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cindy mctee

for string orchestra, percussion, and
computer music on CD

14 minutes

Commissioned by the, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Litton, music director. Made possible by the Norma and Don Stone New Music Fund. Support also provided by the University of North Texas.


NOTE: This piece is unrelated to
Einstein's Dreams (plural) for chamber ensemble.

3 Percussion

Percussion 1
Medium Suspended Cymbal
Large Suspended Cymbal
Small Triangle
Medium Triangle

Percussion 2
Medium Suspended Cymbal
Large Suspended Cymbal
Tubular Bells
Bell Tree

Percussion 3
Bass Drum
Mark Tree
Gong (optional)


Einstein's Dream does not require timing devices or headphones. All of the cues are "given" by the pre-recorded music itself. The only technology required is a CD player and stereo amplification system. Three CDs are included with the performance materials: (1) a DEMO CD of the entire work including both the computer music and the orchestral music; (2) a REHEARSAL CD of the computer music only, with 29 tracks corresponding to locations marked in the score; and (3) a PERFORMANCE CD of the computer music only, without tracks.

score & audio examples

Einstein's Dream

chasing after

wondering at the

commercial recording


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program notes

Einstein’s Dream was commissioned by Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra with funds made possible by the Norma and Don Stone New Music Fund. Lasting 14 minutes, the work was premièred on March 31, 2005 at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.  McTee’s score calls for string orchestra, percussion, and computer-processed sounds recorded on CD. The percussion parts are performed by three players: I - medium and large suspended cymbals, flexatone, glockenspiel, small and medium triangles, and castanets; II - medium and large  suspended cymbals, flexatone, tubular bells, bell tree, and maracas; III - bass drum, tam tam, mark tree, ratchet, and gong.

Composed to celebrate the World Year of Physics (2005) with Einstein in the 21st Century as its theme, Einstein’s Dream consists of seven continuous sections as follows:

1. Warps and Curves in the Fabric of Space and Time            

I require the clear constructions of Bach.
– Albert Einstein

I've always enjoyed blending the past with the present – the old with the new – for example, placing antique and contemporary furniture side by side, or in the case of Einstein’s Dream, quoting Bach in the context of newly composed music. To pick up on Einstein’s dream of unification and to wrap that dream around present world conflicts, I have borrowed from a Bach chorale entitled, Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott (We all believe in one God), transposed to the key of “e” for Einstein. The “relativity” of past and current musical idioms is intended to uncover new temporal relationships and engage multiple levels of memory in an environment of contrapuntal pluralism.

2. Music of the Spheres

Music of the Spheres refers to music thought by Pythagoras and later classical and medieval philosophers to be produced by the movements of celestial bodies. The “harmonious” intervals of the octave, perfect 5th, and perfect 4th (E - B - E, for example) represented a kind of cosmic harmony and unity of all that exists. In my Music of the Spheres the upper strings intone the previously heard Bach melody, this time harmonized only by a sustained octave in the celli and basses.

3. Chasing After Quanta

The more one chases after quanta, the better they hide themselves.
– Albert Einstein

In composing this section, I relied on a computer music technique known as granular synthesis, the process of creating new sounds from tiny fragments of existing sounds called grains. Representing clouds of "acoustical quanta," the granular sounds in this section accompany a 12-tone, canonic (chasing), orchestral texture whose melodies are based on the notes of Bach’s name.

4. Pondering the Behavior of Light

If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.
– Albert Einstein

In speaking about his renowned theories, Einstein made it quite clear that music was the driving force behind his intuition, and although recreational, violin playing also “stimulated intellectual growth” and sustained “the order and harmony that were the hallmarks of [his] science” – WonderWare, Inc.

In the music of this section, huge, luscious triads are overtaken by tight, shimmering, octatonic clusters while the bass line falls in major and minor thirds to complete a 12-tone row. An extended violin solo based on the trumpet theme from Ives' Unanswered Question is punctuated with computer music gestures reminiscent of earlier moments in the piece.

5. The Frantic Dance of Subatomic Particles

Scurrying string melodies based on the Bach chorale tune are set against a palette of computer music sonorities derived from a recording of DSO Artistic Administrator, Victor Marshall, reading, “I require the clear constructions of Bach." Using granular synthesis software, the words are broken up into a myriad particles and rearranged to create a texture in which the words cannot be understood, just as the contours of an object cannot be seen on a molecular level. Additional computer sounds are constructed from the sounds of clocks winding up, ticking, and breaking apart, accompanied by similar sounds from the percussion section of the orchestra.

