Kevin Puts
Premiered in 1997

Stumbling upon this composition for symphony orchestra by Kevin Puts was like trying to canoe down a river. Network takes two ideas and interweaves them into a driving minimalistic surge that pulls you along for a complex, bumpy ride. My first thoughts upon listening were of the words “shiny”, “brilliant”, and “jagged”. The first timbres we hear are metallic percussion, upper woodwinds and strings and high brass. They all enter in a homorhythmic fashion and almost declare themselves in a fanfare-like manner.

At the very beginning I noticed that the motive that drives the piece seemed to state itself and then would be repeated in an overlapping, imitative manner by other instruments. It reminded me of the phasing found in many of Steve Reich’s compositions in which he would have the same thing played by two groups or people but they would get out of phase to create new groupings and ever-changing rhythmic emphases. There was also the presence of nonstop subdivision that seemed to keep the piece driving forward like a rhythmic motor which conveyed a sense of urgency. I didn’t feel like there was really a tonal center but I noticed that the overlapping mostly created consonant and open sounds. I also had trouble hearing a particular meter as the motive would add on notes whenever it was repeated.

It wasn’t until the tubist came in that I realized almost no lower pitched instruments seemed to be playing for about a quarter of the composition. The tubist came in during what I felt was the second section of what I perceived to be four sections. This was also the most chaotic section and felt like a crescendo into cacophony. It seemed like the overlapping of the motives started to create much more striking and dissonant harmonies with each other, as opposed to the beginning when the soundscape wasn’t as dense. During this section the upper winds and strings were used to create this blanket of chaos while underneath there were swells in the brass that created a makeshift Doppler effect. Towards the end of the section as the focus was brought towards the swells, they began to play more consonant intervals once again and the rhythmic motor was now twice as slow as it was before, creating a half time feel.

The third section felt like a repeat of the first but with more depth added from the lower winds, strings, and brass. This section builds up into the final section, which I noticed was noticeably faster. The percussion came out more prominently during that tempo change and also had pitched percussion playing the motive. This section also seemed to have more of a meter; to the listener and sounded like it was in 4/4 meter or another duple meter. The very last few measures of the composition solidified a perceived key center as E major with powerful, long chords played by the brass. These chords give a sense of arrival after the long winding journey Puts had taken us on.

To me, it seems that Kevin Puts has mastered the art of taking something simple and creating something complex and stimulating out of it. In the classical tradition, a composer would have typically used repetition and layering to help the listener remember a particular melody or theme and create harmonies. Puts has no intention of the listener remembering the motive. In fact it is too complex for someone to be able to sing it back. He has used repetition in Network to create layers that cause shifts in harmony and rhythm. The listener is taken on a journey away from the familiar repetition of the beginning to something distant and then brings us back home to familiar consonance.

Michelle Shaheen

Video used:

“Network.” Youtube video, 6:34. Posted by “Paavo Järvi,” February 6, 2015.

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