Roger Reynolds in the late 1960s:
Artistic Transition, Ping, and Traces

Michael Boyd

The 1940s marked a dynamic transitional artistic period for Mark Rothko that culminated in the creation of the first of his well-known color field paintings. 1From the broader perspective, the painter’s son, Christopher Rothko, notes that he “enter[ed] the decade a figurative painter and [left] it one of the most strikingly abstract,” and divides his father’s work into six chronological categories: “figurative (ca. 1923-40), Surrealist/myth-based (1940-43), Surrealist/abstracted (1943-46), multiform (1946-48), transitional (1948-49), and classic/colorfield (1949-70).” 2Indeed, at each end of this succession one finds periods of longer duration and greater artistic consistency – figurative work, “mostly landscapes and urban scenes,” 3 during the 1920s and Rothko’s mature, abstract style from 1949 until his death.

During the 1940s, however, it is clear that the painter and his work were undergoing almost constant evolution. At the beginning of the decade, Rothko’s Surrealist paintings “centered upon ancient myths,” though “during 1943…[he] shifted markedly toward the abstract…[with the images of] the early ‘40s paintings devolving into seemingly more primitive suggestions of themselves.”4These intimated figures disappear entirely just after the middle of the decade and “are replaced with colors – irregularly shaped patches of color – as if all the elements of the previous work had melted into amorphousness.”5Finally, toward the end of the decade, “the painted forms become noticeably more rectilinear” and the number of such forms gradually decreased until Rothko began “making his first paintings in his classic style featuring two to four rectangles of color.”6

Ultimately the 1940s proved to be a time of both artistic transition and richness for Mark Rothko, and his paintings from this decade provide a context within which to understand his mature work. Indeed, though the paintings that follow this period are his most renowned and influential, his works from this decade “are rich in meaning and interest. They are painted with confidence and conviction and are essential to understanding the complexities of his mature paintings.” 7Composer Roger Reynolds went through a similarly pivotal artistic transition in the late 1960s. The beginning of the decade found him concluding his formal studies and moving toward his personal, highly unique compositional voice, a process fueled by extensive travel and engagement with a variety of music, art, and other ideas. In 1969 Reynolds joined the University of California, San Diego faculty and, in the years immediately following, codified many of the working methods and creative practices that would characterize much of his work in subsequent years and, indeed, decades. In this essay I outline the trajectory of Reynolds’s creative work during the 1960s, analyze two important transitional compositions from the latter part of the decade – PING and Traces, and discuss the importance of these two pieces to the composer’s mature work from 1970 and beyond.

Reynolds in the 1960s

Roger Reynolds’s earliest published works date from the beginning of the 1960s, coinciding with the end of his time as a University of Michigan student. These early compositions, though distinctive and striking, broadly reflect his study with Ross Lee Finney and particularly Roberto Gerhard, as well as his involvement with the ONCE Festival and co-organizing composers Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma. Early works such as Wedge (chamber ensemble, 1961) and String Quartet (1961) represent instances in which Reynolds adapted aspects of Gerhard’s working methods such as serializing pitch and employing serialized integers (1-12) to determine sectional durations.8In the few years following the creation of these works, through early 1966, he spent much time in Europe through support of the Fulbright and Guggenheim programs for both his and his wife Karen’s work. The well-known Emperor of Ice Cream (8 voices, percussion, piano, contrabass) was written in 1962, and is an early example of the composer’s innovative approach to text setting and spatialization (in this work the latter is accomplished through staging). Reynolds worked alone in Paris and Italy in 1964-65, writing prodigiously and creating a “basic repertoire” that included works such as Fantasy for Pianist (1964), Graffiti (orchestra, 1965), Gathering (wind quintet, 1965), Ambages (flute, 1965), and Quick are the Mouths of the Earth (chamber ensemble, 1965).9 In 1966 he spent a brief period in Michigan where the Fromm Foundation commission Blind Men (chorus and chamber ensemble) was composed and then left for what would become an extended residency in Japan.

