Christopher Whyte: Cold Stability


Percussionist Christopher Whyte releases Cold Stability, a collection of works for different percussion instruments that explores paths to quietude through sound. Featuring works by Toshio Hosokawa, Sarah Hennies, Lou Harrison, and Whyte himself, the album travels through a variety of timbres, most of which inhabit a space which subverts the expectation for a bombastic percussion recording. 


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 50:24
02Psalm 1
Psalm 1
03A Cold Stability
A Cold Stability
04Solo to Anthony Cirone
Solo to Anthony Cirone

Oregon based percussionist Christopher Whyte releases Cold Stability, a collection of works that explore different paths to stillness through sound. From the undulating marimba rolls in Toshio Hosokawa’s Reminiscence, to the psycho-acoustic exploration of Sarah Hennies’ Psalm 1, to Whyte’s own polyrhythmic/polytextural centerpiece, and finally to Lou Harrison’s gamelan- inspired, just intonation work Solo to Anthony Cirone, Whyte examines textures that ask the listener to slow our minds and focus on component materials of sound. Whyte’s album lives within what some might consider a West Coast new music milieu — one in which the elements of timbre, tuning, and sonic phenomena are brought to the fore for contemplation.

Toshio Hosokawa is perhaps the most influential Japanese composer of his generation, merging both canonical and contemporary influences he obtained in his time studying in Germany with those from his native country, including concepts drawn from Zen Buddhism. His Reminiscence for solo marimba revels in that instrument’s rich low register, rolling mysterious harmonies and mining them for their unique colors and character profile. Hosokawa alternates between sinewy arpeggiated phrases and taut accented chords, providing relief for the ear to contemplate the pitch material against a momentary “canvas” of silence.

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A significant strain in Sarah Hennies’ work is her acute attention to the unique acoustic properties of instruments. Psalm 1 is part of a series of works for vibraphone that zoom in on this overtone rich instrument, using repetition to reveal hidden phenomena inside its timbre. Partially inspired by Alvin Lucier’s scientific approach to sound, Hennies establishes musical parameters that illuminate acoustic realities. In Psalm 1 we hear a series of intervals, each with its own sonic profile, conjuring auditory illusions that can produce sounds that go beyond what is literally being played.

Whyte’s title piece A Cold Stability draws inspiration from wine making, dividing the piece into four sections that correspond to the different stages of the process. First we hear the ripe grapes just before harvest, expressed here in percolating, polyrhythmic textures on skinned drums. Next we hear the mechanical precision of sorting machines, captured by virtuosic, modular passagework on pitched percussion instruments such as glockenspiel, vibraphone, and tuned thai gongs. Whyte evokes the patient period when the wine settles and evolves in wood barrels with swells on woodblocks in a duet with cyclical figures on marimba. Finally, we hear the luminosity of the bottling process in shimmering bowed wine glasses and bottles. Within these sections, Whyte finds contrasting expressive areas in pace, tempo, and material, mimicking the organic nature of the wine making process, an ever evolving transformation of source material into an irreversible modification of itself.

Lou Harrison’s Solo to Anthony Cirone is scored for tuned pipes, tempered in just intonation. Like his West Coast contemporaries, Harrison was fascinated with tuning systems that established a direct connection with the overtone series. This meditative piece is comprised of a series of ritualistic phrases outlining a pentatonic scale. The resonance of the tuned pipes reveal a panoramic pitch halo that veritably glows and pulsates through the speakers. It is a fitting close, a final prayer of sorts, to a recording that has so effectively drawn the listener’s ears into a wide range of sonic paths towards stillness and contemplation.

– Dan Lippel

All tracks engineered by Branic Howard

Editing for Reminiscence, Psalm 1, & Solo to Anthony Cirone by Branic Howard

Editing for A Cold Stability by Christopher Whyte

Mixed & Mastered by Branic Howard at Open Field Recording, Portland, Oregon

Reminiscence, Psalm 1, & Solo to Anthony Cirone recorded at Bauman Auditorium at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, October 2021

A Cold Stability was recorded at Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, Oregon, December 2021

Christopher Whyte

Called “hypnotic, enthralling…dynamic” (Oregon ArtsWatch), Christopher Whyte (b. 1983) is known for his wide-ranging artistry as a percussionist, timpanist, collaborator, composer, and educator. He has presented recitals, concerts, and masterclasses internationally in Asia, Europe, Canada and throughout the United States.

As an original member of the Portland Percussion Group, he is dedicated to fostering percussion performance through dynamic concerts, engaging collaborations, and the creation of new music. Through their call for scores project, the Portland Percussion Group has provided the impetus for over sixty new works for percussion chamber ensemble. In October 2020, the quartet made its European debut performing a full-length concert at the GAIDA Festival of Contemporary Music in Vilinus, Lithuania in addition to collaborating on Steve Reich’s iconic Drumming with the Colin Currie Quartet.

