Short Ride in a Fast Machine: Orchestration Deconstruction

August 29, 2016

Short Ride in a Fast MachineI recently joined the board of the Academy of Scoring Arts, a Los Angeles-based organization which works to advance the creative and technical process of scoring visual media by bringing together composers, filmmakers, audio engineers, and musicians to share knowledge through the production of educational programs and community events.

At our last monthly LA Ravel orchestration study, I led a discussion on the modern classic Short Ride in a Fast Machine, by American composer John Adams.

From Wikipedia:

John Adams completed Short Ride in a Fast Machine in 1986. He applies the description “fanfare for orchestra” to this work and to the earlier Tromba Lontana (1985). The former is also known as Fanfare for Great Woods because it was commissioned for the Great Woods Festival of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. As a commentary on the title Adams inquires, “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?” This work is an iconic example of Adams’s postminimal style, which is utilized in other works like Phrygian GatesShaker Loops, and Nixon in China. This style derives from minimalism as defined by the works of Steve ReichTerry Riley, and Philip Glass, although it proceeds to “make use of minimalist techniques in more dramatic settings.”

In the course of our interactive discussion, we looked at a deconstruction of a passage from the piece, which demonstrates unique ways in which Adams created the orchestration for this piece, which is typical of his earlier works.

Fans of this work may also enjoy checking out the following related resources:

John Adams discussing the genesis of this work:

A wonderful performance by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra:

A unique arrangement of the piece for marching band: