— Surf —

— Double Concero for Alto Saxophone & Violin, live Electronics —

Score, Parts and Electronics available from

Voice House Publishing
$350.00 - rental

Surf was commissioned by, and is dedicated to

Maestro Jung-Ho Pak and Orchestra Nova

return to Program Notes
return to Home

Program Notes:

Surf (Feb. 2012) (Premier May 11,12,14, 2012) - The piece just wanted to be born - found myself working till dawn & then dreaming counterpoint - eventually started sleeping with music paper & pencil so I could wake up & write down the music before I forgot it...

The premiere performances featured soloists Lindsay Deutsch (violin) and Todd Rewoldt (alto saxophone).

... Surf is about the agency of people with and in the ocean (as opposed to Debussy's masterpiece La Mer, which is an observation of the ocean) - the ocean is big, beautiful, but also scary, mysterious, unpredictable - you don't know what's under you and it can crush you in an instant - the human surfing couple (the soloists) are by turns daring, eligiac, and finally transcendent...

As I created the work I came to see Surfing as a beautiful metaphor for life - and so the work is about youthful dreams, struggle, and communion.

From: "The composer speaks: Joseph Waters on Surf", By James Chute, San Diego Union Tribune, Wednesday, May 2, 2012.

"The ocean and surfing are deeply embedded in San Diego culture. Surfing transcends age, class and education. Go to any of the beaches from dawn to dusk and there they are — sitting on their boards between sets, waiting for the chance to negotiate the moment with tons of water squeezed up into a majestic hurling fist. It's thrilling, dangerous, deeply engaging and transformative.

So when I started talking with Maestro Jung-Ho Pak 3 years ago about a commission to create a work about Southern California, the place and the community — surfing had to be center.

(No I don't surf beyond occasional boogie boarding — I'm too much of an intellectual nerd and that much intense physical engagement frankly scares me — but I am fascinated by the practice.)

It's important for me to compose honest, sincere music that connects with the music that is produced spontaneously by our culture. I hate the term "pop" music because for many it has pejorative undertones — implying that it is intrinsically superficial, lacking in depth or subtlety. The reality is that the body of music with wide appeal (i.e. "pop") is diverse — from forgettable ditties to sublime masterpieces. I feel that when a tune reaches iconic status – when it enters our lexicon of discourse — then it is giving voice to something that resonates strongly with us, something that speaks to and for us, reveals who we are without pretense.

Like much of my recent work, Surf has one foot in classical and the other in rock. Doing a rock piece for orchestra can be an extremely cheesy affair — destroying the rawness of rock & the nuance of classical and leaving one with a saccharine hangover. But my underlying intention was to create a work that draws from folk influences and infuses them with additional layers, in the tradition of Mahler. It took a lot of work but I am proud of this piece — and to get it right I recomposed it over 230 times, until it finally passed muster with the conductor.

But what flavor of rock would be right for this? In the post WWII, pre-hippie days, surfing had music associated with it, think Dick Dale's Miserlou, the Surfaris Wipeout, the Chantay's Pipeline or the Beach Boys Surfin' USA. This was music that I had experienced as a middle-schooler playing keyboard in rock bands far from the ocean in Madison, Wisconsin.

I remembered something real, vivid and beautifully naive about that music — something rebellious, freewheeling and reckless, a sense of wild abandon, a joyfulness and exuberance, a celebration of life — that correlated with my adult observations and so I spent hours revisiting that body of work to see if I might find there a conduit through which my new classical work might connect with the vernacular.

The result is Surf my wild ride for orchestra and two soloists, featuring violinist Lindsay Deutsch, and my bandmate Todd Rewoldt in the SWARMIUS ensemble.

Great music is not essentially about harmonic sophistication, but about the chords it strikes within. I'm hoping I can strike a few good ones with Surf."

• Following is a brief overview of the harmonic structure:

The ocean is "E" tonal center & the people are "B", so ocean has a tonic function & the people have a dominant function.

..further, I wanted singable - easily remembered melodies for the people and restless, shifting, mysterious harmonies for the ocean.

So for the people I decided to use the pentatonic scale - easier to remember and sing than the major scale. But pentatonic melodies sound very generic in the west...so needed to go further with the idea:

Therefore: The note "B" (people tonal center) belongs to 5 different pentatonic scales:

B, C#, D#, F#, G#
A, B, C#, E, F#
G, A, B, D, E
E, F#, G#, B, C#
D, E, F#, A, B

These scales all share "B" and several notes with each other.

I decided to use a 5 phrase period, with each phrase using a different one of the pentatonic scales, and each phrase beginning on "B", and attempting a variation of the same melodic curve consecutively on each scale.

The main "people" themes draw from this scheme. At first all the harmonies for each scale are derived from its notes, so that is why there are harmonic Maj. 2nd, 4th & 5ths..

Eventually the repeated sequence of scales generates a root progression : B, A, G, E, D - and this becomes the chord progression for 7th, 9th, 13th chords, based on this sequence eventually in the climax sections of the work.

The overlaying idea was to come up with melodies that were clear, easy to remember, had a intuitively felt underlying logic, and drew from history but were unique ...

The OCEAN , based on "E" has harmonies and root progressions derived from the 4 half-diminished chords which contain "E":

E half Dim. (E, G, A#, D)
C# half Dim. (C#, E, G, B)
A# half Dim. (A#, C#, E, F#)
F# half Dim. (F#, A, C, E)

The chromatic water spirit lines in the WW connect the notes of a respective underlying half dim. 7th , landing on adjacent notes each beat. So while it seems that these are simple chromatic lines, there is actually an underlying, transparent harmonic structure, as there is in the ocean - there are physical laws that govern the waves and currents, though they seem free and random..

so, again, the attempt was to use clear, simple ideas to generate a unique harmonic language with a coherent inner logic that could be intuitively sensed by a non-expert listener.

as I said - these are all superimposed over the rhythms and melodies of "Wipeout", by the Surfaris

I am in no way trying to make music that is clever or complex or to be impressive in its ostentatious sophistication, or to show off my orchestration skills or anything like that, - in fact I have only rarely had an opportunity to compose for orchestra.

My intention was to write clear and accessible, multi-level music that makes sense to a wide audience with no particular sophistication, as well as educated listeners - that would be evocative of surfing and the ocean in a real, non-trivial way...

Surf is dedicated to Jung Ho Pak and Orchestra Nova

Joseph Martin Waters, September 30, 2012



Joseph Waters (b. 1952) is a member of the first generation of American classical composers who grew up playing in rock bands. Throughout his career he has been intrigued by the confluence and tensions that entangle and bind the music of Europe and Africa. His interests include physiological, sub-cultural pattern seeking mechanisms and development of fractal cognitive models for understanding pattern recognition. Much of his work involves interactions between electronic and acoustic instruments. He is the founder of NWEAMO (New West Electro-Acoustic Music Organization). Each October the NWEAMO Festival travels between Mexico City, San Diego, Portland and New York City, presenting composers from around the world in concerts that unite the worlds of avant-garde classical and experimental electronica. He also performs and composes for the Waters_Bluestone_Duel, a collaboration with percussionist Joel Bluestone that explores the combination of live electronics and percussion, as well as SWARMIUS the virtuoso interdisciplinary quartet in residence at San Diego State University. He studied composition at Yale University, the Universities of Oregon and Minnesota, and Stockholms Musikpedagogiska Institut. Primary teachers were Jacob Druckman, Bernard Rands, Roger Reynolds, Dominick Argento, and Martin Bresnick.

© 2011 Joseph Martin Waters
All Rights Reserved

return to Program Notes
return to Home

Site Stats