Signatures of the Sun
solo piano with photographic projections (2009)


PDF of computer presentation slides

Signatures of the Sun is a three-way collaboration among pianist Jen Bratz, photographer Joe Decker, and myself. During Fall 2008, Dr. Bratz and I hatched the idea of creating a collaborative composition based in an extramusical art form.

I suggested the work of my friend Joe Decker, an award-winning nature photographer, as a departure point. Jen and I examined his work that is available on his website (, and agreed upon Joe’s Signatures of the Sun series:

Artist's Statement for Signatures of the Sun
“The white "signatures" in these photographs are real; they are not manipulations or paintings. They are patterns sketched by sunlight skipping along the surface of turbulent streams.
“These photographs explore the relation of the Sun and her light to the Earth, the boundary between the ethereal and the firmament. At last, the Sun is allowed to sign her Work.

Jen and I selected four photographs to work from, with each serving as the inspiration for an individual movement. We solicited Joe’s input as to his ideas on the musical potential of each image, and those comments are presented within the score. Ideally, during performance, the photographs are projected onto a screen that is on or above the stage. Here are brief descriptions of each movement:

I. “Lightfall”
In this movement, a literal adaptation of the image was used: a grid of 88 rows and 44 columns was mapped over the image, and the white “signatures” were assigned pitches on the white keys of the piano. Rhythmic choices were made intuitively, and a system of introducing “black keys” in the second half of the work provides harmonic motion.

II. “Still”
In contemplating the title “Still”, I sought to identify the musical interval that most represented “stillness”. Though it seems a simply obvious response that the perfect octave (or unison) is the most “still” interval, the more useful solution that presented itself to me was the perfect twelfth.

III. “Glowing Runes”
Joe’s suggestion: “Almost minimalist, the word "runes" in the title alludes to a bit of Nordic, ancient, stark, powerful, heroic-era....”. Subsequently, a 12th-century Viking gymel (two-part polyphonic song, which happens to be in Lydian mode, and thus links with the subtle whole-tone implications of “Still”) is used as a cantus firmus.

IV. “Waves”
Before turning to photography, Joe was a mathematician. As such, I thought it appropriate to take that kind of approach to this movement, specifically differing manifestations of waves in the first (longitudinal) and second (transverse) dimensions. The pitch basis for the work is a harmonic series based on C (which connects to the “white key” disposition of “Lightfall”) that is overlaid with a subtle nod to common minimalist harmonic progressions.


2009: Graduate Recital, Dr. Jen Bratz, the University of Colorado, Boulder, CO
2009: Joint Faculty Recital with Dr. Jen Bratz, Rocky Mountain College, Billings, MT