6. Celestial Bells

Using the same source recording employed in the previous section, the sounds of speech are transformed into bell sounds both through granular synthesis and by rebalancing and redistributing the sounds’ frequencies. The orchestra plays clusters of notes to match the detuned qualities of the bells, eventually imploding into a single note, E.

7. Wondering at the Secrets

To me, it is enough to wonder at the secrets.
– Albert Einstein

One of the most striking applications of granular synthesis is its ability to stretch sound in time without necessarily changing its pitch. In composing Einstein’s Dream, and in thinking about new temporal experiences, I became very interested in the perceptual effect of time-stretching and decided to apply it to the same Bach chorale tune used throughout the work. Time-stretching is perhaps loosely analogous to the way in which Einstein’s equations of relativity predict that gravity, or the curvature of space-time by matter, not only stretches or shrinks distances, but also appears to slow down or dilate the flow of time. Concepts of before and after merge. What most intrigued me about musical time-stretching was its ability to shift the listener’s attention toward the inner components of the sound – the harmonics and the overlapping resonant regions – as if inviting a kind of meditation to wonder at the secrets.


As we know, Albert Einstein gave much thought to issues of space and time, and he dreamt of finding a theory of everything, or a broad, mathematical structure that would fully explain and link together all known phenomena.  My piece celebrates this dream and the 100th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s miraculous year (1905) in which he published four papers that contributed substantially to the foundation of modern physics.

There is geometry in the humming of the strings.
There is music in the spacing of the spheres.
– Pythagoras

Ancient Greek scientists, who measured harmonies on a lyre string, and many other scientists since then have fallen in love with music. This love, however, is not always rewarded with perfect mastery. Einstein, a devoted amateur violinist, provoked a more competent player to shout at him, "Einstein, can't you count"?

I dream of instruments obedient to my thought and which with their contribution of a whole new world of unsuspected sounds, will lend themselves to the exigencies of my inner rhythm.
– Edgard Varèse

When Edgard Varèse spoke these words in 1937, he had no idea that about 50 years later, his dream would become reality through the dissemination of affordable personal computers and associated electronic devices. Computer hardware and software seeks to expand compositional and performance resources beyond those available using traditional instruments and voices, offering the composer the ability, not merely to compose with sounds, but to compose the sounds themselves. Computers also allow us to change traditional concepts of musical time – to effectively “stop” sound – to capture, store, modify, and to play back sound events. I am particularly fascinated by the interplay between the kind of time embodied by pre-recorded computer music (fixed and machine-like) and the kind of time represented by live performance (approximate and human.)

Attracted to the immediacy, risk, and excitement of live performance, I also enjoy the distance, safety, and control of pre-recorded computer music. I think the great tradition and refinement of orchestral music beautifully complements the futuristic, “rough edges” of electronic music. I was very much aware of boundaries crossed when, in composing Einstein’s Dream, the computer music grew out of the orchestral music and visa versa, the two mediums modulating and merging with one another to represent multiple meanings and multiple temporalities.

Of the myriad aesthetic and technical approaches available to composers of computer music, I chose to limit myself to just a few while composing this work. I began by recording the sounds of familiar metal objects and metallic percussion instruments such as stainless steel bowls, chimes, and suspended cymbals. I also obtained a recording of DSO Artistic Administrator, Victor Marshall, reading passages from the writings of Albert Einstein. Then, using audio processing software, I modified those sounds sometimes beyond recognition; I listened to them, tried to learn from them, and thought about how they and the sounds of the orchestra could be stitched into the same musical fabric. At times, I completely merged the orchestral and computer music sounds, inserting them into the other’s acoustical environment to create a single, unified sonority and a new kind of listening experience (to borrow an idea from Paul A. Griffiths) at the threshold between visible and invisible sound. Most music performed in the classical western tradition is meant to be seen. Music played through loudspeakers, however, is meant to be unseen, causing a confusion of identities when the sound is ambiguous. In Einstein’s Dream, these two kinds of music collide, and a new sense of space-time emerges as we hear the seen (the familiar) fold into the unseen (the unfamiliar.)