For Reynolds, the period between 1966 and 1970, a significant portion of which was spent in Japan, was characterized by dynamic musical change. The composer by no means entirely abandoned his previous working methods, but indeed adjusted them in ways that had long ranging implications for the music he composed in the decades that followed. Reynolds’s desire for a new direction came in the middle of that decade as “he began to realize that Gerhard’s approach to proportionality was ‘not working for me …his ideas were his own and not appropriate for what I was trying to do.’”10During the latter part of the decade contact with Japanese composers and music, as well as encountering Paul Fraisse’s Psychology of Time, impacted Reynolds significantly and led to four works that reflect these influences and point to the normative musical characteristics of much of his work from 1970 and beyond: Threshold (orchestra, 1967-68), PING (flute, percussion, piano, electroacoustic sound and processing, and visual materials, 1968), …between… (chamber ensemble and electroacoustic processing, 1968), and Traces (piano, flute, cello, and electroacoustic sound and processing, 1968).11

Of these four works, PING and Traces now occupy the more prominent position in Reynolds’s output. Though this significance was not necessarily apparent at the time of composition, both pieces have since been performed and recorded with the greatest frequency. Further, and more importantly, these two pieces point to directions that Reynolds’s music would take in years and decades that would follow. PING and Traces share many characteristics. Each is scored for an instrumental trio that includes piano and flute, the instruments played by Roger and Karen Reynolds, as well as live and fixed electro-acoustic components. Despite this emergent hierarchy, Threshold, held great personal and professional significance for the Reynolds at that time. The work’s conceptual impetus was related to the birth in Japan of his daughter, Erika. Additionally, it was his first major orchestral work to be performed and conducted by a young Seiji Ozawa. …between…, commissioned by Hope College, was performed once in Chicago at the 1970 Music Educators National Conference.12


PING features multiple aural and visual elements and is conceptually based on a short story with the same title by Samuel Beckett. At the center of the work is a live trio comprised of a flutist, pianist, and percussionist, the latter of whom employs a harmonium, bowed cymbal, and bowed tam tam. The performers are modestly amplified and connected via contact microphones to enable ring modulation; a photocell sound distributor spatially diffuses the modulator’s output. A fixed electro-acoustic component (tape) is also used for the duration of a performance. The visual domain primarily consists of two components: “a twenty-two minute film of a male body in a box interspersed with stable areas of color” and 160 slides that project words from Beckett’s story – white letters on a black background with some visual effects.13 Additional environmental lighting and projected images are also used.

Beckett’s story was originally published in French as “Bing” in 1966. The author’s English translation “Ping,” the version of the story that Reynolds worked with, was published the following year.14 Only seventy sentences long, the story “is composed of frequently repeated phrases containing short, familiar words…[though] no verbs and few articles or prepositions. Short phrases are juxtaposed without benefit of punctation or syntactic connectives”15Indeed the number of different words in “Ping” is relatively small, thereby emphasizing repetition, permutation, and subtle variation. Most words in the story are used multiple times, with “only a few…[occurring once]: brief, hair, nails, scars, torn, henceforth, unlustrous.”16The word “ping” itself is repeated throughout the text and is often interpreted to be a “sound emitted from some outside, unrecognized source.”17 As such, it perhaps serves as an onomatopoeic form of punctuation or disruption.

Beginning “All known all white bare white body fixed one yard legs joined like sewn,” the story presents a situation that is “unclear from the outset.”18 There is an emphasis on opaque imagery – white or occasionally pale colors – and a perspective that is limited in scope and definitude. Though myriad understandings of the story exist, one more common reading that is likely in the vicinity of Reynolds’s conception is “the rendering of the consciousness of a person confined in a small, bare, white room, a person who is evidently under extreme duress, and probably at the last gasp of life.”19 As the story progresses, it “seems to record the struggles of an expiring consciousness to find some meaning in a situation which offers no purchase to the mind or to sensation. The consciousness makes repeated, feeble, efforts to assert the possibility of colour, movement, sound, memory, another person’s presence, only to fall back hopelessly into the recognition of colourlessness, paralysis, silence, oblivion, solitude.”20 This sense is further conveyed by the “ambivalent, often fragile, associations” of the story’s words that produce “cryptic meanings, enigmas, fluid connotations.”21

