The Webster Cycles   CB0027

The music

“Pure, restrained and rigorously beautiful.” —Alvin Curran

As it casually explores the trombone’s timbres, The Webster Cycles is at times lush, at times stark. Mobile-like in the way that phrases and individual notes drift in and out and twist as if blown by the wind, it is something of a musical conundrum: comfortably adrift in a sense of motionlessness yet definitely propelled by a sense of forward motion. From moment to moment, an individual voice calls out or a crowd murmurs or voices unite in contrapuntal or parallel efforts.

The Webster Cycles, an open-ended piece for any combination of wind instruments and/or voices, allows for a good bit of decision-making and improvisation on the part of the performer(s). In the present recorded version, six trombone parts were performed (via overdubbing) by noted composer/performer J.A. Deane. The result is a beautifully coherent yet ever-changing music that slowly shifts its texture and harmonic focus as if its individual parts were refractions of a giant aural prism. The wonderful, subtle inflections and tonal shadings that Deane brings to each phrase imbue the piece with a vibrant, palpable sense of energy and motion.

The piece’s score is constructed from a selection of words drawn from a Webster’s dictionary. The words become pitch sequences, or melodic phrases, that are to be played within the duration of a long breath. These sequences/phrases are grouped into seven sections, which the performer(s) may perform in any order they wish while maintaining the internal order of phrases within each section.

Like the music on the composer’s previous Cold Blue CD, from shelter (CB0018), The Webster Cycles blends the abstract with the idiomatic. Pure tones hang serenely in the air as trombonist J.A. Deane’s lively ornaments and articulations that acknowledge his instrument’s long association with various types of jazz.

The composer

Steve Peters is a composer/sound artist who, drawing inspiration equally from the experimental tradition and a wide range of the world’s musics, readily integrates improvisation and open forms into the work he creates for dance, theater, radio, public spaces, and concerts. In addition to performing as a soloist, using an array of acoustic and electronics instruments, environmental sounds, and amplified natural and/or found objects, Peters has worked in many collaborative contexts—touring with vocalist Anna Homler and sound artist Steve Roden and performing with composers David Dunn and Christopher Shultis; vocalist Marghreta Cordero; electroacoustic composers Francisco López and Steven M. Miller, and saxophonist Tom Guralnick. Peters is also a founding member of Gamelan Encantada, a Javanese/ American ensemble that performs both traditional and contemporary music. With choreographer/writer Lane Lucas, Peters has produced several critically-acclaimed works (Faith, Ground Luminosity, and Shelter). He has also received commisions for music and sound design from many other choreographers, including Nora Reynolds and Bill Evans, Kagami Butoh, Deborah Slater, and John Carrafa. With visual artist Barbara Grothus he received a commission from the City of Albuquerque to create Celebrating Nature: The Landscape Underground, a permanent neon light and sound installation for the Albuquerque Convention Center. Other recent installations include The Alchemy of Desire with visual artist Christine Wallers, at the Historic San Ysidro Church in Corrales, New Mexico; Confluences: Songs of the Rio Grande and its Tributaries at the Albuquerque Museum; Emanations with visual artist Claire Giovanniello at the Harwood Art Center, Albuquerque; and Hereings, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe. His works for radio have been aired on internationally syndicated series. Peters’ music has been released on the Cold Blue, Palace of Lights, Trace Label, Sirr, O.O. Discs, effe, and Pianíssimo labels, and a CD and book documenting his Hereings project was published by La Alameda Press.

“Peters’ music…has in abundance what I miss in so much new American music: strong commitment to an aesthetic goal, and adherence to that goal without compromise.… Bring on more Steve Peters! —Sequenza21

The performer

J.A. Deane is a composer/performer (trombone and electronics and… ) whose eclectic credits include more than 40 recordings with such artists as Jon Hassell, Butch Morris, Brian Eno, John Zorn, Wayne Horvitz, and even Ike and Tina Turner, and performances at more than 80 international music festivals. He also has created award-winning sound designs and scores for more than 50 plays, including works by Sam Shepard, Christoph Marthaler, and Joseph Chaikin. For 25 years, Deane has collaborated with dancer/choreographer Colleen Mulvihill, creating more than 40 interactive sound and stage environment works, and in the late ’90s he formed the music and theater ensemble Out of Context, a group that utilizes Butch Morris’s “conduction” techniques. Deane, who currently lives in New Mexico, builds many of his own electronic and acoustic instruments, and studies bio-acoustics, using low-frequency sounds to stimulate healing.


