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About this Piece

I composed Cowboy Tabla for Alarm Will Sound. The work is essentially an orchestrated tabla solo. Tabla are hand drums from Northern India capable of producing an astonishing variety of sounds. The rhythmic language of tabla drumming is quite sophisticated and includes dozens of different types of compositions. For this work I have focused on kaidas and relas. These are theme-and-variation compositions. Instead of playing tabla, though, the soloist plays the part on Western percussion instruments.

Cowboy Raga stems from my Super Marimba project, in which I play an acoustic marimba but I amplify it and feed the sounds into looping machines and delay pedals. This allows me to build up dense, thick layers that groove and sing. Since I use multiple looping pedals, I can create textures and loops that don’t necessarily line up rhythmically. I have explored that with an acoustic ensemble by putting different performers at different parts of the stage and letting them play in their own tempo, independent of the conductor.

The title refers to the curious “filtering” process that occurs when a person born and raised in Idaho travels halfway around the world and studies the music of another culture in depth and then creates new music from that experience.

— Payton MacDonald