Christopher Cerrone: Liminal Highway

, composer


Composer Christopher Cerrone and Grammy Award-winning flutist Tim Munro release Liminal Highway, a hypnotic work for flute and electronics. Liminal Highway evokes the moment of limbo between sleeping and waking, an anxious, in-between place that forces us to reflect on our life. Cerrone transforms the flute into something entirely new, an instrument that can drum, shimmer, sing, and erupt.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 16:20

Liminal Highway

01I. When You Fall Asleep in Transit
I. When You Fall Asleep in Transit
02II. Between Consciousness and Sleep
II. Between Consciousness and Sleep
03III. A Dream You Don’t Recall
III. A Dream You Don’t Recall
04IV. Liminal
IV. Liminal
05V. Suddenly it is Needed
V. Suddenly it is Needed

Christopher Cerrone deals in one-of-a-kind musical experiences. His magnetic and “gorgeous” music (The New York Times) brings raw and deep emotions to the surface. Cerrone’s Invisible Cities, performed throughout the public spaces of Los Angeles’ Union Station, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Liminal Highway, written in 2015 for flutist Tim Munro, is inspired by John K. Samson’s poem of the same name. The opening of the poem reads:

when you fall asleep in transit
you rarely wake up much closer
to where you want to be
and you’ve missed the song
you were waiting to hear
coming up after the ad for a
funeral home and the traffic and weather
in a town you’ll never live in

or even see now that you’ve passed it
in a dream you don’t recall

Caught between sleeping and waking, Samson’s protagonist comes to understand who they are and where they are going. In Cerrone’s work, layers of flute shimmer, pulse, and glow, conjuring an atmosphere of anxiety tinged with a fragile sense of hope.

The cover photograph of this album was taken on board the SS United States. This ship was the hope of a nation, but lies, ruined, in the Philadelphia harbor. It was a perfect location for Four/Ten Media’s video of Liminal Highway, which echoes with memories of the past. This video will be released on the same day as this album.

Liminal Highway was commissioned by New Music USA and Miller Theatre at Columbia University for Tim Munro. Joan and Barry Miskin provided additional support for the recording and filming of the project.

Recorded by Anthony Gravino in Chicago, IL on Dec 14, 2018

Mixed, edited, and mastered by Mike Tierney in Brooklyn, NY

Liminal Highway was commissioned by New Music USA and Miller Theatre at

Columbia University for Tim Munro. It premiered at Miller Theatre on November 1, 2016

Further funding for the project was provided by Joan and Barry Miskin

Photos by Danie Harris, Evan Chapman, and Kevin Eikenberg, from the Liminal Highway video shoot on the SS United States

Design by Todd Doyle

”Liminal Highway“ (the poem) is © 2012 John K. Samson and used with the author’s kind permission

Christopher Cerrone

Christopher Cerrone (b. 1984) is internationally acclaimed for compositions characterized by a subtle handling of timbre and resonance, a deep literary fluency, and a flair for multimedia collaborations.

Recent commissions include In a Grove, a new opera co-produced by LA Opera and Pittsburgh Opera, a violin concerto for Jennifer Koh and the Detroit Symphony, an antiphonal brass concerto for the Cincinnati Symphony, a piano concerto for Shai Wosner and the Phoenix and Albany Symphonies, a percussion concerto for Third Coast Percussion, and three works for the LA Philharmonic. His first opera, Invisible Cities, based on Italo Calvino’s novel, was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize and he is the recipient of multiple GRAMMY nominations. He is the winner of the 2015–2016 Rome Prize and is a resident at Laurenz Haus in Basel, Switzerland from 2022–23.

Christopher Cerrone holds degrees from Yale and the Manhattan School of Music and is published by Schott NY. He is on the composition faculty at Mannes School of Music and lives in Brooklyn with his wife.




Christopher Cerrone's Liminal Highway (2015) is one of those acoustic-electronic works where the two elements seem to converge. In fact, even an online video of the performance recorded here does not 100 percent resolve the question of who is playing what; the flute of Tim Munro has lots of flutter-tonguing and finger tapping, and when these are picked up into loops the listener is drawn into a dream world where sounds and shapes bleed into each other. The work's title and inspiration come from a poem by rock musician John K. Samson (of The Weakerthans) that evokes the feeling of "when you fall asleep in transit." The word "liminal" denotes an in-between state, a state of transition, which is uncannily evoked here. The work is in five movements in something of an arc shape that suggests a mental journey, with the second and fourth movements action-filled and more percussive, and the third opening out into a mind-expanding landscape of reverb. The first and final movements echo each other, with the work dying away at the end. This is a contemporary composition that can appeal to anyone, and it is an extremely inventive treatment of the interface between acoustic music and electronics.