“Deane is a soulfully expressive musician and, despite the calm and coolness of Peters’s music, his interpretation has immediate emotional appeal as well as seductive depth.” —Julian Cowley, The Wire

“The overlapping trombones heard in The Webster Cycles immerse you in 30 minutes of incantatory bliss—imagine floating into an ocean-sized harbor bounded by distant foghorns. Essential.” —Christopher DeLaurenti, The Stranger (Seattle)

“A gorgeous, minimal piece with very slow changes. Unlike, say, Phill Niblock, the sounds are there to die out, beyond their sustain. Breathing space is kept inside, which adds a solemn character to the piece. Solemn and spacious, this is ambient music without any electronic means…close to the original ideas of Eno. Subtle music for late evenings.” —Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly

“The mellow and serene energy of the piece quickly permeates everything it touches. When listening to the disc, I find myself unable to concentrate on anything but the gorgeous sound pouring from my speakers. The trombone sound echoes through a vast space, the warm tones bouncing around in radiant harmonies. Peace and contemplation ring out with every note. I don’t want to just have this piece on CD. I want sit in the middle of it during a performance. I want to get five of my friends and perform it (once I find a suitable cistern for reverb)…. This is music that enriches the soul at its most fundamental level. At first, I was afraid that the sensuous sound world of the opening 10 minutes would give way, artificially, to some other texture. There is a recurring motive that could spring into wild action and, around 12:15, the activity starts to boil over. Peters sticks to his guns, though, and lets the music just hang in the air. It doesn’t feel like a composed piece. Instead, it seems like this music has always been there and Peters merely channeled it into a form we can consume. J. A. Deane’s performance is powerful and imposing, but not in a forceful way. He draws every ounce of beauty from the score and lets it fill the space. You have to hear this music.” —Jay Batzner, Sequenza21

“The trombone’s natural sonorities are so evocative and suggestive, it’s a wonder more solo works aren’t composed for it. Listening to J.A. Deane’s six-trombone realization of Steve Peters’ The Webster Cycles…it’s hard not to think of foghorns piercing the mist, their muffled tones originating from spatially dispersed locations. … The music is slow but not displeasingly so; one quickly attunes oneself to the half-hour piece’s measured unfurl, and the steady pacing enables one to monitor the staggered layering of Deane’s overdubbed trombones and better savor the subtle shifts in volume and pitch, not to mention the reverberant sustain that trails the notes as they fade away. Peters’ release is the latest addition to Cold Blue’s always arresting series of distinctive CD singles. —Ron Schepper, Textura

“While The Webster Cycles wasn’t created for any particular instrument, it is played here by Santa Fean JA Dean on six trombones. These instruments sing with their strong brass, each one bouncing off the other so that the piece shines and shimmers and a note hangs in the air or falls into oblivion. There are times when the layered instruments create a hall of mirrors so dark there seems to be no escape, but a gentle tune, a few notes strung together with precision, breaks the illusion.… The Webster Cycles is ambient music at its best. It can easily fade into the background, allowing a visceral experience to seep forth. On the contrary it’s intellectual as well, with a narrative arc that tells its story waves of sound, sometimes swelling, sometimes calm.… Though it has taken nearly 30 years for The Webster Cycles to come out of hiding there is nothing dated about it. The Webster Cycles exudes timelessness even throughout the work. It could easily be played in a seamless loop and every note would sound fresh and as if it were written the moment it was played.” —Patricia Sauthoff, Santa Fe Reporter