Reynolds’s reading of “Ping” led him to understand the text in three sections – sentences 1-21, 22-50, and 51-70 – and subsequently structure his own composition in similar fashion. PING is twenty-two minutes in duration and divided into three sections of specific length that are labeled in the score: Section A, 0’00”-5’30”; Section B, 5’30”-14’30”; and Section C, 14’30”-22’00”. Reynolds describes the sections as follows: A: “[I]n the present, primarily objective, descriptive, and static. Change is restricted, and stimulation is low-level.”; B: “[C]ontains the first expressions…of hope (future-directed) and memory (past-directed). Change – movement ‘to’ and ‘away from’ – is the norm.”; and C: Strong, abrupt contrasts are encouraged, as well as gradual change. The tendency should be always from complexity toward simplicity. The present dominates.”22 Each section responds to the corresponding segment of Beckett’s text and is characterized by unique pitch content, rhythmic material, and electro-acoustic processes. The performers of this work employ structured improvisation and are provided with guidelines that span each section for pitch and rhythm, as well as more localized indications for ancillary effects. Figure 1 summarizes the core characteristics of each section.

The typical flow of each section of PING is periodically interrupted by what Reynolds dubbed “timed mixtures,” moments that involve two of the instrumentalists and, in most cases, ring modulation. Initiated by the pianist, timed mixtures last for seven seconds or multiples of that duration. Generally noisy and internally mobile, these segments provide sudden timbral and textural contrast. Five different types of timed mixtures are used in PING, named after prominent words in Beckett’s story: light, heat, invisible, time, and white. The number of these gestures that are available to the ensemble increase as the piece unfolds. The interruptive and punctuating nature of the timed mixtures might be evocative of or function similarly to the word “ping” in Beckett’s story. Figure 2 summaries basic information about each type (both Figures 1 and 2 indicate which timed mixtures can be used in each section).

The outer sections of PING feature sets of five and seven pitch-classes respectively (Section A: C-C#-D-F-F#; Section C: D#-E-G-G#-A-A#-B) that together form a compete chromatic collection. Each contains a half-step dyad and a larger chromatic aggregate that are separated by three half steps. The pitch-classes in Sections A and C can be performed in any register. The pitch content of Section B contrasts the outer sections through internal change, greater chromatic saturation, and specific registral configuration (see Figure 1). This section uses three distinct pitch collections; notated as chords, performers may draw one or multiple pitches from whichever chord is in use at a given moment. The first two chords contain eleven and nine pitch-classes respectively, span more than four octaves, and feature a middle register gap of more than an octave. The third chord is a middle register (octave 4) F#-G-Ab chromatic trichord. The first two chords are employed in order, while the third chord is used during a 3’30” long complex tape sound, placing it “directly after chord-1 or during chord-2” due to modest variability of when the taped sound occurs.23 Thus pitch-class content becomes markedly more diverse in Section B, while the final section represents an approximate return to the work’s opening material (albeit with two additional pitch-classes).

Rhythmic gestures are created to reflect two- or three-term duration ratios, and each performer employs the same ratio for the entirety of a section (see Figure 1 for a summary). Sections A and C each use two-term ratios, while Section B employs three-term ratios. The ratios in Section A use integers 1-3, while those in Section C uses 1-5. Section B combines the ratios of Sections A and C for a given performer. For example, the flute uses 1:3 in A, 1:4 in C, and 1:3:4 in B. Section A features slow pacing that may change abruptly, tempo changes gradually in Section B, and Section C is set at 60 beats per minute. Overall, the middle section of PING contains the most variety and tendency toward change, through more complex duration ratios and tempo fluctuations. Comparing the first and last sections, one finds greater durational contrast in Section C, though this facet is balanced with that section’s strictly fixed tempo.

Tape sounds, spatialization, and color-based visual effects reinforce the basic formal structure that emerges from the pitch and rhythmic material of PING. The most complex and foregrounded tape sound occupies a little over one third of Section B. Further, this section features the greatest continuous movement of sound, though the final section is considerably more varied in this parameter than Section A. With regard to colors, the opening section focuses on blues, Section B introduces reds and orange-yellows along with continual change, and Section C focuses on blues, reds, and violets that simplify toward white. Again, Section B is characterized by heightened variety and change, a very modest amount of which is retained in Section C, which broadly intermingles aspects of the first two sections. The available timed mixtures, which themselves serve as moments of divergence, provide a contrasting trajectory as the number of available gestures increases as the piece unfolds.

