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percussion trio for xylophone,vibraphone and marimba

Analysis of The Shape and the Shifts

Shapeshifter is in nine sections each separated by a pause: the opening Shape and then the eight Shifts it transforms into. They are all in three part counterpoint.

The Shape

• The Shape is a very lively and energetic trio. In section one the energy and variety are in the xylophone and marimba while the vibraphone moves much more calmly in between them until, for section two, it bursts out into a riff that gets faster and faster, accompanied only by unpitched percussion. The Shape then ends with section three, a few repeated chords.

Click to read and listen

The Shifts

• Shift 1 The musical material in all three instruments is the same as in The Shape. The three lines move forwards as they did in The Shape but the harmony is now backwards and the lines are all upside down.

Click to read and listen to a quiet version of the riff and final chords.

• Shift 2 Each line of the trio is upside down. The vibraphone and marimba lines swap places and the harmony is forwards (exactly as it was originally in The Shape). • Shift 3 The three lines of the trio each start at different times so they now fit together in new ways. All the lines are backwards but restored to their original instruments in The Self. The vibraphone starts alone then the xylophone enters and finally the marimba. The resulting harmony consists of only two intervals - a major third and a minor seventh.

• Shift 4 The three lines of the trio again all start at different times fitting together in new ways; they begin in different places from Shift 3. The lines stay in the same instruments but are now backwards and upside down. The vibraphone starts and is almost immediately joined by marimba. The xylophone enters last and the harmony is built out of an ascending chromatic scale.

Click to read and listen to to the final section – a duet for xylophone and vibraphone.

• Shift 5 is for unpitched percussion only. It is a quiet semi-invisible imprint of The Shape.

• Shift 6 Here the three lines start together again, restoring the overall outline of The Shape. Internally all the elements are radically reorganised. In each bar figures going backwards, forwards, upside down forwards and upside down backwards are combined with the maximum variety. These figures are radically reordered to create new internal patterns that divide the Shift into two halves. The first has all the busiest material. The second alternates keyboards and unpitched percussion. The resulting harmony is built out of three intervals - a major sixth, a perfect forth and a semitone.

• Shift 7 has no unpitched percussion. Each line of the trio is upside down but still moves forward. The harmony is the same as in The Shape but is now going backwards.

• Shift 8 The three lines of the trio start at different times so they combine in yet another way. All the lines are forwards but with The Shape’s xylophone and marimba parts swapped. The harmony is built out of the same three intervals as Shift 6. The xylophone starts alone. Then the vibraphone enters and the marimba joins last. The marimba part lasts exactly as long as the riff in the vibraphone which creates new cross rhythms. When the riff is finished all three instruments then play different versions of the riff bars simultaneously as a climactic five bar coda before the Shift and the whole work ends with the last variant of the repeated chords.

© 2006 by David Charles Martin