Neil Rolnick


Innova 656 (



with Kathleen Supové,  Peter Eldridge and the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s Electro-Acoustic Band


1.      Digits [11:08]

performed by Kathleen Supové, piano


Making Light Of It 

settings of poems by Philip Levine

performed by Peter Eldridge, voice


2.  Wednesday  [2:30]

3.  Making Light Of It  [2:16]

4.  Words  [1:53]

5.  The Return  [1:12]

6.  Llanto  [2:55]

7.  The Last Step  [2:57]


  1. A Robert Johnson Sampler  [10:00]
    performed by Neil Rolnick


  1. Plays Well With Others  [13:25]
    performed by The Paul Dresher Ensemble’s ElectroAcoustic Band

Paul Dresher, guitar; Karen Bentley Pollick, violin;  Peter Hanson, bass clarinet;  Marja Mutru,keyboard;  Gene Reffkin, electric drums;  Joel Davel, Marimba Lumina;  Gregory Kuhn, electronics

sampled voices:  Tom Ritter and Michele Ragusa



All selections © & p Neilnick Music (BMI)


Jody Elff, recording, mixing and mastering. 

Neil Rolnick, recording engineer for Plays Well With Others. 



The four pieces on this CD are very diverse in terms of their instrumentation, mood and style.  We begin with Digits’ high energy, muscular romp to the limits of piano virtuosity, then to the quiet lyricism of Making Light Of It, then to the digital deconstruction of classic blues guitar playing in A Robert Johnson Sampler, and we end with the politically pointed Plays Well With Others, which combines notated and improvised ensemble playing of sampled voices and digitally processed acoustic instruments.


To my ears, there are strong similarities which run through the pieces, besides the obvious facts that I wrote them all and that all the pieces make extensive use of computers.  All the pieces contain driving, syncopated rhythmic materials and simple, catchy melodies.  All the pieces build clearly audible musical structures out of these simple materials, sometimes luxuriating in simplicity and beautiful sound, sometimes combining and layering the materials to create chaos.


The biggest similarity in these pieces, though, is reflected in one common reaction I’ve gotten from people working on the pieces.  When I’ve been rehearsing with the Dresher Ensemble, or with Peter Eldridge, or working in the studio with engineer Jody Elff, after we’ve finished up and everyone is packing up to leave, I hear someone singing or whistling the tunes which are embedded in these pieces.  I hear it after concert performances as well.  Someone is always humming one of the tunes as they leave the hall.  In fact, at one of the performances of the Dresher Ensemble in San Francisco, another composer in the audience came up to me and said he remembered a piece of mine he’d heard 20 years before, and he proceeded to sing the opening tune of the piece. 


Because “new music” and “computer music” is characteristically difficult, or abstract, and avoids things as simple as memorable melodies, I spent many years a little embarrassed by my melodies.  But of course, there’s really no need.   This is new music, computer music, which invites you to hum along.  I hope you enjoy it.


Digits (2005)


Digits are what we use both to play the piano and to operate computers.  This piece makes some fairly extreme demands on both types of digits.  The piano part, written for Kathleen Supové, exploits her incredible technique to play a bit more than is humanly [NR1] [NR2] possible.  The computer, which plays only sounds which originate from the piano, integrates with the live playing in a way which is seamless and, hopefully, a bit magical.  In performance, the piece can also have a digital video track, created by R. Luke DuBois, which consists of processed images of the pianists’ digits.


Making Light Of It  (2005)

settings of poems by Philip Levine


Since I first encountered Philip Levine’s poetry, I’ve felt drawn to its plain-spoken way of addressing the emotional content of the activities and relationships which make up our lives.  These six songs speak of friends and family, of loss, and of the effort to define ourselves in relation to our work and our families.  I think of this as adult poetry, about the transitions, responsibilities, illusions, disillusionment and love which give our lives substance. 


Making Light of It was commissioned by Thomas Buckner..



A Robert Johnson Sampler  (1987, rev.2005)


When I first began to play with tape music in the early-1970s, I was fascinated with my ability to use recordings of whole musical phrases as the basis of my electronic works.  As I began to use computers a few years later, it seemed like this simple process was beyond the capabilities of the new medium:  too expensive, too much memory and disk space would be required.  Then, in the mid-1980s, along came inexpensive digital samplers.  A Robert Johnson Sampler was my first excursion into working with this kind of sampling medium as a performance instrument.  As a teenager in the 1960s I'd spent many hours listening to Robert Johnson's unique blues playing and trying to imitate and learn from his playing.  Twenty years later, after enduring a PhD in music composition and then living in Paris for a while, in the heart of Europe's classical modernism, Robert Johnson's music seemed like something uniquely American, something which differentiated the American musical experience from that of Europe.  Now, again twenty years later, after hip-hop and turntablism and rampant sampling, both the material and the way I play with it seem ripe for revisiting.


Plays Well With Others  (2004)


Some kids only seem to get along with other kids when they get their own way.  You’ve got to play by their rules.  You’ve got to let them win.  Otherwise, they’ll see that you get taken out of the game.  Georgie told us he was the kind of kid who played well with others, but it turns out that he and Dickie had other plans.


Plays Well With Others was written for the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s Electro-Acoustic Band.





poems by Philip Levine

© Philip Levine, from New Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.