He is a founding member and resident faculty of the International Percussion Institute, a summer percussion performance and research institute, marimba competition, and composers workshop held annually in Aberdeen, Scotland. Recent projects of the Institute include a collaboration with British composer Joe Duddell and the Sound Festival to develop new works through shared experiences between young composers and Institute percussionists. Whyte also performs as percussionist with Third Angle New Music Ensemble, collaborating with a wide range of musicians and composers to advance the development and performance of new music. He has collaborated closely with composers Gabriela Lena Frank, Pauline Oliveros, Sarah Hennies, William Kraft, Allen Strange, Stephen Taylor, Michael Johanson, Mendel Lee, and Angélica Negrón, among others as an active commissioner of new music for percussion.

He regularly performs with the Oregon Symphony, including on their Grammy-nominated recordings Spirit of the American Range and Aspects of America: the Pulitzer Edition, as well as with the Portland Opera Orchestra, Oregon Ballet Theater, 45th Parallel Music, fEARnoMusic, The Bach Cantata Choir, Portland Symphonic Choir, and the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. Additional performance credits include the Vancouver Symphony, Oregon Bach Festival, Astoria Music Festival, Atlantic Symphony, New Bedford Symphony, Eugene Symphony, Newport Symphony, ALEA III contemporary music ensemble, and the Boston Civic Symphony. He most recently appeared as concerto soloist with the Missoula Symphony, performing Pascal Le Boeuf’s Triple Concerto, and has performed with arx duo in performances of Dominic Marcott’s Harmonic Canon. Whyte recently released “Cold Stability,” his debut solo recording on New Focus Recordings, featuring works by Lou Harrison, Sarah Hennies, Toshio Hosokawa, and an original composition for percussion and electronics, commissioned by Third Angle New Music and inspired by the process of winemaking so intertwined in the life of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

A dedicated teacher, Whyte is currently Percussion Area Coordinator at Portland State University, and has served on the faculty of Western Oregon University. He serves as the director of the Portland Summer Percussion Academy, a week-long educational gathering of high school percussionists focused on a broad range of western and non-western percussion instruments. The Academy annually brings together students and faculty from around the United States. Whyte has served as a member of the Percussive Arts Society Percussion Ensemble Committee and University Percussion Pedagogy Committee, and is currently President of the Oregon Chapter of the PAS. He has performed or presented at the Other Minds Festival of Contemporary Music, Connecticut Summerfest, New Music Gathering, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, the College Music Society (CMS), Northwest region NAfME conference, The Midwest Clinic, nienteForte Festival, Oregon Music Educators Association Conference (OMEA), the PICA Festival, New York’s Fringe Festival, and Music for All National Chamber Music Festival.

Whyte holds degrees from the University of Oregon (B.M., M.M.), and Boston University (D.M.A.) and his former teachers include the late Charles Dowd and Boston Symphony Principal Timpanist Timothy Genis. He is a Yamaha Performing Artist, and proudly endorses Vic Firth Drumsticks, Remo Drum Heads, Zildjian Cymbals, and Black Swamp Percussion Instruments. His compositions are published with Tapspace, MSC, Matrix, and Bachovich publishing.

Chris lives in Newberg, Oregon with his wife Charlotte and their son Forrest.




Just as Posey includes a work by one famed composer on his recording, percussionist Christopher Whyte (born 1983) places a piece by someone of some musical standing on a New Focus Recordings CD. This is Solo to Anthony Cirone by Lou Harrison (1917-2003). It is the final and shortest work on the disc – a delicate piece for tuned pipes in which the sound of the pipes rather than any inherently musical elements of rhythm or harmony is the piece’s reason for being, creating a kind of trancelike state in listeners who focus on Harrison’s aural world. Harrison’s brief work (six minutes) follows one by Whyte himself that is far more extended (23 minutes, nearly half the total length of the disc). Called A Cold Stability, Whyte’s piece has an extramusical reference, to stages of winemaking. But knowing that is not necessary for listeners to appreciate the sounds-for-their-own-sake elements of the four-section work. Drums and steel drums, vibraphone and glockenspiel, woodblocks and marimba, all have their places within this sound world, and all can – and really should – simply be heard as aural elements to which listeners can tune in and from which they can tune out, according to their mood. As a structured work, Whyte’s piece goes on much too long; but as an immersive sonic experience, it is effective as long as one does not try too hard to follow its underlying narrative purpose. Also on this CD are Reminiscence by Toshio Hosokawa (born 1955) and Psalm 1 by Sarah Hennies (born 1979). Hosokawa’s work is for solo marimba and is a journey through the instrument’s sound-generating capabilities, especially those involving its lower register. It can be thought of as mood music, background music, or simply a kind of sonic canopy whose resemblance to music is largely irrelevant. Hennies’ piece, for vibraphone, offers an interesting aural contrast to Hosokawa’s while sharing some of its aesthetic: the instrument’s sound is the whole point here, its swells and near-constant repetition serving to lull the ear into accepting its world as the world, which it becomes for its 10-minute time span.