Elisabeth Bregman Segrè’s analysis of Beckett’s “Ping” reveals similar formal trends. She tracks the presence of the textual oppositions “over and “unover”; “all known” and “not known”; and “ping” and “silence,” “no sound,” or “murmur,” finding that they increase markedly in frequency roughly after sentence 20 and appear more sporadically, although in groups, approximately after sentence 50.26 Further, she writes that the “section between sentences 38 and 57 contains vocabulary and word-groups present in this section alone, or in greater density than in the remainder of the work,” noting that “with the lengthening of sentences and the lengthening of word-groups, comes qualified hope, attending to detail, and more cohesive formulations of thought.”27 Regarding the mention of color, she notes that “whiteness dominates,” though “[c]olors appear…[but] are immediately qualified as being only faint.”28 Aside from white and grey, the colors blue, black, and rose are included, although they ultimately fade and disappear.29 Figure 3 tracks the mention of these colors across the three segments of text as divided by the composer. It is clear that non-white/grey colors are mentioned rarely in Section A (5 times), with greatest frequency in Section B (14 times), and in Section C with a regularity that approximates the average of the frequency of Sections A and B (10 times).

Segrè’s analysis of Beckett’s story suggests a structure that is similar to Reynolds’s three-part segmentation of the text (sentences 1-21, 22-50, and 51-70) and his own composition. From a broader perspective, the formal trajectory of PING, created by multiple intersecting sonic and visual parameters, is of increasing and subsequently diminishing variety and complexity. Section A begins in a relatively austere manner with low levels of transformation, aside from the possible sudden introduction of a timed mixture. Section B features greater variety, activity, and emphasis on change. Section C blends characteristics of the first two sections, retaining some aspects of the work’s middle section but generally simplifying. Reynolds’s composition vivifies and provides further perspective on both the formal, dramatic arc of “Ping,” as well as many of its details such as the focus on comprehensibility and memory. In this way, PING relates to Beckett’s story on a deeper, more fundamental level than a typical text-setting.


Traces, composed for piano, flute, cello, signal generator, ring modulator, and 6 channels of electro-acoustic sound, is dedicated to the composer and pianist Yuji Takahashi and explores notions of memory. Notably, the composition’s title is a word found multiple times in Beckett’s “Ping,” which, as discussed previously, raised issues of memory for Reynolds. The pianist assumes a central role in this work, with the other two instrumentalists and electro-acoustic elements functioning in a more supportive manner. The work predominantly employs traditional and quasi-traditional notation – pitch is notated traditionally in all but one section and rhythm is notated traditionally or proportionally in most sections. The composition’s duration is variable. Tempo markings are used at times and minimum durations for passages are occasionally noted, but otherwise the musical material, particularly its density and proportional placement on the page, inform a performance’s length.

Regarding the piece’s form, the composer writes:

“The pianist makes a series of nine statements in the form of three interrelated groups of three short pieces. The flute and cello draw upon these pieces extending them (without recourse to development or elaboration). In the second and third set of 3, long taped sounds overlap the pianist’s events as well as flute and cello traces, suggesting the coexistence of several time frames and the resonances of memory.”

Traces is thus populated by nine distinct sections that begin with a statement by the piano and end with a “trace” that is comprised of the flute, cello, and various electro-acoustic components. The former are aesthetically distinctive, evolutionary, and varied, while the latter tend to draw out and extend aspects of the pianist’s material through sustained, somewhat more static gestures. These nine sections combine to form three larger section-groups. The nine sections of Traces are labeled by the composer in the score with the letters A through I, and I will refer to the three section-groups numerically (1: A-B-C, 2: D-E-F, 3: G-H-I). Further, the primary portion (piano statement) of several, but not all sections, are clearly subdivided into smaller units.