I first began working with personal computers in the late 1980’s. At that time, I used the earliest Macintosh computers and some Yamaha tone modules to compose two electronic pieces that had a huge impact on the ways in which I subsequently approached writing for traditional instruments: my hearing was sharpened; I became much more attentive to nuances of attack, sustain, and decay; I was able to imagine new textures and timbres; and I could also hear more details of pitch and rhythm, as if looking at sound and time through a microscope.

Subsequent to those two electronic pieces, I wrote what has become my most performed orchestral work, Circuits. I continued to write acoustic pieces but with the intention of returning to the computer music medium when the opportunity presented itself. In 2003, I received a grant from the American Academy of Arts and Letters which allowed me to buy the necessary hardware and software, and shortly thereafter, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra asked me to write a new piece. I proposed Einstein’s Dream, the DSO welcomed the idea, and I began work in May of 2004, finishing the piece about seven months later.

After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form.
– Albert Einstein

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, we Americans have embraced science and technology as a major part of our national identity. I am intrigued by the discoveries of science and especially by the ways in which the arts and sciences intersect: both fields investigate the unknown, propose theories, experiment with possibilities, attempt to resolve paradoxes, and generally help us to better understand ourselves and the universe in which we live. It is interesting to note that Einstein’s search for a grand theory of unification took him into a world where intuition prevailed – to a place where science and art merged.

Personally, I have the greatest degree of pleasure in having contact with works of art. They furnish me with happy feelings of an intensity such as I cannot derive from other realms.
– Albert Einstein

Einstein believed that the greatest scientists are always artists as well. He also said that both music and scientific research are nourished by the same source of longing. It seems to me, too, that the longing behind a composer’s search for meaning is the same longing that inspires the scientist confronted with the inescapable mystery of the physical universe.


For reviews of Cindy McTee's
featuring four orchestral works (including Einstein's Dream) performed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin,
click here.



A Dream of Music and Technology
By LeAnn Binford
Published by Playbill, January 2005

Strings and Software Make Music at the DSO
By Scott Cantrell
Published by the Dallas Morning News, March 29, 2005

Relativity in 12 Minutes
By Glenn Arbery
Published by Park Cities People, March 31, 2005


Washington-born composer Cindy McTee’s tribute to the intellectual world of physicist Albert Einstein, with his often stated affinity and affection for the music of Bach, proved to be an engrossing experiment in melding traditional orchestral timbres with computer-generated sound images, an exploration of Einstein’s mathematical and theoretical speculations juxtaposed with the supremely logical and often numerically inspired musical creations of Bach. The string and percussion sections of the orchestra maneuvered this challenging score with technical finesse, and the audience seemed intrigued by this amalgamation of traditional orchestral sound with the electronic sonic sources of our own time.

Charles M. Spinning
Arizona Daily Sun


McTee (who is married to Slatkin, and was warmly applauded at the end of her piece) composed it for the 100th anniversary of the year in which Albert Einstein laid out the basics of modern physics in a series of four papers.

It begins with a pure Bach chorale, and moves to the mechanistic and futuristic, with an emphasis on electronic sounds as the piece goes on, ending as the strings fade out. Second associate concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer played her solo passages with profound beauty and feeling.

Sarah Bryan Miller
St. Louis Post Disptach


It was fascinating, ingenious, and even a bit mischievous at times. Like McTee's "Double Play," "Einstein's Dream" clearly shows a lively and playful intellect at work

Chuck Lavazzi


Cindy McTee's "Einstein's Dream" (2004) takes its inspiration from the physicist's search for a grand unification theory. So one way to hear this intriguing 14-minute piece for string orchestra, percussion and prerecorded computerized sounds is as a journey toward a reconciliation of the tension between art and science.

But listening to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and music director Leonard Slatkin perform "Einstein's Dream" on Thursday night brought to mind other conflicts involving the tug-of-war between musical styles that consumed classical music in the last third of the 20th Century.

In this hearing, McTee's computer music stands for modernist complexity and atonality and the mathematical compositional systems that held sway in the '60s and '70s, producing music of great dissonance and abstraction. The computer sounds include all manner of metallic crescendos, shimmering whooshes, percussive bonks and granular and gritty textures that gather like clouds or chatter nervously. Meanwhile, the strings, which open "Einstein's Dream" playing a warm Bach chorale, suggest the nostalgia and comfort of traditional musical values.

