Commissioned by the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition for the Grossman Ensemble
Simple Fuel explores concepts of movement: our emotion motivations, physical momentum, and the repetition of gestures. An initial feeling of hesitation, represented by various stutters and pops, eventually gives way to unstoppable acceleration forward. In the aftermath of this short journey, each impulse proliferates exponentially, creating a pointillistic and pixelated sound world. At the same time, the harmonies that once drove the music forward continue their ebb and flow until the end. These chords depict a sensation of "wading" through water or thick fog, which is embodied literally in the mournful sound of friction mallets on timpani.
While writing this piece I had two images in mind, each of very different speeds. First is that of a snail moving through space — surely a slow creature, until one notices its antennae deftly sensing, reaching and retracting against its surroundings. The second is a freight train barreling down the tracks. Although relatively "fast", its unwieldy and seemingly endless length certainly feels slow, and the sounds that it makes are repetitive, perhaps even meditative. By way of these paradoxical images, the classical adage of festina lentae, to "make haste slowly" also served as a broad inspiration for the work.
Commissioned by the Spektral Quartet with support from Chamber Music America
Plain, Air explores both the sounds of nature as well as our embodied experience of the great outdoors. It begins with a curated soundwalk for both the audience and most of the quartet members. Small knocking sounds emanating from both the stringed instruments and the speakers function as a signal to listen to the naturally occurring sounds on the path.
The second and third parts of the piece continue excavating the meaning behind the two words making up the title: "plain" and "air". They distill my direct impressions of the Openlands Lakeshore site, as well as the geology of the surrounding areas gleaned from my research. First, there is the expansive grassy prairie that defines the American Midwest, but also the flat, seemingly infinite surface of Lake Michigan. Extending from the physical "plain" is musical plainchant and the quality of simplicity. Next, the music conjures the capricious breezes that whip around the shoreline and also imagines creatures flying in the air, while singing their individual "airs", or songs.
At around the halfway point, the focus shifts inward, toward the places where animals make their homes. I became particularly interested in one recording of crickets singing at dusk and their hocketing, call-and-response texture. When I slowed down the sample to a lower, vocal pitch range, a deeper world of expression opened up—especially the crickets' connection with bird songs, with whom they seemingly share a certain "secret language" of nuanced stutters and repeated notes.
The "nature sounds" heard in the electronics part are taken from my personal field recordings. They were collected over several years at various artist residencies (the Djerassi Resident Artist Program and Pocantico Center for the Arts in particular), where I had the privilege of spending time in stunning natural environments in relative solitude, unknowingly researching the very premise of this piece.
Commissioned by HOCKET
Humming is one of the smallest and most intimate musical gestures—it is something done mostly to ourselves, often while alone, and happens without much thinking. There is also a particular physical and timbral quality to this inward expression: closed-lipped, the sound is pinched and direct, but the feeling of humming fills one's head with vibrations. On the other hand, there is the humming of machines, which can be as mysterious and they are powerful. Such hums are completely artificial and alien to our bodies, even though they are the by-products of human invention. Sometimes they can be more felt than heard, but they also have the ability overwhelm the senses with volume. Perhaps a common quality to all machine-hums is that they are persistent.
Phenomenal Hum maps these acoustical musings onto a single piano through the efforts of two performers. The double-harmonics activated in the bass strings create a persistent percussive quality to the work, yet the resultant overtones are smooth, organic, and clear. The duo collaborates in bringing out a sense of lyricism from these percussive elements as well as sound masses and other chromatic filigree. The interdependence of parts culminates into one of the players acting as assistant to the other, through solely manipulating the strings—a brief, silent role that has dramatic repercussions on the sounds produced. Finally, the piano is perfectly suited as a producer of hums, simultaneously representing both vocality and intimate domesticity as well as the notion of a complex musical machine.
Commissioned by Young Concert Artists for Olivier Stankiewicz
Highwire features the oboe as a carrier for soaring melodic lines. While my piece seeks expression within this traditional view of the instrument, I also wanted to explore the oboe’s unique ability to color the same note in many different ways. Here, a simple melody is intensified by a full range of techniques, from subtle fingering changes to distortion effects made with the reed position.
In much of my artistic practice, I investigate musical details in a visual/ tactile way. In addition to the notions of shading a note, I also sought to create drama through texture. The electronic component in this piece essentially perforates the melodic line, mimicking the pulsations created through instrumental techniques. Rather than altering the sound itself (by changing the pitches, for example), the computer generates a series of little “windows” that allow sound to come through at varying rates. The results range from a very tight tremolo to powerful echoes that intersect with what is being played. In addition, a few pre-recorded samples provide a larger harmonic and timbral context for the soloist. These effects— both acoustic and electronic— create a melody that unfolds in a single direction, and seemingly, with a singular mission.