— Mark Estren, 11.09.2023


American Record Guide

Oregon-based percussionist Christopher Whyte in a varied program. Toshio Hosokawa’s 12-minute marimba solo Reminiscence begins with 4 minutes of deep rumblings, then gradually heads toward the upper register. There is some steady, enigmatic counterpoint, then a return to the disquieting depths. Psalm 1 (2009), by Sarah Hennies, is minimalist in its insistence—for almost 10 minutes—on a steadily repeated note that gradually changes as its instrument (vibraphone) slowly changes. Sometimes harmonics are stronger than the main note; and by the end, the main note itself has changed. Quite the study in acoustics! The oldest piece is Solo to Anthony Cirone (1979), by Lou Harrison, where bells— tuned to whole-number ratios (3:2, 4:3 etc) make striking, gamelan-like sounds. The big piece is Whyte’s 23-minute Cold Stability (2021), a kaleidoscopic work that is essentially a symphony for solo percussionist plus electronics.

— n/a, 3.19.2024



It occasions a double take to read in the promotional material for this percussion recital that it “explores paths to quietude.” Percussion devotees might be disappointed by this, expecting a bombastic one-man band, but I was intrigued. The prospect of a meditative percussion performance, if that’s not an oxymoron, offers a new twist. As you’d expect, percussionist Christopher Whyte is called on to produce a variety of timbres on an array of different instruments.

The path to quietude chosen by composer Toshio Hosokawa is the trance-like state induced by purely minimal means. His Reminiscence begins and ends with soft, low rolls on the marimba, and in between we get a continuous texture of what sounds like soft tremolos but which the program notes describe as “sinewy arpeggiated phrases and taut accented chords.” The effect of gentle stasis, I conjecture, might be related to Hosokawa’s interest in Zen Buddhism.

Almost unvarying repetition also lies at the core of Sarah Hennies’s Psalm 1 for solo vibraphone. Hennies has a strong interest in the timbres of instrumental overtones, and the vibraphone is rich in them. She has devised a kind of ghostly or Doppelgänger effect here—besides the note being struck, its overtones form a separate overlay of bright, floating overtones that the ear immediately picks up. However, each listener will have to decide whether 10 minutes of overtones leads to quietude or only casual interest.

So far, the album’s title, Cold Stability, seems to apply as a prevailing concept. Whyte’s composition of the same name isn’t strictly minimalist, however, despite much repetition, and there is also a secondary concept at work. As the notes inform us, A Cold Stability “draws inspiration from wine making, dividing the piece into four sections that correspond to the different stages of the process.” The stages start with the grapes ripening on the vine (heard as polyrhythmic tapping on skinned drums), followed by the precision of the winery’s sorting machines (a soft panoply of tuned percussion such as glockenspiel, vibraphone, and tuned Thai gongs). For the wine patiently maturing in the cask, we get a very soft duet for wood block and marimba, and finally, the bottling process is expressed “in shimmering bowed wine glasses and bottles.” This section brings the first appearance of the improvised percussion instruments made from household objects that is typical of New Music.

The winemaking concept fits Whyte’s location in Oregon, a major wine-producing state with a reputation for being laid-back, and this trait is given liquid treatment in the music. Until the wine glasses and bottles appear, the texture of the piece is one of soft, repetitive tapping that moves from one instrumental color to the next. The polyrhythms give us a glimpse of Whyte’s considerable technical ability, and the overall effect, another variation on quietude, is more interesting to the ear than what preceded it.

Jumping back five decades to 1972, there’s a prescient quality to Lou Harrison’s Solo to Anthony Cirone, which fits seamlessly into the contemporary works on the program by being gentle, meditative, and spare. The instrumentation is for tuned pipes tempered in just intonation. This technique reflects Harrison’s “fascination with tuning systems that established a direct connection with the overtone series.” There’s not much else to the piece, however, which comes across as a mild experiment in overtone series. Single notes proceed one after another at a moderate pace that gives enough space for each overtone to shimmer in the air.

The temptation is to run this disc in the background as a kind of Zen wallpaper, but these four works, however similar in their effect, only become involving if you pay close attention to their nuanced shifts in timbre and harmony. Not remotely as radical as Morton Feldman’s essays in time, this collection might be too basic on musical grounds. But there is a tradition of contemplative sounds, such as the Tibetan singing bowl, that appears everywhere in Eastern spirituality. In the end, that association might be the best way to approach this release and its inward gaze.

— Christopher Whyte, 5.03.2024

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