Thomas Doss: REM-Scapes


Composed in 2014, Thomas Doss’ REM-Scapes for brass band is an eclectic mix of sonorous playing and extended techniques. The name of the piece refers to “Rapid Eye Movement” – which is a unique state of sleep seen only in mammals and birds. This phase is dictated by rapid movement of the eyes, with low muscle tone in the body, meaning the chances of dreaming go up dramatically. REM-Scapes is a musical dictation of this phase of sleep and takes you through different stages of resting, dreaming and more.

Doss writes a descriptive note to go with this piece:


“Sweet echoes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in the introduction bring a gentle slumber. Breathing is calm and sleep holds the promise of rest and relaxation. With the onset of the REM sleep phase, however, in which most dreams take place and where the day’s events are worked through, we hear other sounds played. 

With distorted sounds, reminiscent of an old gramophone, the music pulls the listener inevitably ever deeper into the dreamscape, in a very realistic dangerous situation that comes to a dramatic head. It triggers a desperate struggle between the impulse to awaken and the exhausting urge to flee. For a short moment, it seems as if the wakeful urge has worn out, before the dream’s powerful spell is again cast, and there’s no escape.”


The Music

The mysterious opening that leads to a lone vibraphone playing the Beethoven theme immediately sets the tone for this piece. The ‘gentle slumber’ that Doss speaks of in his notes is accentuated by glissani muted trombones and short dissonant phrases from other muted sections of the band. Moving lines come and go as the mind begins to fall into the REM sleep phase. 

A strike on the side drum initiates the next section, which is led by agitated percussion. The layering of the instruments amounts of a quick flurry of chaos before the chimes and muted upper cornets come together to play a sparkling interlude. Fast flourishes from the upper band play against the loud and foreboding percussion. Throughout REM-Scapes Doss writes really intriguing textures and rhythms for each section. This often creates a chaotic kind of feeling in the music, which is opposed by the slow and sonorous sections. 

Doss’ use of percussion is at the heart of this piece, with up to five percussionists needed to make it through the piece. From the sparkling chimes and vibraphone to the bombastic side drum and drum kit, the percussion is often seen leading the way in the piece. Virtuosic lines for the cornets in particular are not in short supply, with fast tonguing and dexterity needed to fulfill these parts as they deserve to be. 

The central section is lyrical and represents the call to wake up apparently going away. This false sense of security that is built up here is soon penetrated again by the dream’s powerful spell that leads you back into the dangerous and chaotic state. The piece comes to an almighty dramatic conclusion, and REM-Scapes concludes with an intense unison sequence of chords. 


Final Thoughts

Full of unexpected twists and turns, Thomas Doss’ REM-Scapes showcases a kaleidoscope of different feelings and sensations felt in the REM phase of sleep. A really intriguing and epic work for a brass band.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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