for vibraphone

13 minutes

Early in 2020 Sylvia Smith approached me to ask if I was interested in writing a piece for solo vibraphone to go in her Vibraphone Century volume, which celebrated the hundredth birthday of that iconically modern instrument. Some years earlier we had discussed my writing a piece for solo snare drum; I had eventually concluded that although I could write such a piece, it would be without much enthusiasm. Not so for the vibes, I’d planned such a work for some years and it was no chore to revisit those ideas.

The title refers to Greg Egan’s short story Luminous, from the eponymous collection: “A pair of researchers find a defect in mathematics, where an assertion (X) leads to a contradictory assertion (not X) after a long but finite series of steps. Using a powerful virtual computer made of light beams (Luminous), they are able to map and shape the boundary between the near-side and far-side mathematics, leading to a showdown with real consequences in the physical universe”–Wiki. My piece borrows only the central idea: one type of music attempting to overwhelm another but failing.

I wrote Luminous in August 2020 during lockdown, and it therefore is the first member of my set of Iso-études. Writing the work stimulated me to immediately write a second vibraphone piece that recapitulated the basic structure of Luminous but none of the content; I named that work Dark Integers after Egan’s sequel to Luminous, and the score can be found under its own heading on the Publications page.

The piece received its first performance at Penn State School of Music on 12 February 2022, played by John McGovern.

Luminous appears in Sylvia Smith’s Vibraphone Century compendium, with works by other composers. Copies of this volume can be obtained from Smith Publications, 54 Lent Road, Sharon, Vermont 05065, USA, and the entire set may be heard here.

Performed by John McGovern.
World Première 12 February 2022 at
School of Music Recital Hall, Penn State School of Music

All rights in this film belong to Penn State School of Music.