From 1982 to 1989 I worked in a post-minimalist idiom, using a combination of highly-structured cyclical techniques layered with free counterpoint. Most of my compositional effort during this period was devoted to the seven works comprising The Genesis Cycles:

  • Genesis I, for oboe and piano 1982 
  • Genesis II, for piano trio 1983
  • Genesis III, for viola, flute, and harp 1984
  • Genesis IV, for piano trio 1987
  • Genesis V, for guitar quartet 1987
  • Genesis VI, for string trio 1988
  • Genesis VII, for 2 percussion, piano, and saxophone 1989
    Through these pieces, intended as a study of life cycles and cycles of change, my work first came into focus, and a voice emerged that was recognizably my own. Especially at the outset, the Genesis pieces were shaped by my fascination with both the Asian t’ai ch’i diagram and the idea of rotational symmetry — enthusiasms which eventually became manifest in the crystalline “clockworks” and organic “expanding palindromes” around which these pieces are largely built. 
      Of the seven pieces, Genesis II is the best-known: it was recorded by the Mirecourt Trio (Minnesota Composers Forum LP 104/05) and is the subject of Susan McClary’s controversial essay “Getting Down Off the Beanstalk: The Presence of a Woman’s Voice in Janika Vandervelde’s Genesis II” (reprinted as chapter 5 of McClary’s Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality [University of Minnesota Press, 1991]). Genesis III and V were broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio’s nationally-syndicated “St. Paul Sunday,” and Genesis V has been recorded commercially by the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet (on an Albany Records CD, “New Music for Guitar Quartet” [Troy 207]).

    As used here, “genesis” refers to a process — birth, growth, development, continuation, decay, etc. — which is played out in three main structural divisions: 1) prologues (ch’i: balance); 2) clockworks layered with free counterpoint (nature/culture, cyclical/linear, determinism/free will, yin/yang, etc.); and 3) cadenzas (dissonant, soloistic material/isolation/seeds of change). Initially the pieces were created out of a need to transform my music into a more authentic expression of what I had come to recognize as my values, which were at odds with those which I felt had been imposed upon me as a student. The earlier Genesis pieces (nos. I-III) enacted this rebellion. The later works (IV-VII) gradually receded from deconstructing a dualistic conflict through narrative and became more concerned with exploring metaphors of process itself, adopting what I’ve sometimes called (borrowing from Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade) a “gylanic” model.

    Genesis I and II have essentially the same narrative basis, revolving around the dichotomy of balance and conflict. The two works were written concurrently and stand in a reciprocal relationship — one ends as the other begins, and vice versa — so they can be performed together as a single piece. (For a time, in fact, both were titled "Genesis ±II," together symbolizing the two components of the t’ai ch’i diagram.) Also, the cyclical components (clockworks) in each piece bear a yin/yang characterization, with contrasting Dorian (dark) and Lydian (bright) modes. Inherent in this characterization is a belief in the complementarity of opposites. In "Genesis III," the clockwork material is expanded from the cycling of individual rhythms and pitches to pitch-rhythm cells, allowing for greater flexibility and variation. "Genesis IV" adds an expanding palindrome form into the prologues, thus creating a piece even more organic than its predecessors, growing outward from a single cell; it also incorporates a canon clockwork at its core and is the first of the series in which the emphasis on conflict between antagonistic systems is muted. "Genesis V" combines the expanding palindrome idea with the clockwork to create a hybrid form in which a body of material is cycled throughout the piece while continuing to expand and change. In "Genesis VI" the dualities disappear altogether, and the narrative axis of the earlier pieces (with individual instruments playing separate “roles”) is likewise discarded. Here the clockwork is interwoven with the free material to produce a tapestry which approaches homogeneity. "Genesis VII," organically the most complex of all, begins with a five-voice expanding palindrome. Every note in the piece grows out of the first measure of the prologue and evolves into two distinct clockworks and four cadenzas (later reduced to two).

    By 1989 the complexity of this compositional mode had reached an extreme. The works from Genesis V onward posed stiff challenges to even the most accomplished ensembles, and further meaningful development along these lines was difficult to envision. It was time to seek new bearings.