Professor’s composition goes from performance piece to album

February 21, 2017

Written by Jeff Angileri   |  Photos by Craig Schreiner

Herriott and studentsProfessor Jeff Herriott uses the surroundings of Crossman Gallery as a laboratory for composition students to listen to an audio recording on February 26, 2016.

Inspired by a residency he completed in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, as well as the work of environmental composer John Luther Adams, Jeff Herriott set out to compose an immersive experience that focused on a "sense of place."

At one point in his composition, "The Stone Tapestry," actual stones are dropped into water to create musical sounds.

"It's one of the challenges of that particular section, because the technique is so inconsistent. If you hold a rock one way, it drops in smoother, and you also have to take into account the distance from water. The timing of it is surprisingly difficult, too."

The one-hour-long piece — the longest this University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor has ever written — is deeply rooted in the natural world.

At another moment, stone is scraped on wood, and throughout the composition, a symphony of flutes, metal pipes, gongs and glasses evoke the sounds of ever-moving, ever-changing rivers, mountains, valleys, and glaciers.

"I kept thinking about going to a concert and what you experience as an audience member. I wanted to create something more ritualistic. And from the performers' standpoint, how do you make something that's engaging, challenging and difficult?"

Herriott at the prairieProfessor Jeff Herriott on the UW-Whitewater Prairie Restoration Area on November 30, 2012.

"The Stone Tapestry" debuted at UW-Whitewater in 2014 and, to date, has been performed four other times in Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia. It was intended to be solely a performance piece, but on Feb. 10, New Focus Recordings released the work as an album.

Due East and Third Coast Percussion — which won a Grammy award on Feb. 12 — performed Herriott's work, just one indication of the caliber of talent involved in this project.

Herriott is coordinator of the Media Arts and Game Development program and teaches courses in music composition, electronic image, sound and image, film sound and game sound. He performs as part of Skewed and Such and Sonict Duo, and recently co-composed the film score for "Bone Tomahawk," an American horror western.

By constantly engaging in his craft, Herriott embraces the UW-Whitewater tradition of faculty who balance teaching and doing.

"Students get to see me model what is possible. They may think it's cool to see their professor write music for a film, or to perform on stage. I think it's important to be inspirational for students."

Herriott at the pianoProfessor Jeff Herriott, top, works with composition students in the UW-Whitewater Music Department on November 30, 2012.