Continental Rift

Randall Smith

  • Year of composition: 1995
  • Duration: 15:00
  • Instrumentation: cello and stereo fixed medium
  • Publisher(s): Ymx média
  • Commission: CEE, with support from the CCA
  • ISWC: T0727934191


ISRC CAD509913780

  • 44,1 kHz, 16 bits

Continental Rift is a metaphorical composition depicting the way in which the continents of the earth change their structure through the process of evolution. It contrasts past and present, the latter represented by an acousmatic assault, the former by a virtuosic solo cello.

The cello section is an introduction of signature moments from the past with musical ideas borrowed from Bach, Beethoven and Kodaly. These historical references were manipulated, producing new themes within the context of their period. These musical motifs are connected through the use of the cello and tape. As the composition evolves it builds, crescendos and erupts. The listener hears the traditional cello evolving into a 20th century acousmatic experience. Continental Rift is about histories attempt to inhabit the present, a remembrance, a mourning for tradition and the individual talent.

Continental Rift begins with a furious collection of parts which finds it release in a single cello, sadly intoning the loss of some originary whole. Violins enter the chase, quivering, trembling to the touch, arriving in waves, before retreating. In the most nakedly melodic gesture in his œuvre, a Bach refrain is folded into the concrete montage, and then a series of riffs from Mozart and his heirs, a synoptic glimpse of the western musical tradition strained through electronic review. While the classics are normatively presented in an arborescent structure, the achievements of one great composer leading to the next, here each moment gives on to multiple trajectories, rhizomes of the imagination. The path not taken is granted equal time with its canonical forbears. And finally, slyly, these moments are made to appear as the prelude to Smith’s own practice, as birds flock past, and a great rumble of caterwauling blocks fall, leading to a last door. Which closes. But for how long?



Continental Rift was realized at the composer’s studio in 1995. It was commissioned by the Canadian Electronic Ensemble (CEE) with support from the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA). It premiered on June 17, 1995 at the Music Gallery. Continental Rift received 2nd prize at the 17th Luigi Russolo International Competition (Varese, Italy, 1995) and was previously released on Russolo 1995 [efer P95].


  • June 17, 1995, Concert, The Music Gallery, Toronto (Ontario, Canada)



About this recording

The present recording was realized in February 1999.



  • 1999-02