Here, a diverse collection of projects with notes & audio.
(2011), sinfonietta (15 players), 16:00
III. Ghost Dance
GHOST DANCE was commissioned by The New Juilliard Ensemble and premiered on November 8, 2011, in Alice Tully Hall, conducted by Joel Sachs.
Ghost Dance takes a motive from a Math-rock band called Hella and charts it in a rapid procession of growing variations, leading to a ecstatic view of the original.
(2010) orchestra, 10:00
(excerpts of the piece were also read by the Juilliard orchestra before the première)
This piece was commissioned by the Albany Symphony Orchestra, and funded in part by the Composer Assistance Program of the American Music Center. It was premiered by the Albany Symphony and music director David Alan Miller on March 12, on a concert with John Corigliano’s percussion concerto. The orchestra was filled with good people who did a gorgeous job with a tricky new piece. Here’s my program note:
I used to doubt artists who claimed geography as an influence on their work. I could understand a drummer going to Africa to learn about Zambian traditions, or a dancer studying with an Indonesian master, but couldn’t an artist working in Paris make his work in London, Rome, or Miami? However, after moving my country-Alaskan self to New York City, I became interested in opposing traits that occur in traffic: the fleet skittishness of people dashing through the crowded sidewalk, and the tumbling quality of vehicles in dense traffic. In using these characteristics to produce a musical impression of the city, I have to admit that location inspired my work. I didn’t set out to make a programmatic piece—a story that could be filmed—but even so Travel Lightly feels like a celebration of places I love, and a comment on the things we carry with us through ever-changing environments.
(2013) orchestra, 7:45
Commissioned and premiered by the New York Youth Symphony as part of their First Music program, All Decays was performed at Queens College on May 4, 2014, and at Carnegie Hall on May 25, 2014, conducted by Joshua Gerson.
Decay is not always grim; actually, I find that decay produces the most beautiful things in the world (mountains, wine, palimpsests of old paint…). The many processes of decay—fading, atrophying, dissolving, rusting, combusting, etc.— can inspire awe, reveal depth, and provide release. They also provide rich soil for musical expression. All Decays conjures a soundworld full of musical decay: there are great brass beacons that smoothly fade into silence, a jig that smears into sonic soup, a jaunty little progression in the piano and harp that becomes rusted and fragmented, and burly chords played by the whole orchestra that first grow weaker, then messier, then, finally, explosive.
(2013) flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion, 17:30
The Cosmic Hamlet Part 1: Tides
The Cosmic Hamlet Part 2: The End of the Road
Composed for the inaugural season of the Wild Shore Festival for New Music. Studio recording made by Katie Cox, flute, Eileen Mack, clarinets, Andie Springer, violin, Evelyn Farny, cello, Vicky Chow, piano, and Joe Bergen, percussion . The Première and recording of this work was made possible in part by the Composer Assistance Grant of New Music USA.
The Cosmic Hamlet is a meditation on two aspects of life in my hometown, Homer, Alaska: dynamic natural forces that determine everyday life (20-foot tides, the price of salmon, the flux of daylight), and the people—fisherman, artists, Russian Old Believers, seekers, exiles and many others—who contribute to the utterly unique culture of Homer. Each part embodies one of these aspects, forming a kind of diptych impression of the fishing village bearing the nickname “The Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea.”
my siblings, Delaney and Austin, on my father’s fishing vessel, the Maranatha, 2013.
(2012) ballet, scored for soprano sax, alto sax, violin, cello, and celesta, 11:00
1. Momofuku Ssäm Bar
Commissioned by the New York Choreographic Institute. Studio recording made by Aaron Thomas Patterson, s.sax, Jay Rattman, a.sax, Elizabeth Derham, vln., Isabel Gehweiler, vc., Çağdaş Özkan, celesta.
Set in three compact movements, this ballet, choreographed by Justin Peck, adapts qualities of the cuisine and design elements of three distinct restaurants in New York City. Momofuku Ssäm Bar is built on simple combinations of unusal elements, WD-50 deploys opposites to trick the senses, and Roberta’s revels in the earth and the recycled. The title, Mise-En-Place, is a culinary phrase, meaning everything in place.