— James Manheim, 8.21.2020


The Wire

A piccolo trill, dog whistle shrill, sets New York based composer Cerrone’s Liminal Highway in motion. Drawing its title from a poem of the road, its hazards and dreams, by folk rocker John Samson, this compelling travelogue in five movements, lasting little more than a quarter than an hour, was written with the expansive artistry of flautist Tim Munro in mind. While precise vibrations in the upper register may suggest glinting sunlight on a windscreen or gleaming chrome, the sustained rhythmic fluctuations of Munro’s key clicks and tongue flutters convey, as the journey unfolds, the churn of automotive power and tyres revolving on hot tarmac. Munro evokes superbly the twin facets of driver and dreamer. His flute proliferates, layered along with decay of reverb from and oil rig and beer bottles blown like panpipes within a phantasmagoric soundscape.

— Raymond Cummings, 8.21.2020


An Earful

I don't want to hang too much verbiage on this piece, which for 16 mesmerizing minutes gives us a whole world of sound created by flute - brilliantly played by Tim Munro - and live electronics. I will simply say that since its inception as a slender bamboo reed in the Zhou Dynasty nearly 3,000 years ago, to the addition of keys in 18th century London, to Varese's groundbreaking solo Density 21.5, the flute has been reinvented many times. And so it is again. For the full experience of Liminal Highway, which was premiered in 2015, be sure you watch the video, filmed on the ruins of the SS United States in Philadelphia Harbor, and read John K. Samson's poem of the same name.

— Jeremy Shatan, 10.04.2020


A Closer Listen

when you fall asleep in transit

you rarely wake up much closer

to where you want to be

and you’ve missed the song

you were waiting to hear

coming up after the ad for a

funeral home and the traffic and weather

in a town you’ll never live in

or even see now that you’ve passed it

in a dream you don’t recall

These are the opening lines from John K. Samson’s “Liminal Highway”, the inspiration for Christopher Cerrone ’s 2016 composition. Literary allusions abound in Cerrone’s work, from his opera Invisible Cities (drawing on Italo Calvino) to the orchestral High Windows (nodding to Philip Larkin). Evidently, Cerrone’s work needs readers as much as listeners.

In the lines of verse, to sleep in transit is to forego experience. Nonetheless, Cerrone’s opening movement sedates the listener like the motion of a vehicle. Soft notes assemble windchimes and lullabies. The next movement foregrounds rapid staccato sounds. The flutter of eyelids entering a dream? Or the zipping past of white lines on the highway?

The composition, written for Tim Munro, is for solo flute and electronics. The recording from 2018 is crisp and mesmerising. Nonetheless, listeners might begin by viewing an earlier rendition. Watching Munro perform, it’s clear that the composition rethinks and renavigates the instrument. Familiar flute melodies do sneak in, as moments of clarity in a beguiling dream. Elsewhere, bursts of breath make airy caverns in the unconscious; air is sculpted into metronome percussion; sonic loops give the texture of a full wind section.

Since punk was my first love, I remember Samson not from poetry or from The Weakerthans, but from Propagandhi’s How to Clean Everything (1993). Here, Samson’s wistful “song for all of those who shot and missed” seemed off-kilter against tracks like “Stick the Fucking Flag Up Your Goddam Ass, You Sonofabitch”. Now I wonder if Samson is always out of place, waking up just beyond towns he’ll never occupy. Sleep and liminality are similarly depicted by artist Bill Viola, in “The Body Asleep” (1992):

“Far more disturbing than falling asleep at the wheel while driving is waking up. The fearful speculation of how long one has been asleep punctuates the moving monotony with a shrill reminder of the uncertainty and fragility of existence. Walking home alone in the middle of the night through a densely populated neighbourhood is another moment when being awake can be more disturbing than being asleep—the thundering silence of masses of people sleeping behind walls and closed doors rings throughout the emptiness of the immediate surroundings, as if a great tide has retreated”.

For both Samson and Viola, the moment of waking is an unsettling one. The borderlands expand between consciousness, identity, and one’s surroundings. We feel a surreal displacement, whether we passed the neighbourhood in a dream, or whether we tiptoe through its silence. This is captured in Cerrone’s final movement, which reprises and subverts the first, as the dreamer wakes to find the world changed. Gradual layers of flute are met by ominous minor keys and vibrato calls of urgency. In a looping refrain, the final fragments of dream slip away from memory.

On the road, behind closed doors, or alone in silent streets? There are many places where great music keeps us company. At only sixteen minutes, this foray into dream is all too brief. But as it ends, we find Cerrone and Munro had time to alter the scenery around us.

— Samuel Rogers, 10.19.2020

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