“If you enjoyed trombonist Stuart Dempster in his magical solo outing In The Great Abbey of Clement VI, recorded at Palais des papes in Avignon…Steve Peters’s The Webster Cycles will bring you equal pleasure. Born in 1959, this American artist uses classical instruments and voice to create sound environments…not unlike Brian Eno’s, marked by extreme slowness, where rhythm and melody dissolve into ethereal harmonies that eschew time and space.” —Classica Repertoire (France)

“Long-reverberating, mind-calming phrases fathered by Deane bounce from the corners of the listening space in gorgeously shaded combinations, refractions and superimpositions. The overall outcome should be placed among the genre’s best albums in the last five years…” — Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes (Italy)

“Sound artist/composer Steve Peters has infused The Webster Cycles with a great amount of subtlety. Composed between 1980 and 1981, the piece ‘is intended for any combination of wind instruments or voices.’ With a glowing dedication that goes out to Stuart Dempster, the half an hour piece is played with great care by trombonist J.A. Deane. Overdubbed trombone layers are gently laid over a bed of more trombone parts…. Like a ship calling at a foggy harbor, the music is full of gentility and procrastination. Are we waiting for something ‘greater’ to occur in this music when the tones are so rich right at the start? With no climax in sight, this is the sort of sound that could go on for hours. Restrained, infused with tranquil prowess, The Webster Cycles is timeless music meant to be scrutinized in utter silence and the tranquility of natural landscape.” —Tom Sekowski, Gaz-Eta (Poland)

The Webster Cycles is a very interesting work that could be described as ambient music.… By the procedure of overlapping various tracks, a virtual trombone orchestra is created.… The result is pleasant to listen to in itself, while at the same time it helps our imagination fly freely. The trombones acquire a new dimension in this album, sounding softly, subtle, weightless.” —Dominique Chevant, Amazing Sounds (Spain)

“It would be all too easy to do a straight musical review of Steve Peters’ The Webster Cycles and talk about the interlocking trombone melodies, in terms of timbre, timing and atmospherics. However, while there is no doubt that this review will traverse those areas, I prefer to treat this review as one focusing on the material of an artistic endeavor, rather than a purely musicological one.… Peters explains on his blog that this piece is ‘a single 30-minute piece that straddles the fence of structure and improvisation: all of the words in the dictionary that use only the letters A-G, arranged in alphabetical order. Each word is played for the length of one long breath, and within that the letters/notes are played spontaneously, as are dynamics, timbre, etc. This very lush multi-tracked version is for six trombones, all performed by the fabulous J. A. Deane.’… In some respects, the piece could be considered a lipogram in that it restricts itself to only certain letters. Wikipedia describes the method as ‘a kind of constrained writing or word game consisting of writing paragraphs or longer works in which a particular letter or group of letters is missing,’ In this case, Peters has excluded all letters after G in order to limit the notes to those of the western scale. Musically, this lipogrammatic choice does not restrict the piece as the technique normally would.… What Peters does not mention is the musical implications that come from the simple choice to perform the words in alphabetical order. For example, here is a collection of words from early in the dictionary in alphabetical order. Abaca, aback, abacot, abactinal, abaction, abacus. What is immediately obvious is that the first four letters of each word are the same. Compositionally speaking, this means that the first few notes of each phrase in the piece will also be the same, with the tail end of each phrase acting as a shifting variant. The beauty of this is that there is a melodic cohesion; the phrases seem to be connected to one another (by their beginning notes) as we follow a slow transition through the programmatic musical lexicon.… The liner notes indicate the piece may be performed by a range of ensembles and instruments, but this recording employs the use of six multi-tracked trombones, each played by Deane. The benefit of one performer multi-tracking the composition (rather than a multiple person ensemble) is twofold. Firstly, there is the cohesion of timbre. Though Deane employs different playing techniques (including wind effects by blowing through the instrument), the use of a single player eliminates the clashes that can sometimes occur through the different playing styles of different musicians. Secondly, it gives the performer complete control over the performance of the piece, something that Peters has explicitly left up to the instrumentalist. Since he is in control of all six trombone parts, he has the artistic direction of where to double, interject with, or echo himself.… J. A. Deane’s performance is flawless, emphasizing the smooth transitional nature of the composition. The trombones, when coupled with reverb effects in post-production, enact a flowing musical landscape, shifting step by step as nature does through the seasons. The sheer musicality and depth of the performances makes me very interested to hear the piece performed with other instruments, if only to compare the impact of timbre upon concept: a possibility Peters has left open throughout the compositional process.… For contemporary artists of all disciplines, this single-track release will intrigue your creative senses, not only in the conceptual framework of the composition, but in the stunning execution of ‘thinking outside the box,’ both by composer and performer. For listeners who may not be so interested in the compositional process, it is worth contemplating the piece in terms of the great challenge of performing a piece that can be constantly shifted and expanded. This is an album I would prefer to hear in an abandoned warehouse, in true stereo. For it seems that only then would we grasp the solitary nature of such an exquisite and intricate composition.” —Sam Webster, MusicWeb Int’l (UK)