1.  Wednesday


I could say the day began

behind the Sierras,

in the orange grove the ladder

that reaches partway

to the stars grew

a shadow, and the fruit

wet with mist put on

its color and glowed

like a globe of fire,

and when I wakened

I was alone and the room

still, the white walls,

the white ceiling, the stained

wood floor held me until

I sat up and reached out

first for a glass

of stale water to free

my tongue, and then

the wristwatch purchased

before you were born,

and while the leaves ticked

against the window and

the dust rose golden

in the chalice of the air

I gave you this name.


2.  Making Light Of It


I call out a secret name, the name

of the angel who guards my sleep,

and light grows in the east, a new light

like no other, as soft as the petals

of the blown rose of late summer.

Yes, it is late summer in the West.

Even the grasses climbing the Sierras

reach for the next outcropping of rock

with tough, burned fingers.  The thistle

sheds its royal robes and quivers

awake in the hot winds off the sun.

A cloudless sky fills my room, the room

I was born in and where my father sleeps

his long dark sleep guarding the name

he shared with me.  I can follow the day

to the black rags and corners it will

scatter to because someone always

goes ahead burning the little candle

of his breath, making light of it all.


3.  from Words


I want to rise above

nothing, not even you.

I want to love women

until the love burns

me alive.  I want

to rock God's daughter

until together we

become one wave

of the sea that brought

us into being.  I

want your blessing,

whoever you are who

has the power to give

me a name for

whatever I am.  I want

you to lead me to

the place within me

where I am every

man and woman, the trees

floating in the cold haze

of January, the small

beasts whose names

I have forgotten, the ache

I feel to be no

longer only myself.


4.  The Return:  Orihuela, 1965

- for Miguel Hernandez


You come over a slight rise

in the narrow, winding road

and the white village broods

in the valley below.  A breeze

silvers the cold leaves

of the olives, just as you knew

it would or as you saw

it in dreams.  How many days

have you waited for this day?

Soon you must face a son grown

to manhood, a wife to old age,

the tiny sealed house of memory.

A lone crow drops into the sun,

the fields whisper their courage.


5.  Llanto - for Ernesto Trejo


Plum, almond, cherry have come and gone

the wisteria has vanished in

the dawn, the blackened roses rusting

along the barbed-wire fence explain


how April passed so quickly into

this hard wind that waited in the west.

Ahead is summer and the full sun

riding at ease above the stunned town


no longer yours.  Brother, you are gone,

that which was earth gone back to earth,

that which was human scattered like rain

into the darkened wild eyes of herbs


that see it all, into the valley oak

that will not sing, that will not even talk.


6.  The Last Step


Once I was a small grain

of fire burning on the rim

of day, and I waited in silence

until the dawn released me

and I climbed into the light.

Here, in the brilliant orchard,

the think-skinned oranges

doze in winter light,

late roses shred the wind,

and blood rains into

the meadows of winter grass.


I thought I would find my father

and hand in hand we would pace off

a child's life, I thought the air,

crystal around us, would hold

his words until they became

me, never to be forgotten.

I thought the rain was far off

under another sky.  I thought

that to become a man I

had only to wait, and the years,

gathering slowly, would take me there.


They took me somewhere else.

The twisted fig tree, the almond,

not yet white crowned, the slow

tendrils of grape reaching

into the sky are companions

for a time, but nothing goes

the whole way.  Not even the snail

smeared to death on a flat rock

or the tiny sparrow fallen from

the nest and flaring the yellow grass.

The last step, like an entrance,

is alone, in darkness, and without song





texts by Neil Rolnick


Georgie says come out and play,

but he makes all the rules.

The rules are that he always wins.

If you’re not rich, you lose.

If you won’t play with Georgie,

well, here’s another twist:

he’ll lock you up as a terrorist

and then you won’t be missed!


Georgie says he loves the kids

he’ll leave no child behind.

He’ll test, test, test

til you’re the best, best best.

And if you’re not the best,

he’ll close your school.


Dickie sees evil everywhere.

Terrorists are in our hair.

They’re in Iraq, they’re in Iran,

they’re in our pots

and in our pans.

Dickie hides behind the curtain,

says he’s really really certain

there’s just one way we won’t be hurtin’:

we’ve got to hire Haliburton!


Georgie hates gay marriage.

He thinks it’s really sick.

If a boy love a boy

or a girl loves a girl,

Georgie just says “ick!”

Georgie want amendments

to make them all defendants.


Dickie says the bad guys

Are terrorists and thugs.

They hate us cause we’re free.

We should squash ‘em just like bugs!


Georgie says to bring ‘em on,

they want to test our will,

so send your kids to fight

and hope they won’t get killed.

He knows the good guys always win

but Georgie is no fool;

while he send your kids off to war

his own kids stay in school.


Georgie says come out and play.






Paul Dresher Ensemble:

Peter Eldridge:

Neil Rolnick:

Kathleen Supové:



All tracks except Plays Well With Others  recorded by Jody Elff.  Making Light Of It and A Robert Johnson Sampler recorded at Elff Productions, Brooklyn, NY.  Digits recorded at Patrych Studio, Bronx, NY.  Plays Well With Others recorded in concert at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco by Neil Rolnick.  All tracks mixed and mastered by Jody Elff at Elff Productions.  

Cover image by R. Luke DuBois.  Booklet Design by Sozo Media.