Turbo Scramjet for Saxophone Quartet (2008) - 6.5'
Commissioned by the Atlanta Saxophone Quartet
Premiere: April 4, 2009 - Pitts/Hoffmann Honors Recital
Emory University Schwartz Center for Performing Arts
The Atlanta Saxophone Quartet
Scott Stewart, Soprano
Jan Berry-Baker, Alto
David Johnson, Tenor
Gary Paulo, Baritone
Turbo Scramjet is named for an experimental engine developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). A ramjet, sometimes referred to as a stovepipe jet, or an athodyd, is a form of jet engine using the engine's forward motion to compress incoming air. Ramjets therefore require forward motion through the air to produce thrust. A scramjet (supersonic combustion ramjet) is a variation of a ramjet distinguished by supersonic combustion. Projections for the top speed of a scramjet engine (without additional oxidizer input) vary between Mach 12 and Mach 24 (orbital velocity). Usable dynamic pressures lie in the range 20 to 200 kPa, where q=1/2pv^2 where q is the dynamic pressure of the gas, p (rho) is the density of the gas, and v is the velocity of the gas.
It's not really like I know what anything I just said means, but I just thought Turbo Scramjet would be a great name for a saxophone quartet. Scramjets are both fast and extremely unpredictable, and I wanted to incorporate these characteristics into the music. The entire piece is based on the five-note Lydian scale that is played throughout the canonic opening. The driving nature of the rhythm is relentless and, in many spots, unstable. The use of shifting meters as well as random syncopated rhythms makes it difficult to tap one's foot through the whole piece. As soon as there is any feeling of stability, the strain disintegrates with either a unison rest, or a quarter rest spaced differently through each voice.
After this opening, the middle section is more subdued and focuses on the calm during a smooth flight. The call and response of the soprano and alto saxophones are still free-flowing, but is focused on counterpoint rather than rhythmic drive. Eventually, all four parts remerge and the rhythmic drive returns to life. After the gradual build to the climax, the momentum relents until the final punch.