Commissioned by Duo Axis
The third piece in the Axis series explores the rhythmic and physical axis of breath. Gestures that are inherent to musical performance, such as cueing and expressive leaning and bending, are foregrounded as choreography and formal structure.Yet, instead of relying on visual cues, the two performers must use the sensation of touch (through their backs) as the main tool for telling rhythm/tempo/ time. This act of synchronized breathing creates a new axis of sound production that comes from collective effort.
Commissioned by Nicholas DiEugenio for "The Beethoven Project"
Tribute (Axis II) explores the concept of horizontal motion across the surface of one string, inspired by the “anti-virtuosity” of Beethoven’s op. 96. The distinctive opening trill of Op.96 is reinterpreted as an intensification of line– one that is both a melodic line and the physical one of the string. From the outset, the border blurs between “distortion” and “pitch,” especially as the violinist plays along the various axes of bow weight, bow speed, and sounding point. This idea is also prevalent in the piano writing, which maximizes the sound world of the lowest two notes.
Simple Fuel for large ensemble (11 minutes)
(flute, oboe, clarinet, alto/bari saxophone, horn, 2 percussion, harp, piano, 2 violins, viola, cello)
Very Tall Very Bright for chamber orchestra (8 minutes)
(flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, 1 percussion, electric guitar, piano, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass)
Strange Sounds and Explosions Worldwide for orchestra (8 minutes)
(3 flutes/piccolo, 2 oboes/English horn, 3 clarinets/bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, 3 percussion, piano, harp, strings)
Eyelids are Islands for chamber orchestra (11 minutes)
(flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, 1 percussion, celesta, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass)
Dwellings for wind ensemble (10 minutes)
(piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, 3 B-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, euphonium, tuba, piano, harp, timpani, 3 percussion)
Plain, Air for string quartet and electronics (40-45 minutes)
Moves and Remains for solo violin (10 minutes)
Phenomenal Hum for piano, four hands (9 minutes)
Hum Phenomenon for clarinet, piano, violin, cello (6 minutes)
Highwire for oboe and electronics (10 minutes)
Reaction (Axis III) for flute and piano (9 minutes)
Tribute (Axis II) for violin and piano (11 minutes)
Elegy (Axis I) for cello and piano (13 minutes)
Covers and Uncovers for flute, b-flat clarinet, horn, percussion, violin, viola, cello (12 minutes)
Games of Belief for solo piano (13 minutes)
Real Voices and Imagined Clatter for four percussionists (12 minutes)
Gone Flying for B-flat clarinet, viola, cello, and bass (8 minutes)
Breath, Contained II for bubble wrap quintet and live electronics (13 minutes)
Blue Skin of the Sea for solo marimba (21 minutes)
Breath, Contained for bubble wrap solo and live electronics (5-7 minutes)
Escape-Landscape for string quartet (8 minutes)
Plush Earth in Four Pieces for violin and piano (9 minutes)
Melting Points for flute, clarinet, percussion, piano, and string quartet (6 minutes)
Hush for percussion and cello (12 minutes)
Still Life Crumbles for violin and double manual harpsichord (7 minutes)
Glass Echoes for solo horn (6 minutes)
Siteless Structures for solo piano (11 minutes)
Spindrift for violin (5 minutes)
Between Us for mezzo-soprano and cello (6 minutes)
From Ivory Depths for SSAATTBB chorus (9 minutes)
Without Color for youth SSA chorus (3 minutes)
Smoke and Distance for mezzo-soprano and piano (8 minutes)
Bubble wrap–noun. A type of polyethylene wrapping containing many small air pockets, used as a protective covering when transporting breakable goods.
In this ongoing project, the seemingly mundane object transforms into a flexible musical instrument, emitting sounds that are equal parts whimsical and haunting. The rich sound world of bubble wrap is explored through guided improvisation, augmented by simple processing techniques. By willing these air bubbles to express, performers attempt to release its breath.
In March 2015, Sandbox Percussion and Michael Compitello premiered a 13-minute quintet that expanded on my original solo piece, along with Steve Reich's Music for Pieces of Wood and Mark Applebaum's Straitjacket. The concert was held under Cornell University's expansive Sibley Dome. In addition, we wanted to create an experience that is both visually and sonically immersive. Along the back wall, easels showcased some of my paintings for bubble wrap, consisting of large-scale panels.
Small and Large Improvisation (2016)
Quintet for five players and live electronics (2015)
Various recordings (2014)
Solo with live electronics (2013)