Can radical and conservative musical ideas peacefully coexist? Can electronic and acoustic sounds live in the same aural space? Composers have been asking these questions for a while now, but McTee posits them in fresh ways while making the compelling argument that the answer to both is yes.

As the piece begins, the strings and electronics remain isolated as if in their own silos. But slowly elements blur. Each side begins to let down its guard. The strings wade into 12-tone waters while judiciously placed triads reassure wary ears; slippery figures break away from the pack. Computerized bells merge seamlessly with live bells struck by a percussionist.

Most evocatively, a solo violinist plays a feverish, rising melody about halfway through that winks at Charles Ives' trumpet theme from "The Unanswered Question." This is the key bridge of the piece, carrying listeners from the past into the present. McTee sustains the meditative mood, open and slightly spacey, from beginning to end.

Slatkin led a focused, committed performance, and guest concertmaster David Halen from the St. Louis Symphony played the violin solo with a richly burnished sound and yearning emotion.

Mark Stryker
Detroit Free Press


Einstein’s Dream . . . works out its musical ideas in an eerie timbral landscape. Sounds from the orchestra, like bowed cymbals, scraped gongs, muted brass, and ponticello strings, merge into electronic sounds coming from speakers on stage. Surging up through the ringing, shimmering soundscape, the strings play a Bach chorale at the opening. It’s a bit like classical physics, in its Newtonian clarity, is struggling to make sense of, or within, the universe.

The electronic sounds, even when they are just moving particles, sound large. I don’t mean they are loud or out of balance. They play an equal role, sometimes even a greater role, constituting the musical universe. Bach slowly comes apart (particles return) and by the end, McTee has the orchestra stretch and bend the very fabric of sound. After the strings slowly slide together onto a single unison note, it feels for a moment as though the entire musical universe is contained in the point.

It was an extraordinary first half.

Jonathan Neufeld
The Tennessean


Great issues – from time and space to subatomic particles – frame quite a clever Dallas Symphony Orchestra program this week.

It opens with the world premiere of a DSO commission: Einstein's Dream, by Cindy McTee, a composition professor at the University of North Texas. This 14-minute piece for strings, percussion and computer sounds honors the centenary of Einstein's theory of relativity. And its sections, played without pause, bear evocative titles including "Warps and Curves in the Fabric of Space and Time" and "Celestial Bells – Wondering at the Secrets."In Dr. McTee's score the orchestra plays along with prerecorded, computer-altered sounds. They range from fairly recognizable bell tones to eerie whooshes to a speaking voice (DSO artistic administrator Victor Marshall) fragmented into mere percussive effects.

Honoring Einstein's devotion to Bach, the strings begin with a Bach harmonization of the Lutheran hymn "We all believe in one God." Busy dithers define "Chasing after Quanta" and "The Frantic Dance of Subatomic Particles." A free-ranging violin solo (ably played by concertmaster Emanuel Borok) floats over "Pondering the Behavior of Light." In the end, after oozing clusters, strings set dissonant chords aglow before gradually uniting on the pitch E – for Einstein.

Led by music director Andrew Litton, the DSO gave a convincing account Thursday evening, at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Dr. McTee gave a personable spoken introduction to the piece, and she was warmly applauded at the end.

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News


The world premiere of Einstein's Dream by University of North Texas Professor Cindy McTee on Thursday night at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center set the mood for an evening of immensely compelling music-making with a strong philosophical undertone. For 14 fascinating minutes, McTee creates an eclectic and constantly ear-catching mixture including musical quotation from Bach, a human voice electronically manipulated and dozens of other devices pulling irresistibly to a final unison E (in honor of Einstein's famous formula).

Wayne Lee Gay
The Star-Telegram


The year 2005 is the centenary of the published genius of Albert Einstein. Cindy McTee, a composer from Texas, chose to create her musical vision of this anniversary. A recording of sounds began "Einstein's Dream," and continued in and out through the piece, while the LSCO added strings and percussion along with the electronic input. While this concept is not new, it does mark another first for Friesen and the LSCO. The recording offered bells, chimes, bubbles and screeches as the instruments played a chorale. The piece ended on a perfect unison note, as if defining the complex clarity of Einstein's thinking.

Samuel Black
The Duluth News Tribune