Tonia Ko
 

Dear Search Committee,

I have provided five works; the first four are designated for essential review (also navigable by the circles on the right-hand side menu). PDF scores will open in a new tab and the recordings and videos will play in-browser. You may view other portions of my website with additional work samples from the homepage, separated generally by my practice as "composer" or "artist". For reference, the URL of this page is http://toniako.com/portfolio. Thank you for your interest in my work.

Sincerely,
Tonia Ko

 
 

Portfolio

 

 

oboe and electronics (2017)

 

cello and percussion (2012)

 

bubble wrap and electronics (2013- )

 

amplified chamber orchestra (2017)

 

mixed chorus (2016)

 

Highwire (2017)

Oboe and electronics– 10'
Commissioned by Young Concert Artists for Olivier Stankiewicz (Principal Oboe, London Symphony Orchestra)

This work is the result of a close collaboration with the performer over many months. It demonstrates the strength of my solo writing and careful consideration of instrumental mechanism.

Program Notes:

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. So 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 spectral content, 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.


Hush (2012)

Cello and percussion– 12'
Commissioned by New Morse Code, featured album Simplicity Itself on New Focus Recordings, released September 2017

Hush signaled the beginning of many new adventures– sonically, artistically, and personally. This work hints at some of my current orchestrational concerns, and has a clarity of dramatic purpose that I still strive for even as I venture into more complex syntaxes.

Program Notes:

Hush, written for the adventurous duo New Morse Code, maps the concept of speech and song onto the instrumental combination of percussion and cello. Taking excerpts from Virginia Woolf's short story "The String Quartet," the performers convey the busy-ness of speech and conversation contrasted with the simplicity of song. The metaphor lends itself to extended roles for both performers-- unpitched (un-singing) percussion renders spoken words, while the cantabile cello sound dovetails into vocal singing. The middle movement reminds listeners of the worth in silences, which emerge when we care to hush. 

Breath, Contained.

Ongoing art / sound project with bubble wrap

Breath, Contained II
Five bubble wrap players and live electronics– 14'
Premiered by Sandbox Percussion with Michael Compitello, Sibley Dome, Cornell University, March 2015, supported by Cornell Council for the Arts

Over the past five years, I have developed a mode of tactile performance — techniques that reveal bubble wrap's potential as sound object.  The material’s buoyancy, transparency, and inherent rhythm determine its sonic identity and the performer’s physical movements. Bubble wrap also serves as art canvas in my practice. The creative limitation of painting only "on" or "off" of the bubbles is a consideration of texture that has come to permeate my compositional approach, where physical aspects inform both technique and poetics.

Program Notes:

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.

 

Full video here. Five-minute excerpt below:

Art Examples:

Very Tall Very Bright

Amplified chamber orchestra–8'
Written for Wild Up, LA Philharmonic Association National Composers Intensive
Featured on 2017 Noon to Midnight Festival, Walt Disney Concert Hall

This new work coalesces many of my compositional interests: use of a particular found object, the unity of concept and technique, and juxtaposition of squirmy noises with melodic fragments.

Program Notes:

Very Tall Very Bright reflects on and refracts personal memories—of a person, the time of a person, and the sounds around that person.

My grandfather's name was 高光—just two characters, meaning "tall" and "bright". Although he did not quite resemble his name in appearance, he held a grand, epic presence and lived a colorful life. His tiny bedside radio constantly blasted Cantonese opera, with the already-piercing timbres of the genre further augmented by compression and inadequate speakers. The apartment where he lived for many decades, thirty-one floors off the streets of Kwun Tong, was lit with the bright grey of a tropical, yet cloudy sky. Thus, those two simple characters would end up encapsulating my memory of him.

The notions of tallness and brightness permeate this work in myriad ways. First is the technical: generally high pitch range, bright tone colors, a syntax bearing a faint aura of Cantonese opera. Here, the sound world is full of the glitches of old audio machines such as the radio, of course, but also rewinding cassette tapes, and scratched vinyl discs. The atmosphere oscillates between one that is fluttering, almost festive, and another that is sunken in the depths of memory. Bubble wrap sounds of squeaking, popping, and rustling were selected for their precise ability to imitate different aspects of static, as a result of my extensive experience with the material. However, the use of bubble wrap is also significant for injecting the performance with a theatrical character that is bizarre and joyful at the same time. 


From Ivory Depths

Mixed chorus (SSAATTBB)–9'
Commissioned by Volti as selected composer for 2016 Choral Arts Lab

While my main instrument is piano (well, maybe bubble wrap), I spent 18 consecutive years singing in choirs. My empathy for the visceral and logistical aspects of choral singing played greatly into the compositional process. 

I. Monday

White and distant, absorbed in itself,
endlessly the sky covers and uncovers,
moves and remains.

II. Tuesday

From ivory depths
words rising shed their blackness,
blossom and penetrate.
The sky veils her stars
then bares them.

-from "Monday or Tuesday" (1921)

Program Notes:

Virginia Woolf's ability to highlight the extraordinary and beautiful amidst a "normal" setting is an artistic practice that I aspire to. Her groundbreaking short stories could perhaps be likened to visual collages—the stream-of-consciousness style quickly shifts the reader’s attention from one vivid image to another. In my reading of “Monday or Tuesday,” I was struck by the structural recurrence of a few images: the color white, an expansive sky, and a wave-like movement of opening and closing.

Thus, these two movements are very interconnected and similar in many ways, evening sharing texts. I was interested in finding places where the imagery of these two textual fragments collide, dramatizing their overlap as well as deviations from each other. The overall trajectory of the entire piece is that of fragmentation— a chorale, set in near slow-motion, progresses until it dissolves into muttered noises. An alto voice remains alone at the conclusion of each movement, as if narrating the linear, yet lilting motion of time even as the swirling images around her come to a pause.