Blue Skin of the Sea, commissioned in 2014 by a consortium of percussionists organized by myself, takes a closer look at the “skin” of the marimba by exploring what Tonia calls the “intimate, horizontal world of marimba bars” and the way the instrument’s sound seems to float several feet above the instrument. At the same time, Tonia uses the distinctive way the marimba’s sound is created to steer the work’s large-scale structure, creating a gradual timbral transformation from soft/resonant to dry/brittle and back again. The 1st and last movements emerge from the 5th partial above the marimba’s lowest C with a wiggling grace, while the 4th is a combination of the Hawaiian lullaby “Pupu Hinuhinu” (“Shiny Shells”), ragtime xylophone, and a tuning ditty used by “a classroom full of fourth graders strumming tiny toy ukuleles in not quite unison.” The 3rd movement (“Curiouser”) is a rustle-y interlude. The 2nd movement—the piece's musical center—is a flabbergastingly unique world of melodic scrapes.
Blue Skin fuses inspiration, form, musical content, and performance practice in a unique and poetic manner. In my opinion, it’s one of the most creative marimba pieces in recent memory, and certainly one of the most expressive works I’ve commissioned. Hope you enjoy!