Nico Muhly's Pulses, Cycles, Clouds for large mixed Percussion ensemble was written for the 50th anniversary of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute.
At its core, it is a group of four marimbas, surrounded by various bells and other mallet instruments; unpitched instruments here are primarily played by an ensemble of amateur percussionists.
The piece obsesses over a cycle of eleven chords, introduced slowly through the beginning of the piece. Each chord is announced by a large vertical moment with bells, vibraphone, and a sudden shift in tonality. The four marimbas then relax into a series of soft interlocking patterns, over which an ensemble of glockenspiels and crotales plays a simple rhythm in a complex relationship to the other instruments. Eventually, the pulse disintegrates entirely, into a vision of a night sky; insects, unexpected interruptions - a walk around a quiet landscape. Eventually, the pulse returns, but nocturnally subdued.
The piece is meant to echo, in its way, the thrill of community music making, the joy of sharing a pulse, and the various connections both rhythmic and interpersonal I made at BUTI two decades ago. - Nico Muhly