Ansible (2019)
for Trumpet, Percussion, Piano, Roland Octapad, Live Electronics

Ansible was commissioned by SPLICE Ensemble. This commission been made possible by the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program, with generous funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Chamber Music America Endowment Fund.

SPLICE premiered this work on June 27th, 2019 at Splice Institute, Western Michigan University. Video/Audio Documentation is forthcoming.


I. Antiphony - 0:00
II. Gethen / Icecaps - 8:30
III. Urras / Walls - 16:30
IV. Passacaglia - 22:54



Ansible is the result of a year-long, extremely rewarding collaboration with SPLICE Ensemble. A heartfelt thanks to Sam Wells, Keith Kirchoff, and Adam Vidiksis, whose artistry, dedication and honest critique have shaped this work at every stage of our collaboration.

Ursula K. Le Guin coined the term “Ansible” in her 1966 science fiction novel Rocannon’s world. The Ansible is a device that enables instantaneous interstellar communication, alleviating the significant time lag between the transmission and receipt of messages that could previously only travel at the speed of light. In Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle, a loosely connected group of sci-fi novels that take part within the same universe, the Ansible is sometimes present and sometimes absent—for a variety of reasons, economic, political, or because it hasn’t been invented yet. In circumstances where the Ansible is absent, communication between entities is often frustrated or inflected by vast distances of time and space, causing interstellar political troubles as messages received decades or centuries years later lose their relevance. The Ansible, an open-source, open-science communications device invented by an Anarchist physicist, is conceived by Le Guin as having utopian potentials, enabling a peaceful interstellar coalition called the Ekumen. In spite of its Utopian potentials, its presence produces conflict as well, a rich metaphor for globalization. Struggles are waged for control of the Ansible technology itself, by entities who wish to capitalize on exclusive rights to its use. The rapid exchange of information across galaxies also interacts in unpredictable ways with different societies, in the very worst circumstances fueling a technocracy (see The Telling).

The four musical movements of Ansible find resonances with these themes and with my two favorite novels of the Hainish Cycle, The Dispossessed (1974) and The Left Hand of Darkness (1969).

Antiphony is a meditation on pre-ansible communication, as messages from almost a century ago (conveyed by classical music recordings from the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s) finally are received in a not-so-distant future. Keith responds by playing extrapolations on these old tunes on a decaying piano. These old recordings, first heard in Antiphony, are carried throughout the other three movements; snippets placed in a variety of contexts—borne on the wind from a distant house maybe, or heard broadcast over the radio. The theme of embedding the same information in a multitude of spatial and temporal contexts carries throughout the rest of the piece.

Gethen / Icecaps is inspired by the ice-covered planet in The Left Hand of Darkness. It is a soundscape of creaking, melting, ice, whistling wind, glaciers, arctic fauna, and eerie voices carried by Sam’s desolate trumpet solo.

Urras / Walls draws on themes from The Dispossessed, where the protagonist constantly runs into walls and barriers of all sorts in his quest to develop the Ansible as an open-science technology. Some of these barriers prevent him from apprehending rampant economic and social inequalities that plague the capitalist society in which he is performing his research, highlighting the idea that walls both keep one side out and the other in. Toward the end of the movement, sounds from a general strike are broadcast over the radio. I used recordings of primarily women chanting, from protests all over the world, as the the oppression of women worldwide is closely linked with various economic and social injustices. During these moments, Adam Vidiksis improvises drum solos drawing on free jazz idioms.

Passacaglia takes the form of a continuously shifting theme and variations, making small ripples and delays through time. The three instruments often work in a loose canon with each other. Delays at the scale of seconds register as near-simultaneity from an interstellar perspective. A broadcast of the general strike is briefly heard again on the radio, this time through the window of a passing car on a remote desert highway.