Figure 4 summarizes the basic aesthetic and structural trends of each section of Traces. The “General Character” column in this table identifies the gestural nature of a section. The “Internal Divisions” column describes how each section is (or is not) subdivided. The final three columns – “Total Duration,” “Primary Section Duration,” and “Trace Duration” – estimate the duration of each section as well as the length of each section’s primary material and trace. As mentioned previously, the total length of this piece is variable. The durations in this chart are taken from the recording of this composition that was released by Pogus Productions in 2002.30 I consider this recording to be reasonably definitive because it features Yuji Takahashi, the pianist for whom the work was written, as well as Karen Reynolds, the composer’s wife. Thus, the durations listed in the chart represent what might be considered typical section lengths. Despite the piece’s variable duration, the fact that it is comprised of intricately defined and arranged sections suggests that understanding the proportional relationship between sections and section-groups, even if approximate, could be useful.

Individual sections of Traces range in duration from approximately 1 to 4.5 minutes, and the piece’s section-groups are nearly equal in length (1: 8’01”; 2: 8’25”; 3: 8’01”). Each section-group features one of the work’s three longest sections (B, D, and H) and ends with its own shortest section. Section-group 1 is characterized by the greatest similarity in section lengths with a 104” difference between its shortest and longest sections; by comparison section-groups 2 and 3 present deviations of 197” and 142” respectively. Strategies for internal section divisions are relatively consistent across the three section-groups. The first section of each group displays relatively clear internal divisions, the middle section of the first two groups contain less clear divisions (Section H deviates with a clear three-part subdivision), and the final section of each group features a more continuous evolution within a self-contained unit. Overall, the trend across each section-group is a move from clear internal divisions to none. This phenomenon is reinforced by the tape traces of Sections D and G (the first sections of Groups 2 and 3), which extend and overlap with subsequent sections.

Section-group 1 features the greatest gestural consistency of the three section-groups, with an emphasis on rhythmic, reiterative gestures that cross registers and expand chromatically. The subsequent two section groups, by comparison, demonstrate increasing aesthetic diversity in part due to the greater use of indeterminacy (beyond the basic temporal indeterminacy that is inherent to the entire piece); section-group 2 contains one indeterminate section (D), while Section-group 3 contains two (G and H). Further, Sections G and H provide a starker aesthetic contrast than Section D to the opening character of Traces. Thus, through the increased use of indeterminacy that pushes toward new gestural material, the piece as a whole diversifies as it unfolds. Despite this broader trend, the third section of Groups 2 and 3 (F and I) are evocative of the first section-group’s material, helping to create clear connections across the work.

Post-1960’s and the Influence of PING and Traces

In 1969 Reynolds left Japan and returned to the United States to join the faculty at the University of California, San Diego. He continues, through the present day, to work and teach at UCSD, which has lent broad institutional stability to his career. Further the university has afforded Reynolds the opportunity to work collaboratively with an array of musicians and individuals from other fields, as well as provided resources such as the Center for Musical Experiment – founded by him in 1971 – to support his creative work and other research. In the early 1970s, perhaps reflecting his developing academic career, Reynolds’s core artistic voice and creative process emerged. This phenomenon can be evidenced through his writings and musical developments from that decade, the latter of which make the influence of PING and Traces are particularly apparent.

Reynolds’s most significant writings are his three books: Mind Models (1975), A Searcher’s Path (1987), and Form and Method (2002). Mind Models was the result of a visiting professorship at the University of Illinois where the composer was required to present four public lectures in the spring of 1971. He “decided to sum up for myself and my listeners the materials and perspectives that I had accumulated in my years of peregrination and then during early encounters with graduate students at [UCSD].”31 These lectures comprise the final four chapters of the book – “Sound,” “Time,” “Notation,” and “Morphology in Music” – and deal directly with issues in contemporary music. The first three chapters of the book – “Rates of Change,” “The States of Art,” and “The Public and Private Realms” – outline Reynolds’s more general views on society and the arts, with particular attention to increasingly apparent issues of diversity and plurality. Thus in this book the composer first examines more general social and artistic issues and then observes how these matters were addressed by a range of experimental and avant-garde composers of the time.

