Coils was composed for the Boston Musica Viva during the spring and summer of 1980 and premiered in December of that year. In keeping with the Musica Viva's long interest in chamber opera, the work was conceived as a little opera-without-words, with each instrument as a character and two subgroups of the ensemble as antagonistic elements. Trio I (flute or piccolo, violin, and piano) is all for independence, freedom, and unbridled fancy. Trio II (clarinet or bass clarinet or contrabass clarinet, cello, and marimba) stands for unity, order, and discipline. The viola is a kind of interlocutor or mediator. This leaves the Terpsiptomaton II (successor of the original, which self-destructed when its pin-block came unglued), a homemade instrument featuring hundreds of ball bearings that rain down upon four wrought-iron coils and eventually ricochet off a curtain of iron rods. It represents the ineffable, the unknowable, the given.
The work proceeds as a series of "scenes" alternating between the trios, with occasional confrontations, attempts, and rapprochement, and bits of commentary. A broad, bluesy, conciliatory finale brings things to a close.
-- Lewis Spratlan