“Steve Peter…has created sound installations for various museums and other public spaces, and many of them are based, somewhat paradoxically, on the sound of ‘silence’… In other words, Peters sometimes collects the quietest sounds—such as those present in an empty or ‘silent’ room—and uses them as the basis for sound installations.… Compared to some of his other works, The Webster Cycles is deafening, but you won’t need your earplugs for it. Peters structured it on all of the words in the dictionary that use only the letters A through G, arranged and played (‘bag’ is equivalent to B-A-G, for example) in alphabetical order. There is an improvisational element as well, because although each ‘word’ is played for the length of one long breath, the performer decides how long to spend on each ‘letter’/note, and can change dynamics and timbre at will. Also, The Webster Cycles can be played by ‘any combination of winds or voices.’ Here, it is played by six over-dubbed trombones in what sounds like a very resonant space. This obviously suggests the work of trombonist Stuart Dempster, who is famous for having played his instrument in cisterns and in the Great Abbey of Clement VI. Sure enough, this realization of The Webster Cycles is dedicated to Dempster.… The Webster Cycles is quiet but it is not merely peaceful or pretty. The overlapping trombone notes form tendrils and clouds of sound that are interesting enough to invite active listening. Yes, atmosphere is paramount in this work, but can’t one say the same about Impressionism? On occasion, a whiff of the blues or jazz emerges out of the texture, only to merge back into it. What Peters and trombonist J.A. Deane have created here is a space into which the listener can enter, and they have done it in such a way that the space even seems to take on three-dimensional qualities. Mysterious, but neither threatening nor anodyne, The Webster Cycles is music you can spend time with for hours on end. J.A. Deane has Peters’s blessings and admiration, and I second the motion. The engineering gets out of Peters’s and Deane’s way.” —Raymond Tuttle, ClassicalNet

“One usually thinks of the trombone in its more typical context as an essential part of a jazz ensemble, filling the melodic low end parts between blazing trumpets, saxophones, and such. On its own, however, the trombone can be a beautiful and pastoral instrument with a unique voice and timbre, capable of far more than its role in the jazz setting. Steve Peters has set out to exploit those more subtle and expressive voices in its personality in this thirty-minute composition for six trombones, all played by J.A. Deane via overdubbing. The individual parts shift and shade one another in slow moving kaleidoscopic patterns, revealing the subtle textures and rich harmonics therein. Equally important is the sense of space created when only one or no parts are being played, the ensuing emptiness being an integral part of the compositional intent, a sort of suspended memory of the last note heard, resolving when the next series of parts moves into view. The studio reverb plays an equally important role, creating a softness that feeds the overall feel of the composition, ultimately creating a very relaxing quality. One might be reminded of some of the very earliest by Gilbert Artman’s Urban Sax, although in this case, the trombones have an even more intimate voice. The only minus is that it is only thrity minutes, and over all too soon; this is a perfect application for a CD player’s endless repeat mode.” —Peter Thelan, Exposé