for percussion trio
I. The Riff Within (play)
II. Bells of Time (play)
III. Tristano Toccata (play)
Percussion area
total duration approximately 19 minutes.
Relative Riffs was commissioned by a consortium of institutions & individuals consiting of:




Catalogue of works

index of works

Programme notes


Reviews & articles

Audio excerpts




Tala Rasa Percussion/James Beauton, Brendan Betyn, Steve Wulff

Michigan State University Percussion Ensemble/Gwen Burgett

University of Tennessee Percussion Studies/Andrew Bliss

Boston Percussion Group

Portland Percussion Group - Chris Whyte

Caixa Trio - Julie Davila, Julie Hill & Amy Smith

Arx duo (Mari Yoshinaga and Garrett Arney)

CAn-Duo (Chris Nadeau Anthony Jackson)

Ivana Bilic
The Boston Conservatory, Percussion & Marimba Deptartment/Nancy Zeltsman

The University of Kansas Percussion Studio/Ji Hye Jung

Thomas Wilson & Danielle Russo (joint membership)

Kyle Dubois, Robert Rocheteau & Alex Beltran (joint membership)

Melanie Voytovich, Andrew Angell & Matthew Grady (joint membership)

Timothy Feerst

Eric Scherer

Benjamin Mapes

Matt Halligan

The consortium was organized by James Beauton/Tala Rasa Percussion.


A rock or jazz riff is supposed to be a short melodic/rhythmic phrase that repeats unchanged, becoming more powerful with each repetition. By contrast, I have treated the riffs in this work as themes that develop and transform in time. This approach may seem to undermine the very nature of a riff. Yet, I was interested in exploring the possibility of retaining the dance-like power of the riff while subjecting it to processes that follow paths quite different from that of popular music. In this way, the function of the riff in this composition is no longer fixed as it is in a rock song but becomes 'relative' to the changing context as the music unfolds.

1_ “The riff within”
The 1st movement is based on a riff I composed which is loosely based on a rock guitar riff from the 70s. Initially the riff is presented in its blunt upfront form. Gradually, it is subjected to a series of complex rhythmic processes of transformation where the actual riff is no longer heard at the forefront but featured and heard 'within' the multi-layered texture of the music.

2_ 'Bells of Time”
I lived for many years close to a church. During a sleepless night I would hear its beautiful bells chiming every hour in the dead of night. This movement is influenced by my recollection of the atmosphere created by that sound. The phrases and harmonies owe a debt to the music of Debussy and Ravel, specially to the latter's piano works.

3_ 'Tristano Toccata'
This movement is based on a riff by Lennie Tristano. It pays homage to this innovative and influential jazz musician whom history has neglected to some extent.
Tristano's riff is longer and melodically and harmonically more complex than a typical rock riff. For that reason I have chosen to repeat it more or less consistently throughout the movement. In this way, at any give moment the listener may latch on to it while other new complex phrases are being introduced. The music is less about 'what' happens to the riff than about what happens 'with' the riff at any point in time.
The term 'toccata' in the title refers to the fast-moving rhythmic figures that feature in the many virtuosic passages that require a dexterous 'touch'.

A.V. September 2015