III. Sublimation

Year Composed: 2015
Instrumentation: marimba & percussion
Duration 10 minutes

Program Notes

The title Sublimation refers to a psychological process whereby, according to Freud, certain aspects of the Id—the seat of all subconscious thoughts, desires, and impulses, particularly socially problematic ones—are channeled into forms of expression that are socially acceptable and even beneficial. While Freud’s framing of this process is somewhat simplistic by modern standards, the idea that a healthy mind depends on the successful integration of subconscious instinct and conscious representation was intuitively compelling for me. In this work, the marimba—a dominant presence, and the only instrument in this setup capable of ‘traditional’ pitch organization—is a metaphor for the conscious mind and its associations with enlightened rationalism. The battery of percussion that surrounds it—composed of tom-toms, a bass drum, tin cans, and various metallic surfaces—represents the vast regions of the brain which govern human survival and which are largely inaccessible to conscious thought: the Id, if you will. This metaphor allowed me to come to grips with the sonic possibilities afforded by the tricky yet exciting combination of marimba and unpitched percussion.

The movement opens with an exuberant, dance-like refrain on the marimba which recurs several times over the course of the movement. The tune, which—like a person daydreaming—has a tendency to wander off its prescribed path, eventually makes contact with the ‘outside’—the shadowy domain of the subconscious. The remainder of the movement unfolds as a dynamic interaction between these forces.

III. Sublimation was commissioned by Jonny Smith and was originally planned as the finale of a three-movement work for solo percussion, but is meant to also exist independently as a standalone work. I had originally planned the first two movements (which have yet to be composed) to feature the marimba and unpitched percussion ensemble separately. This movement attempts to unite both worlds.


  • September 15, 2017 - Jonny Smith, percussion. Walter Hall, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto

Commisions and Awards

  • commissioned by Jonny Smith

© 2004-2006 Kevinlaumusic.com. All Rights Reserved | Designed by beyondFate