Neil Rolnick

Extended Family

Innova 782



Extended Family (2009)

1. The Gene Pool  [3:17]

2. Siblings [4:45]

3. Cousins & Uncles & Aunts [5:00]

4. Loss [4:45]

5 The Gathering  [4:43]


performed by ETHEL (Cornelius Dufallo and Mary Rowell, violins, Ralph Ferris, viola, Dorothy Lawson, cello)



6.  Faith (2008/2009)  [24:20]


performed by Bob Gluck, piano and Neil Rolnick, laptop computer


7.  MONO Prelude (2009)  [11:16]


performed by Neil Rolnick, laptop computer and spoken voice


All tracks © 2009 by Neilnick Music (BMI)


more about the musicians:


Bob Gluck

Neil Rolnick


Recording Information:

All tracks were recorded at EMPAC, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY during February 2010.

Recording, mixing and mastering by Jody Elff.

Produced by Neil Rolnick

Rolnick photo: Susan Fox Rogers

Neil Rolnick

Extended Family

CD Liner Notes by Neil Rolnick


About 8 or 9 years ago, I was telling my friend, composer Pauline Oliveros, about a big project I was planning.  I described the technology, the fund raising problems, the production plans.  She stopped me and asked, "Neil, what's the music about?"  It was the right question, and gave me the push I needed at that moment to remind myself why I write.

Music is about communication, about sharing my experience of life on some deeper and more emotional level than I can manage verbally.  That's always been true for me.  In the music I've written over the last decade, I've been ever more conscious of that goal.  The three pieces on this CD continue in that direction.  In them I explore my experience of family and of faith.  And I tell you about losing an ear.  But I invite you to listen to the music with both your ears, as well as with your brain and your heart.  All of it, of course, is what the music is about.


Extended Family (2009)


1.  The Gene Pool ¥ 2. Siblings ¥ 3. Cousins & Uncles & Aunts ¥ 4. Loss ¥ 5 The Gathering

When my wife and I moved to New York City in 2002, we didnÕt think much about extended family.  Our daughter lived at the other end of the City, and my parents lived in the distant suburbs.  We saw them each with some regularity, but we were most focused on enjoying our careers, our new city, and each other as we settled into our post-child-rearing years.  Little did we know É


Seven years later, our daughter has married, moved into our neighborhood and had three children, bang bang bang.  My daughterÕs family and my grandchildren are now a constant presence in my life.  In fact, as I write these notes, the two oldest are running around just outside my studio door blowing bubbles and scheming how to destroy our apartment.  An added benefit, since my wife and I are often out and about with one or more grandkids in tow, is that weÕve developed relationships with many young parents in the neighborhood, making connections the way we did when we had a young child ourselves.  So the entire neighborhood has become something of an extended family, thanks to the grandkids.


This was what I expected to be focusing on when I proposed writing a string quartet called Extended Family.  But between the proposal and the writing, things got more complicated.  My mother passed away, I found myself having to coordinate her end of life care and then the management of her affairs with my three siblings and our various children and grandchildren.  There were many trips from all around the world to see her in rural Missouri, and then for a family memorial in New York.   So my view of my extended family grew considerably, to include not just the family I live near, but also relatives living far away, with whom I ended up in daily contact for a good portion of the time I was writing this piece.


The string quartet Extended Family explores some of the ways I think about these relationships.  I tried to trace what I think of as key features of my experience of an extended family across the five movements.  While families really extend back to time before memory, any particular family usually traces itself back to a beginning point of grandparents or great-grandparents.  So the first movement, The Gene Pool, introduces two ideas which serve as sources for the music to come: a restless, ever-changing and constantly moving theme, and a more lyrical melody, which eventually find a way to accommodate each other.  These two musical ideas serve as the DNA for virtually all the other musical ideas in the piece, which grow out of various ways of evolving and mutating and combining these two themes. 


The second movement, Siblings, develops a series of musical ideas which derive directly from the materials in The Gene Pool, but which each take on a unique personality.  The third movement, Cousins & Uncles & Aunts, explores some of what happens when influences from outside the original DNA sources get introduced.  Characterized by sudden and abrupt changes in tempo and texture, with varied glimpses of the original Gene Pool peeking through, this movement imagines a gathering of a widely extended family, combining inevitable bits of harmony and conflict.  Loss, the fourth movement, was written in direct response to my motherÕs death.  It seems that, in the evolution of any family, these moments of crisis and pain bring us together from the separate pursuits of our lives to re-engage with our families and to find support in these complex webs of relationship.