Thomas DeLio notes that Reynolds’s three books, taken together, demonstrate “a clear line of evolution.” DeLio comments that Mind Models comprises “a more general rumination upon the current situation in art and society and addresses this situation vis-à-via the work of a variety of leading contemporary ‘experimental’ composers.” Regarding Reynolds next two books, DeLio writes that A Searcher’s Path “refines and deepens some of the arguments from its predecessor and begins a tentative examination of some of the composer’s own strategies for composition,” while Form and Method “constitutes a full-blown, and quite thorough examination by the composer of his own compositional practice…[that] reveals how his own music has embraced the many cultural and aesthetic issues first raised decades earlier in Mind Models.”32

In many ways Mind Models represents the culmination and compilation of Reynolds’s musical thought up through the first few years of the 1970s. Though, as DeLio writes, the composer’s next two books would continue this effort with increasing specificity and pertinence to his own music, Reynolds’s first book codifies the conceptual foundation for his subsequent creative work. Though Mind Models was in part the result of an external impetus – the aforementioned University of Illinois lectures – it represents a significant drawing together and concretion of his thought leading into the decade and perhaps reveals a composer with a keen awareness of the ideas and issues that would drive his creative work.

At roughly the same time, the early 1970s, the broader working methods that would characterize Reynolds’s typical creative process, as documented and discussed in his latter two books, emerged.1 Though he continued to use serialized chromatic collections as a starting point for pitch material, the work Again (chamber ensemble and quadrophonic sound, 1970) represents a new direction in formal design and marks the first instance of the composer’s use of logarithmic proportions to define section durations.2 After this composition, Reynolds codified his normative approach to larger structure, as described in Form and Method, using a sheet of semilogarithmic graph paper that features a X-axis and logarithmic Y-axis “to obtain a logarithmic series of numbers by reading the vertical Y-values at equidistant steps along the X-axis. A logarithmic series grows (or diminishes) in a non-linear way, thereby approximating, metaphorically, the effect of a musical ritard or acceleration.” Feeling that “trended change is a more natural and engaging address to the perceptual system than constancy” and wanting to create “coherent trends of growth or diminution”, he would typically employ series determined in this manner sequentially and without repetition.3

This structural innovation, which often created expansive forms, led Reynolds to a search for new ways to expand musical materials. In the mid-1980s he began employing what her terms “editorial algorithms” to expand and vary existing musical material without introducing new ideas or elements. SPLITZ and SPIRLZ are the two such methods that the composer most often employed. SPIRLZ “involves the regular temporal subdivision of a section of music and the reordering of these derived subdivisions such that the central segment is heard first and the segments that follow emanate outward from the center.”1 These algorithms provided a principled but moderately unpredictable method to expand musical material to populate the aforementioned logarithmically related sections.

Taken together, PING and Traces anticipate many of Reynolds’s innovations in the decades to follow and might perhaps be viewed as an artistic bridge between his early work from the 1960s to his compositions from 1970 and beyond. As a work that “rest[s] upon improvisation,” PING is relatively, though not exclusively, distinctive within the composer’s output.1 As such, it appears on the surface as though it could hold less influence on Reynolds’s subsequent work. However, the work’s score, which very clearly defines each section’s core character and meticulously outlines multiple layers of performative possibilities, seems much like the composer’s large-scale graphic compositional plans from the 1970s and onward.2 Reynolds typically “plan[s] out a musical work quite fully so that once the more flexible and intuitive process of actual composition begins, a great deal is already known about the scope, intent, shape, and content of the end-result,”3 and from the 1970s through the mid-1990s he established a relatively normative creative process that led to hand-drawn, detailed graphic plans that were fairly similar in scope and format (though obviously also unique to each piece). These plans plot time horizontally with precise proportionality and layers of sound vertically, typically with sections represented as boxes that outline sonic or conceptual details pertinent to a section. The score for PING is remarkably similar, with a proportional approach to time and modes of performance arranged as vertical layers. Though the composer has not in his writings connected this work with the graphic proportion plan stage of his creative process, the influence is certainly plausible.

