The Abyss (2007) for piano

Performed by Nick Vasallo
Recorded at UC Santa Cruz by Bill Coulter in 2007.
World Premiere: UCSC Composers Guild Concert
Fridays at 4 series
Music Center 131
Friday, Nov. 2 at 4:00pm

Remove any one of our traditional five human senses, and consequently another sense is amplified. This is the sound of infinite darkness…

Back story of the piece: During my first quarter as graduate student composer I attended a concert featuring the work of other graduate student composers. As I sat down I looked at the program and noticed that my name was on it, with “New Work” listed. Obviously, I was completely surprised and had no idea I was programmed. I didn’t have a piece ready let alone know anyone that wanted to perform my work. I ran to the grad composer running the show, John Seales, and asked him how I got on the bill. He apologized for the mistake. As students and faculty trickled in I told John to give me a few minutes to decide what to do. I went into one of the classrooms where I taught Theory and sat at the piano. I didn’t even bother turning on the lights. I decided that I was going to improvise on the piano. Not the way I wanted to debut my work but I improvised a lot back then. I struck a single low note and let it ring, searching for that to do next. Then, it hit me. I knew exactly what to do.
I went back inside and told John to turn off all the lights in the room completely when I gave him the nod. My piece was last. I took one of the dry erase markers from the classroom to perform this work. I stood up at the keys and leaned my right arm inside the piano with my arm drawn. I gave John a nod and he turned off the lights. It was pitch black. I waited for 30 seconds, pressed down on the sustain pedal, and struck all the low strings with the end of the marker with a violent rake.
The mass of sound was huge and I felt the audience draw back in their seats as the wave of sudden sound was shocking. I sat there with the pedal depressed as long as possible, waiting for the mass of sound to slowly and slowly die away to a single eternal frequency and then meld into the noisy silence of a pitch black room. I stood up. Not knowing how to signal the piece was over, I said “I’m done.” To my surprise, the audience erupted in applause.
This moment, in hindsight, had a profound effect on how I came to view structure and the possibilities of creating form.