Guest Blog: Robert Thomas’s Sixteen Lines

Robert Thomas teaches at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. His Sixteen Lines Circling a Square will be played at the Sequenza21/MNMP Concert on Tuesday at Joe’s Pub.

Sixteen Lines Circling a Square is a four-movement work for solo percussionist alternating between vibraphone and marimba. Written in 2005 in response to a Society for Chromatic Art call for solo percussion scores, it was premiered by Tony Oliver in 2006.

My approach to composition is a bit like creating and then solving a puzzle. After determining the parameters of the piece – form, pitch (inevitably involving some sort of layered structure), rhythm, etc. – the actual composing bit simply involves working out the solution. I say simply, but here is where the real work – and fun – comes in.

In this case, the title reveals the problem I set for myself: create a solo percussion piece in four movements, with each movement containing four layered lines which circle at different speeds around a twelve-tone matrix (also, I wanted to see how many geometry terms I could fit into a title).

Of course, while it is the process of composition that I find stimulating, the most important thing is the end result. Once the problem is solved, the method for achieving the solution is no longer of importance and eventually left behind in favor of preparing a new challenge.

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