Neither PING nor Traces display logarithmic growth or diminution, which truly is an element that enters Reynolds’s work in 1970. When arranged in ascending order, durations for both works (approximate for Traces) follow an essentially linear trajectory. PING employs a multilayered proportionality that governs both the work’s larger form as well as individual performance gestures. This characteristic connects with Reynolds’s work prior to and after 1970, though the employed ratios are comprised of smaller integers that are akin to those used in his earlier works in which structural proportions are derived from 12-tone row structures.1 However, it is notable that unique rhythmic ratios are assigned to each performer for a given section and that they are different from the ratios that define the composition’s overall structure. Discussing his normative composition process, Reynolds writes that “[w]hile the assumption under which I worked for many years was that the various hierarchic levels of an overall structure should share a common proportional character…it now interests me to assume that hierarchy may still be influential without being rigorous,”2 meaning that a composition’s macro- and micro-structures may not be characterized by identical proportionality.

The formal design of Traces, while necessarily flexible due to the aforementioned modest durational indeterminacy, is broadly more elaborate and anticipatory of the composer’s forthcoming innovations. Indeed, this work has at least three formal layers that interact and present distinctive characters: section-groups, sections, and primary material/traces, which is reflective of Reynolds’s aforementioned interest in “hierarchic and nested relationships.”1 As discussed previously in this essay’s brief analysis of Traces, there are multiple structural trajectories that interweave. Another important aspect of this composition is the nature of the traces themselves, which are extensions of each section’s material “without recourse to development or elaboration.”2 This approach – expansion without the introduction of new ideas or motives – is the primary concept behind the composer’s aforementioned editorial algorithms that realize his principle that “[f]ormal designs are filled out by derived variants of the core themes.”

Live electronics is an integral element to both PING and Traces that has strong resonances with Reynolds’s subsequent musical developments. In a broad sense, these pieces represent a shift to a greater use of electroacoustic resources. In the 1960s, including these two compositions, four of nineteen works (21%) featured electroacoustic elements and only these two pieces employed live electronics. In the three decades that followed, the proportion of pieces with electroacoustic components increased markedly: 75% in the 1970s and around 60% in the 1980s and 1990s. Additionally the fact that sounds are processed live in both works sets a precedent for the composer’s preference for processed live or recorded sound over synthesized sound. Indeed live electronics are integral to a notable portion of Reynolds’s electroacoustic work, though pieces with a fixed electronic component tend, in a congruent manner, to feature recorded and processed sounds that are related to those produced by the live performers of a given piece.

The multimodal aspect of PING – the film and projections – also prefigure Reynolds’s periodic use of visual and theatrical elements in the decades that followed. As soon as 1970, he created I/O: a ritual for 23 performers, a staged piece with live electronic processing and visual projections that is written for nine female voices, nine male mimes, flutes, clarinet, and technician/performers. Additional pieces with multimodal components followed in subsequent years, and notably the number of works in this vein increased around the mid- to late-1990s. A few examples include: Watershed I (solo percussion, 1995), which features physical, dramatic performance gestures; JUSTICE (actress, soprano, percussion, and multichannel computer sound, 1999-2001), which is fully staged for the Great Hall in the Library of Congress’s Thomas Jefferson Building; and Sanctuary (percussion quartet and computer processed and spatialized sound, 2003-07), which features lighting, dramatic elements, and, at the work’s premiere, active use of the architectural design of the National Gallery of Art’s East Wing Atrium.

PING and Traces are both striking compositions from the early part of Roger Reynolds’s career that continue to provide aesthetically rewarding and challenging listening experiences. That richness is enhanced by understanding the pivotal role that these works played in the composer’s creative development. Though neither piece feels like an “early” or “immature” work in any sense – for me they are as much an integral part of Reynolds’s output as anything that came after – they do in various ways anticipate working methods, preferences, and choices that would typify the composer’s more normative working methods in the decades that followed.


