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Dreamachine (2014) for solo percussion and orchestra was commissioned by the WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln for the Eight Bridges Festival in Cologne, Germany. The world premiere was given by the WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln, under the direction of Frank Strobel, with Dame Evelyn Glennie, solo percussion in the WDR Funkhause Cologne on May 11, 2014. The percussion concerto is 30 minutes in length and divided into four movements, each featuring a different solo percussion instrument. As part of the festival theme, “Man and Machine,” the concerto is a tribute to the imagination of inventors who dream about new machines, both real and surreal. The music is inspired by images that connect man and machine in surprising ways.
The flying machines of Leonardo DaVinci are the inspiration for the first movement, “DaVinci’s Wings.” To imagine different ways for man to fly, the great inventor of the Italian Renaissance (1452-1519) made many drawings of wings patterned after birds and bats, with wooden frames. Playing the marimba (also made of wood), the percussion soloist performs music that I have created to hover, flutter, and rise in the imagination.
The second movement is named after Rube Goldberg (1883-1970), the American cartoonist, engineer, and inventor. Syndicated in newspapers across America, his cartoons feature witty contraptions (with pulleys, pipes, wires, gears, handles, cups, fingers, feathers, birds, dogs, monkeys, and so on) that perform simple tasks in complicated ways. In “Rube Goldberg’s Variations,” I have composed music for the soloist to play a series of small hand-held instruments, creating a chain reaction like one of Goldberg’s carefully designed machines.
“Electric Eel” is the third movement, inspired by Fritz Kahn’s eerie drawing of an incandescent light bulb plugged into an electric eel. The German artist and scientist Kahn (1888-1968) invented a unique graphic style to illustrate the relations of man, machine and nature through brilliant visual analogies. Featuring the vibraphone, I have composed music to suggest an eel slithering through murky waters. The first section incorporates impressionist harmonies to create a spectrum of light that becomes brighter as the music progresses. The next section is a voltaic burst of energy in syncopated rhythms and atonal sound clusters. After reaching a white heat, the musical glow gradually fades back into silent darkness.
The final movement, “Vulcan’s Forge,” refers to the Roman god of fire and to Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-Vulcan science officer aboard the starship Enterprise in Star Trek. Vulcan invented weapons and other marvels for gods and heroes, such as self-propelling robots, the shield of Achilles, Apollo’s chariot, and the thunderbolt of Jupiter. Featuring the snare drum, I have created striking, fiery rhythms to imagine the god creating his inventions at the forge. The concerto ends with music that blasts us from our seats, like a bolt of lightning.
-- Michael Daugherty