It has been a bit! Sorry for the delay in getting stuff out and saying hello.
Lots been going on, I'll do my best to give a quick roundup of some recent projects here, as well as those on the horizon.
I wrote a piece for cellist Thea Mesirow, titled "quiet thoughts in a wide expanse," in January, which was performed at my recital in February. Thea is a senior cellist here at CalArts, headed to graduate school next year for contemporary cello performance, and was a pleasure to work with. Before writing the piece, we met and discussed concepts surrounding its composition, as well as certain strengths and/or performance tasks in which she was particularly interested. With those things in mind, I went to composing the piece. I wanted to create a work in which there were dim glimmerings of sound that floated out of an undefined, void-like space. These 'soundings' were to occupy the unstable, and maybe impossible, purgatory-land between sound and silence - or organized sound and incidental/environmental sound. To do this, I had Thea bow half-harmonics, with pauses in between, for the entirety of the piece. Half-harmonics create a very complicated and unstable sound with blended inflections of white noise, pitch, and harmonics. In addition, I had her hum specific notes in relation to the harmonic produced. These hums, for me, bring in the fragility/vulnerability of the human voice, while also blending with the cello sound in a way where it is hard to tell where the sound is coming from (this is also supported by the fact you don't have to open your mouth to hum). Everything is, of course, done very very quietly and delicately - slipping between sound and silence. One of the most interesting and gratifying things that Thea said about performing the piece was that it took an immense amount of effort and courage to produce each sounding, especially the first; in other words, to encroach in on the continuum of sounds constantly occurring.
You can listen to the studio recording here (it's quiet, so volume up a bit):
I wrote a piece for another cellist, David Mason, who is an MFA cellist here at CalArts. Another really talented player, David and I went through a similar process. With David's piece, titled "bouncebackinandaround" (there's a mouthful for ya), I played with the idea of relinquishing control of the composer (to a point) in the piece. There are fragments that alternate, more or less, in the score, between pre-composed material and the direction "make any noise, very quietly." David and I spent a lot of time talking about the concept of the work as opposed to strict rehearsing of the material - which I think was appropriate for this one. We focused in on just how complicated a single, quiet sound can be; that in one drag of the cello bow, there is an infinite amount of tiny sounds being created one after another, as each bow hair and undulation of each bow hair makes contact with the string, and vice versa. There is so much that is hidden or overlooked within a single and seemingly simple sound, often made into a melody, that it feels difficult to write more than one sometimes! On another level of this piece, there are distinct moments (or a distinct moment) in which a boundary of the world created by this piece is pushed to breaking point. This became more clear to me as the piece progressed, and was evident after recording it. These are some of the most interesting moments in art for me - where, usually intuitively, the listener or viewer is pushed in a way where they question the validity of what is happening. In many ways, this is where the 'art' happens, for me (whatever that means). It is also where the piece can very easily fall apart and become unsuccessful. Whether actually successful or not, this particular moment in David's piece opened up new - related - conceptual directions. Specifically, looking at this moment of boundary pushing as a kind of single pebble tossed in the dark, a lone murmur, or maybe a yell, into the continuum...
Studio recording here (as with Thea's, it's quiet, so turn volume up a bit):
Third big recent work was written for bassoonist Chris Foss, one of the few bassoonists around who frequently brings electronics into his solo bassoon playing (on top of being a killer player). For this one, I also performed, using a MaxMSP patch that somewhat altered Chris' live sound, but more clearly created all kinds of new other sounds, especially introducing the voice and speaking into the sound world. When we met, we traded concepts and came up with a project concerning moments, particularly in relationships, where you said nothing and did nothing, something you regret in retrospect. It evolved further from that, becoming a meditation on the act of (not) speaking, memory, vulnerability, and instability. After spending time developing concept, we began experimenting intensely with what sounds to use. And there is a whole lot when you throw electronics, bassoon, and Chris' seemingly bottomless bag of effects pedals into the mix (did I mention his bassoon has an electronic pickup? like if a Strat and bassoon had a kid...). Overall, this piece was a lot of fun to work on and both Chris and I feel pleased with the result (two performances so far). Studio recording can be found here (much louder here, but headphones still definitely needed):
A fourth big piece I wrote in January for my recital was a solo trumpet piece for Sarah Belle Reid, a MFA trumpet player at CalArts. Among many other strengths Sarah has, she is a talented performance artist and singer (with and without the trumpet) - things I wanted to capitalize on with this piece. Because the piece is very quiet, movement based, and Sarah interacts with the audience, we will be filming and recording in a controlled setting in April. I'll wait till then to give a more comprehesive description of how Sarah and I went about creating this piece, but suffice to say, her performance of it in February was pretty incredible... Sure is nice to have such talented performers making my work look and sound a lot better than I could have imagined.
In other news, Alex Hamberger, Manuel Meza, and I have completed Movements I and II of our electronics, dance, and electric bass piece, and are working on Movements III and IV this spring/summer. We're hoping to have a concert length performance of all four movements in sequence in fall of next year.
I'm working on the sound design and composing the music for an animation short, by Yonatan Tal (https://vimeo.com/yonatantal), an animator at CalArts. It's been a lot of fun to work with him and a new compositional challenge for me. Looking forward to the finished product, which is coming in April.
I've also been writing a lot of poetry and taking the Grad Poetry Workshop at CalArts. With each new musical piece, I write a corresponding poem that becomes part of the score - this has become something of a staple for me, and is one of the biggest artistic developments I've had since being here. Some of this has turned into writing Reader's Chorus pieces - a new genre (to me) I'm exploring where a choir reads instead of sings. I've written one piece (performed in April) so far, and more to come. Watching a reader's chorus perform can be a very powerful experience, I've found. I've also been writing text and poetry for various other composers around school, which is a lot of fun.
Right now, I'm beginning a project of graphic scores for string quartet (hopefully 5 pieces) and I've been re-reading some old Beckett texts, as well as making my way through his entire collection of short prose. The idea with this, other than that I miss reading his stuff, is to compose a series of pieces based on passages from his works, integrating his text in the pieces. I've written one so far, using a passage from Watt about Erskine's circle with(out) a center (performed earlier this month).
In other other news, I was recently accepted to the Atlantic Music Festival, at Colby - of all places! - this summer (month of July). It is a summer program where I will study composition with various composers and write for the AMF Contemporary Ensemble. Going to be an intense program - and, coincidentally, the bassoonist I mentioned above, Chris Foss, was also accepted to the performance and Future Music Lab program...so we will both be headed up to Maine this summer!
Okay, I think that's enough for now. Hope everyone on the other end of this is doing well!
Until next time,