The final movement, The Gathering, is a response to the kinds of family gatherings that follow a loss.  In a reflection of the way that these gatherings tend to be structured, this movement is structured as a fugue.  But, in the way in which my own family seems to be unable to hold on to traditional structures, but re-invents itself whenever given the opportunity, this fugue manages to wander in a variety of different directions, incorporating many of the ÒchildrenÓ and descendents of the original gene pool, bringing them all together in an affirmation of the familyÕs continued life.


Extended Family was Commissioned by ETHELÕs Foundation for the Arts through funds made available from the Argosy Foundation.


Faith (2008/2009)


IÕve had a long and close relationship with Bob Gluck, the composer and pianist who commissioned FAITH.  I first met Bob when he was a rabbi in Western Massachusetts, and he wanted to become more engaged as a composer and performer.  He eventually left his congregation and studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where I directed the iEAR Studios, and where he both developed his skills in computer music and eventually re-engaged with his previous  (pre-rabbinical) life as a performer and pianist.  Bob is now an Associate Professor of Music at The University at Albany, and is developing a major career as a composer, performer and scholar.


Throughout our relationship, there have been random discussions on the issue of faith.  Bob, though no longer a practicing rabbi, is committed to his Jewish faith.  I was raised as a Jew, but am pretty thoroughly atheistic in my beliefs.  In writing a piece for Bob, I thought it would be interesting to explore the concept of faith in musical terms.  This translated into a piece which interleaves through-composed sections with various kinds of improvisational structures, and which uses the computerÕs real time interaction to further orchestrate and add layers of color to the piece.  By leaving improvisational sections for the performer to work with, IÕm exercising the kind of faith I do have: a faith in people, and in our ability to do our best in challenging situations.


Bob has described FAITH as Òa grand new work that defies categorization, a fusion of lyrical Tin Pan Alley song, late 20th century abstraction, boogie-woogie riffs, jazz improvisation, cut and paste mash-up, Chopin and Liszt virtuosic romanticism, real-time digital processing, see-sawing between quiet reflection and dramatic gestures.Ó  I think itÕs an act of faith to try to put these varied influences together in one big piece.  And itÕs something I can believe in.


Faith was commission by Bob Gluck.



MONO Prelude (2009)


If we listen to the same piece of music, do you hear what I hear?  When we look at a red stop sign, do we actually see the same thing?  If we each take a bite of the same apple, do we experience the same taste sensation?  Even if we agree weÕre both seeing hearing a Bach fugue, looking at a red stop sign, and tasting a sweet apple, how do we compare our actual perceptions?  As far as I know, we have no way to know someone elseÕs actual sensation of sound or sight or taste.


On March 31, 2008 between 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. I lost all hearing in my left ear.  The loss is permanent and is accompanied by a loud white noise tinnitus where the left ear should be.  With only one ear, I now hear the world monophonically.  There is no stereo or surround sound in my world.  And much of what I do hear I identify as distorted, and unclear compared to my memory of what I heard before.


What I walked away from this experience with was an awareness that our perceptions are indeed different, because my perception of sound now is quite different from what it was.  I wanted to see if this was unique, so I started asking around – first to friends, then to a wide net of contacts on the net – to see if other people experienced similar changes to their perceptions of the world through their five senses.  What I found was a flood of people who identify one of their five senses as impaired.  They are aware that they see, or hear, or smell, or taste or feel the world differently than others.  When you listen this CD, thereÕs no way to know if you hear what I hear.  Probably not.  And if weÕre not hearing the same sounds, how can we agree on the music?  Yet, for the most part, we do.  We may not like the same things, but we agree enough on what we hear to be able to discuss it, comment on it, refer to it.  The more I think about this, with the huge number of people in the world who identify their senses as being impaired in some way, the more amazed I am.


Several years later, IÕve collected and compiled some of these stories into an evening of music and media performance called MONO. 


MONO is a series of musical meditations on the fragility of perception:  its appreciation, its loss, and our ability to adjust to changes in our perceptual abilities.  The piece is an evening length consideration of how our perceptions shape us.  It is a series of twelve pieces which explore the loss of perceptual ability and the subsequent changes in how we relate to the world in response to that loss.


The MONO Prelude, included here, is a little foretaste of the larger work.  It describes my experience of the initial few days and weeks of discovering and adjusting to the change in my hearing.  Unlike the larger pieces, which involves instruments, singers, and various media, the Prelude is performed by me, alone, talking to the audience, controlling the laptop computer which modulates my voice.