  • Beckett, Samuel. 1967. “Ping.” Encounter 29.2: 25-26.
  • Boyd, Michael. 2006. “CD Review: Roger Reynolds’s all known all white and Process and Passion.” Computer Music Journal 30.2: 99-102.
  • Boyd, Michael. 2008. “The Roger Reynolds Collection at the Library of Congress.” Notes: The Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association 64.3: 435-57.
  • Boyd, Michael. 2012a. “The Evolution of Form in the Music of Roger Reynolds (I).” Tempo: A Quarterly Review of Modern Music 66.259: 36-48.
  • Boyd, Michael. 2012b. “The Evolution of Form in the Music of Roger Reynolds (II).” Tempo: A Quarterly Review of Modern Music 66.260: 34-49.
  • Catanzaro, Mary. 2002. “Samuel Beckett’s Ping and Serialist Music Technique.” In Literature and Music, edited by Michael J. Meyer, 65-76. Boston: Brill Rodopi.
  • Chase, Gilbert. 1982a. “Biography.” In Roger Reynolds: Profile of a Composer, 2-8.New York: C. F. Peters.
  • Chase, Gilbert. 1982b. “Roger Reynolds and New Forms of Musical Experience.” In Roger Reynolds: Profile of a Composer, 1. New York: C. F. Peters.
  • DeLio, Thomas. 2005. Introduction to Mind Models: New Forms of Musical Experience, 2nd ed., by Roger Reynolds. New York: Routledge: vii-xiv.
  • Fraisse, Paul. 1963. The Psychology of Time. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Herman, Todd. 2012. “Introduction: Rothko to 1940.” In Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950, 21-26. New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc.
  • Lodge, David. 1968. “Some Ping Understood.” Encounter 30.2: 85-89.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 1969a. PING. Source: Music of the Avant-Garde 3.2: 70-86.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 1969b. Threshold. New York: C. F. Peters.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 1969c. Traces. New York: C. F. Peters.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 1987. A Searcher’s Path: A Composer’s Ways. Brooklyn: Institute for Studies in American Music.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 1998. “The Indifference of the Broiler and the Broiled.” In Samuel Beckett and Music, edited by Mary Bryden, 195-211. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 2002a. Form and Method: Composing Music. New York: Routledge.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 2002b. all known all white. Compact disc. Pogus Productions.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 2005. Mind Models: New Forms of Musical Experience, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 2009. Epigram and Evolution: Complete Piano Works. Compact disc. Mode Records.
  • Reynolds, Roger. 2016. “Re: Late 60s Pieces.” Email.
  • Rothko, Christopher. 2012. “The Decade.” In Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950, 32-36. New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc.
  • Segrè, Elisabeth Bregman. 1977. “Style and Structure in Beckett’s ‘Ping’: That Something Itself. Journal of Modern Literature 6.1: 127-47.
  • Shuster, Alissa. “Threshold (1967) by Roger Reynolds: An Analysis.” MA thesis, Kent State University.
  • Sollberger, Harvey. 2016. “Roger Reynolds.” Grove Music Online.
  • Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1965. STOP. Vienna: Universal Edition.
  • “UCSD Department of Music: Department History – Sixties.”
  1. This period in Rothko’s work was recently explored in an exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art that was created through collaboration with the National Gallery of Art. The exhibition, which was also shown at the Denver Art Museum, Columbus Museum of Art, and Arkansas Arts Center, is documented in Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade 1940-1950. New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc., 2012.
  2. Rothko, 34.
  3. Herman, 24.
  4. Rothko, 34.
  5. Ibid, 35.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Herman, 22.
  8. See Boyd 2012a, 37-40.
  9. Chase 1982a, 2.
  10. Boyd 2012a, 40.
  11. See Boyd 2012a, 40-43 for a more detailed discussion of Fraisse’s influence on Reynolds and his subsequent employment of logarithmically related structural durations in his music.
  12. Reynolds 2016.
  13. Reynolds 1969a, 72.
  14. Beckett 1967.
  15. Segrè, 127.
  16. Lodge, 85. Segrè, 128 notes that “ninety-nine percent of the text is repeated phrases.”
  17. Segrè, 131.
  18. Ibid., 127.
  19. Lodge, 86.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Segrè, 133.
  22. Reynolds 1969A, 74.
  23. Ibid., 76.
  24. Segrè, 134-35.24 Segrè also tracks the length of word groupings, noting that “word-groups gradually grow in length…[and] toward the last lines, they suddenly fragment.” 25Ibid., 139.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid., 135.
  27. Ibid., 136.
  28. Reynolds 2002b.
  29. Reynolds 2005, xv.
  30. DeLio 2005, viii-ix.