openness, and width of the loops are determined by their volume, pitch, and duration. I worked from the score to describe the canons and how each instrument adheres to them. The animations were generated in Processing.

The video excerpt here is from a performance on May 2, 2007 at Georgia Tech's Digital Media department Demo Day.

This piece, along with Al Matthews's work with Sonic Generator and an interview with Jason Freeman, was featured in an article in Inside Arts, the magazine of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

I am very grateful to Jason Freeman, Jessica Peek Sherwood, Chris Moore, Travis Thatcher, John Rhoads, and every one else at Sonic Generator for the opportunity to collaborate with them. It was a very fun and rewarding project. I'm also grateful to Al Matthews for recommending me to Jason, to Sara Hornbacher for advising me and setting up the performance documented here, and to Monica Duncan for all her help with documenting and editing the video.