Innova 724


Neil Rolnick


The Economic Engine




Neil Rolnick

The Economic Engine



MAYA (Sato Moughalian, flute; Jacqueline Kerrod, harp; John Hadfield, percussion)

Music from China (Wang Guowei, erhu; Helen Yee, yangqin; Ann Yao, guzheng; Sun Li, pipa)

The Todd Reynolds String Quartet (Todd Reynolds & Benjamin Russell, violins;  Nadia Sirota, viola; Ha-Yang Kim, cello)

Todd Reynolds, violin

Kathleen Supové, piano 


    The Economic Engine

performed by Music from China & The Todd Reynolds String Quartet


1.        Traffic  [6:50]

2.         Farm To Factory  [4:02]

3.        Opaque Air  [4:06]

4.        Hutong To Highrise  [7:20]


  1. Hammer & Hair  [20:22]
    performed by Todd Reynolds & Kathleen Supové


  1. Uptown Jump  [12:30]
    performed by MAYA


  1. Real Time  [16:47] (bonus track)
    performed by the Hartt Contemporary Players
    Neil Rolnick, Synclavier II
    Douglas Jackson, conductor


All selections © & p Neilnick Music (BMI)


Jody Elff, recording, mixing and mastering. 

Produced by Neil Rolnick. 



Neil Rolnick

The Economic Engine


Is music ever about something specific?  Although there’s no text to any of the pieces on this CD, they are all emotional reactions to the things going on in my life when I was writing them.  While working on Uptown Jump in 2006 I was anticipating my daughter’s family’s move to my uptown neighborhood of Washington Heights.  In particular, I thought of the piece as a celebration of my then one-year old grandson Jake’s move uptown from Brooklyn to northern Manhattan.  A year later I was anticipating and celebrating the arrival of Jake’s little sister Maddy, who was born in the midst of my work on Hammer & Hair.  And throughout the entire period I was working on the title piece, The Economic Engine, with multiple trips to China, where I tried to come to some understanding of the impact of China’s economic boom, while searching for a way to reflect some of that impact musically.


Although a great deal of my past music has focused on the use of electronic and digital media, these pieces reflect my more recent focus on thinking about music in terms of instrumental performance.  I’ve always been most interested in music as an activity, as something we do together.  Although there is a considerable amount of electronic processing in The Economic Engine, the piece is very much about the music being played by the instruments.  The digital effects are really more like extended playing techniques.  Not terribly different from the way that I use violin harmonics or stopped piano strings in Hammer & Hair, in order to provide additional color and sonic variety.


I think of the final piece on this disk as a “bonus track.”  It’s a favorite early piece of mine which has been out of print for nearly 20 years.  And like the more recent pieces on the disk, it is really focused on instrumental writing, with my solo electronic performance integrated into the ensemble.  Though I can hear many changes in my musical voice as it has evolved over the last 25 years, I can also hear how my penchant for catchy rhythms and hooky melodies was evident even then, as was my interest in treating the electronic media as just another instrument.


The Economic Engine (2008)


As an observer from the other side of the globe, I have often seen China described as “the economic engine of the 21st century.”  In my four visits to China from 2005-2008, as I’ve gone about having my music performed, I’ve been struck by the energy and industry of the people I’ve interacted with, and by the lightening-fast pace of change which seems to impact everything I see. 


In The Economic Engine I’ve tried to make sonic representations of four of the many manifestations of how dramatic economic growth has impacted the life I’ve observed on my visits.  The four movements are called “Traffic,”  “Farm to Factory,” “Opaque Air” and “Hutong to Highrise.”


For more of my thoughts about my recent experiences visiting China, take a look at


The Economic Engine is scored for a double quartet of stringed instruments:  four traditional Chinese instruments (erhu, yangqin, guzheng and pipa) and a classical western string quartet (2 violins, viola and cello).   All of the instruments are digitally processed in the performance.


In performance the music is accompanied by video which was assembled and produced by Cindy Ng Sio Ieng.  The video footage documents the responses of three Beijing-based performance artists to the growing Chinese economy.  The videos include performances of “Magic” by Si Man,  “Economic Growth” by Xue Liming, and “RMB” by Wang Chuyu.  In New York, the video was performed and processed by Adam Kendall.


The Economic Engine was commissioned by the China Electronic Music Center at the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, China.  Additional support for this project was received from the Asian Cultural Council, Meet the Composers’ Global Connections Program, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s MCAF and Production Grant Programs, the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance,  and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  Cindy Ng Sio Ieng’s participation in the project was supported by the Macao Culture Department.


Hammer & Hair  (2007)


Initially I had intended to include extensive computer processing of the piano and violin as part of the piece.  As I began to see the music unfold, I found myself  increasingly intrigued by what I could do with just the acoustic sounds of the piano’s hammers and the violin’s bow – hence the name of the piece.  In a way, this decision reflects the musical direction of the work.  Though there are many non-classical references throughout the piece, with jazz-like melodies, stride piano tunes, a waltz and atmospheric thumpings inside the piano, this is really a very classical piece.  With thematic material which evolves from beginning to end, with numerous changes of texture and tempo, and even a little fugue, it’s a 20 minute tour de force of a violin and piano sonata.


Uptown Jump  (2006)


Uptown Jump is a little celebration.  It’s a party piece.  During the time I was writing it, in the spring of 2006, my daughter’s family was trying to maneuver their way to purchase an apartment in the building next to mine in Washington Heights, in upper Manhattan.  Like all New York City real estate stories, it was full of drama, ups and downs, evil landlords and missed deadlines.  As I worked through the piece I followed these ups and downs with great anticipation, particularly at the prospect of my grandson Jake being next door, and I looked forward to the change a newly extended family would bring to my life.


The move worked out.  Jake made his uptown jump from Brooklyn, and the extended family now includes his baby sister Maddy as well.  And this piece is a little record of the adventure.


Real Time  (1983) **bonus track**

(notes from original LP release)

As the title indicates, Real Time focuses upon the interaction of real time computer generated sounds with a large chamber ensemble.  The Synclavier II is a computer and digital synthesizer which can be controlled with a traditional piano-type keyboard and an array of buttons and foot pedals.  The Synclavier’s role in the piece is sometimes as a soloist, sometimes as part of the ensemble.  The Synclavier makes use of a very wide variety of instrument-like timbres to complement and extend the colors of the instrumental writing.


Just as the Synclavier’s function in Real Time is integrative, so too is the musical concept behind the piece one of integration of myriad musical perspectives.  The harmonic textures of “big band” music of the 1940s, along with some of the rhythmic drive which infects so much of the mid-century swing and jazz, are used to fill out a formal structure which derives from some of the solo meditative music for the Japanese shakuhachi.


Real Time was premiered December 14, 1983 at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City, under the direction of Gerard Schwarz, with the composer playing the Synclavier II.







Music From China:

Todd Reynolds:

Neil Rolnick:

Kathleen Supové:



All tracks except Real Time  were recorded, mixed and mastered in 2008 by Jody Elff.  The Economic Engine was recorded at Elff Productions, New Paltz, NY.   Hammer & Hair was recorded at NRS Studios, Catskill, NY.  Uptown Jump was recorded at Avatar Studios, New York City.  Real Time was recorded by David Budries in 1987 at The Hartt College of Music, Hartford, CT, and was originally released as an LP on the CRI label (CRI 540) .  Real Time was re-mastered by Jody Elff.

Cover image and booklet design by Innova Recordings.