Variations on Themes by Zobkiw

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Variations on Themes by Zobkiw

Joe Zobkiw is a friend, former student now colleague, and my collaborator in electronic music. This album project emerged from a collaboration on my first Stefan release Meditations, called “‘RoundArounditGoes.”

Joe Zobkiw, coder and electronic musician

In all of these pieces, Joe gave me a short improvised snippet, and I used it to unfold a complete new composition and production.


This short theme gave me a feeling of space to work with, and I had to fight my urge to fill it too much. Just build upon it, add acoustic textures with the guitar, then pizzicato strings, pads, and —relax —.

Lounge Washer

This theme gave me rhythm and feel, so I started to think of how I could build a form by superimposing this theme over different chord progressions and rhythmic ideas. Then I started to hear melodies above it, soaring to new highs. And so it goes, it builds, and flies, taking off to new places with each new layer.


With this theme, there was more to work with just from the original file, so I had to cut it up and loop sections so I could construct a complete form. I began with a pedal that let me establish the feel, and a basis of the harmonic development surrounding the original parts of the theme. Then adding rhythmic parts to build from the original feel. Then I needed a contrasting section to help develop the ideas into a longer piece, and a way to get home. Using Joe’s original file to end but passing it through increasing amounts of reverb and filtering it to create the right atmosphere to end the piece.

Helping Hand

Again, Joe’s theme inspired me to build around it, repeating it as needed to create a form. I started with the theme in its simplicity, and then added the acoustic piano to begin to build a harmonic phrase with an original melody and bass part, and it just began to sing to me and the intrinsic melody in the theme brought a new singing melody to mind and I just went with it to build a contrasting phrase, and then the triumph return to the simple theme, beautiful as it is. Then orchestration began, more synths, more guitar, but just with the thematic materials. The piece builds to a soaring crescendo taking us higher and higher.

Colors of Lac

This short phrase instantly suggested a mood, but I thought lets treat this theme differently and develop it through some drastic color changes. The melody came to me as I began to weave textures in and around the theme. And why not work in groups of three, a prime number? New rhythmic grooves and sonic textures, but always Joe’s theme is there, inside the changing colors. And the melody in groups of three. Prime. And water began to emerge as a theme through a few of the extended compositions. Sailing into the heavens. Colors and the French lake (Lac, that was originally called “Lack” by Joe) rushing around the theme and the return of the melody. Water and sky. And Colors.

Three Phases

This was actually the first piece in the making of this album, and neither Joe nor I knew where it would go. We started with really small ideas, that I would stitch together, and it turned out that these shorter themes developed into three phases of a composition, hence the name. Here are the individual themes:

So I started by looping, and overlaying the first two themes, transposing them downed up, and superimposing other sounds and textures until it began to develop into a mood that I could develop and build between and among the three different thematic ideas. Tempos sliding and grooves colliding into a bed that gradually envelops you. Enjoy.

Oh The Waves

Joe’s theme inspired a mood that also felt like water, and waves, and then prompted me to build sounds with moving waves. And using sounds that moved in waves, settling into a bed that supported the theme. And so it emerges from this moving texture setting a harmonic and rhythmic feel that I develop and build with changing textures and sonic movement. And, oh! Those Waves! Rushing over you as you let yourself float.

In The Narrows

Joe’s theme here, had a noise within it that said water, again to me. And even the name “narrows” suggested water flowing into wider and narrower passages. And the theme itself sounded like bells tolling at sea, so I thought about how I could use that sound and surround it, process it so it would disappear into the mist, and reappear through the clearings of the narrows. And what would we see as we made our way through the water, the mist, and the sky lighting through the clouds and the mist, showing us our way through. Relaxing and floating along with the currents of life.

I wish to thank Joe for his inspiring themes, for trusting me to develop them into this music and album, and of course for his friendship and collaboration!