The Dimensions of Time in Ted Babcock’s Debut Album “Trilogies”

Percussionist Ted Babcock is making his album debut as a composer with Trilogies, self-released on November 1, 2021. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, Babcock creates electronic loops using orchestral percussion instruments. Put together, this album can stand as a soundtrack of the past, present, and future. The tracks have enigmatic titles hinting towards the sordid times and sublime experiences we live in and have lived through from “Halcyon,” a term describing a happy and peaceful time in the past, to “Rousseau,” a French philosopher from the Age of Enlightenment. “Hail, Industry!” references the technological revolution that forever changed the world, while “End Times” and “Hope” conceptually look to the future.

“Halcyon,” which opens the album, is easily paired with “Hope,” the last track. By enclosing the album with this symmetry of past and future, all of the tracks in between serve as a ten-movement composition. “Halcyon,” “Isolation,” “Hallowed,” and “Hope,” all use a bowed vibraphone to refract light the way a diamond is certified as real — needing to reflect both white light as well as a spectrum of colors. “Halcyon” opens with a slow, single melody line accompanied by a single bass line, as if thinking along the way with silences between each pair of intervals. The complexity gradually builds, and the harmonies thicken with chordal accompaniment: bright in major, dark in diminished, and flavorful in minor and tritone intervals.

A slowness of movement between notes is common when bowing a vibraphone. The time it takes to bow each metal slab before moving to the next must be methodical in movement. Every individual note is like a blinding white light, singular and pristine, as heard on “Isolation” and “Hallowed.” On this album, the bowed vibraphone tracks move with ease, allowing the vibraphone to sound like a string ensemble playing Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, long tones without the pause between each note typically needed on vibraphone.

“Fidgety,” “End Days,” and “Agitated” strike the vibraphone with a rainbow of timbres. “Fidgety” grounds a quick six-note motif that permeates throughout with a theme and variations based on rhythmic rather than harmonic movement. Two notes remain glued together over the entire piece, running fast, but taking periodic breaths. A few beats at a time, the lines break apart, one of them playing catch-up with the other until falling back in line.

Ted Babcock

Ted Babcock

“End Days” sits in a four-note theme, all refracting different colors as they change direction. Sustains ring out underneath some of the time, with each re-occurrence bringing a different drone in pitch and texture. Other times, a high-register shock pierces the ear above the theme. When the four-note theme reappears in a new form, it hums like a cacophony of crickets on a summer night, with intermittent skips and silences.

“Agitated” is worthy of redefining the repertoire on the vibraphone overall. The electronically-manipulated sound is pressed with a steam iron that sizzles the notes. The vibraphone is already an electronic instrument with a motor that creates vibrato, but Babcock brings into view the possibility of these motors being equipped with other electronic enhancements to create a slushing of each note.

Of the more bombastic tracks are “Rousseau” and “Hail, Industry!” With tenor drums, hi-hat, ride cymbals, sliding timpani, and woodblocks churning out clanging, crunching, and grinding noises, these tracks showcase many of the purely rhythmic percussion instruments. “Rousseau” uses major pentatonic scales in different modes and could be the soundtrack for a Star Wars battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, evoking the sounds of opposing lightsabers coming into contact, or what light could sound like if it clashed with itself. “Hail, Industry!” is opaque with the deep and boisterous sound that spreads before lightning strikes, the sky turning completely black.

Overall, Trilogies is crafted like an essay, a movie, a symphony — a larger piece of work. The potential of Ted Babcock’s compositions could be in orchestration for percussion ensembles, staples for solo recitals, or soundtracks for films to capture the past and present experiences that are ultimately shaping the digital future.


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