Island sanctuary

thin places no. 3

for cello and tape - 2014, 8 minutes


excerpt 1: ambient and ethereal

excerpt 2: joyous, calm, and dancing

full recording:

Recording performed Mike Kaufman. Composed for the Cellotronic Games concert series, and also performed the Boston New Music Initiative. Based on artwork by Marie Lazar.


cello and stereo track.

program note

The concept of Island Sanctuary was conceived as a proposal for a concert series of works based on some element of the theme “gameplay.” I have always been impressed by the work of 3D artists who are able to create captivating settings and environments for the worlds in which videogames take place. Games such as Myst, The Legend of Zelda, and Shadow of the Colossus come to mind, and I thought this idea of “game landscape” would make interesting subject matter for the concert. I approached an artist friend of mine about collaborating on a piece with this concept in mind, and she immediately designed a beautiful, mysterious island for the project. Her creation featured various environments such as beaches, caves, gardens, monuments etc., and her placement of these elements largely determined the content of the piece. Once she sent me the early builds of the island, I began to write music to accompany a sort of “tour” of the island, but instead of “scoring” the environment in a direct way, I opted to write music that more abstractly suggested the elements seen on the screen. The music is very much episodic, moving from one local to the next, building to a climax atop the highest point on the island. 

The solo cello part not only represents the individual exploring the island, but also expresses several “water” motifs, as water is a constant element present in the visuals. The most prominent example of this is the use of quarter tone trills, which create a shimmering, out-of-tune sound on the instrument that reminds me of images in water being distorted by ripples. The electronic tape acts as a canvas on which the player explores the island – nearly all of the soundscape is culled from sounds of real musical instruments that have been processed to some degree, in some cases beyond recognition. A tiny bit of sound design is present as well.