(2012) fl, vln, vc, perc., 11:00
full recording from concert in Portland, ME, December, 2012
Ever since I learned about simple sound waves, I have felt an irrational affection for those atomic shapes from which all sorts of complex electronic sounds are made. I wrote Abiding Shapes as a little pageant about these ubiquitous forms, with movements for sawtooth, sine, and square waves. I tried, as much as possible, to embroider little dynamic ramps, triangles, sines, and squares (loud-to-silent, soft-loud-soft, etc.) into bigger ones to illustrate these shapes at every level.
Japanese-translated chart. Nobody calls it a “ramp wave”
(2012), flute, guitar and electronics, 10:46
Daniel James, flutes, and Colin Davin, guitars and banjo, Alejandro Acierto, bass clarinet, and Ken Hamao, mandolin.
Almost a concerto grosso in which the flute and guitar play against an army of prerecorded plucked strings and wind instruments, Try the Spirits depicts a kind of séance, in which the flute and guitar get in touch with their instrumental relatives. Christians have long understood the phrase “try the spirits” to represent the process of discerning whether a particular spirit is from God. It could also mean trying them on, learning to control them, wielding their power. Try the Spirits was composed for Daniel James and Colin Davin, who gave the première and made the first recording of the work. Try the Spirits received honorable mention in the 2013 ASCAP Morton Gould Awards.
(2011) trio for flute, viola, and harp, 11:30
Flutist Daniel James commissioned this work and premiered it on September 17, 2011 at the Juilliard School with Jocelin Pan on viola and Michelle Gott on harp.
Gossiping involves everything I want in chamber music: secretive conversation, gleeful indulgence, mockery, cruelty, misery, and further amusement. The cyclic nature of the practice—as in, secrets are fun until they hurt someone, and fun again when one forgets about the sting—informs the structure of the piece. In Part I, a persistent, jaunty gossip element alternates with lyrical passages and whispery exchanges among the instruments. Part 2 is steely, severe, full of sinking harmony, but of course the perky stuff creeps back in.
(2011) percussion duo, 8 min.
Nick Taylor and Brian Shank perform at the Juilliard School.
In the land of unpitched percussion (instruments of indefinite pitch) rhythm, dynamics, timbre, and pitch contour prevail. Here, each player has a collection of five primary instruments, outlining an even, low-to-high pitch contour; the drums occupy the low register, and the wood instruments occupy the high register. Though none of the instruments used in this piece is “pitched,” the entire collection constitutes a wide, graded pitch spectrum—from the deep kick drum to the piercing deskbells—suitable for recognizable themes.
A series of canons for drums, wood, and desk bells, Rounds & Bells begins with the theme stated in perfect unison by the players. First come the rounds, led by alternating players at various distances. This is followed by desk bells, almost like boxing bells or ringing chess clocks, which the players use to strike at each other. Later come further, polyrhythmic canons, in which one player runs circles around the other, tapping out the theme in a different tempo, leading up to a photo finish.
(2010) oboe, trumpet, tuba, and harpsichord, 8:10
excerpt from the studio recording. David Kaplan, harpsichord; Hassan Anderson, oboe; Stuart Stephenson, trumpet; Lee Jarzembak, tuba; Conrad Winslow; conductor
I wrote a dance score for choreographer Zack Winokur, performed at Lincoln Center in December 2010, which features a trumpet, oboe, tuba, and amplified harpsichord, a deformed Monteverdi prologue, surround-sound, and a girl in a balloon dress. The dancers were incredible.
Here is the video of Chariot: (This will play in iTunes if not in your browser.)
(2009) trombone quartet, 7:40
Pinning Music Excerpt
Performed by the Guidonian Hand at The Juilliard School
This piece bears a loose relation to my parrot Charlie, who talks a lot but actually communicates his various emotional states by dilating—called pinning—his eyes. Seeing a bird’s eye go from pinhole to gaping black hole and back again was always captivating to me. It’s a bit unsettling to see for the first time, especially when you don’t know what he’s trying to say.
I wrote the piece with these memories and images. Pinning alternates between longing, lyrical lines and muscular, rhythmic interplay. In the most introverted moments in the piece, the players perform multiphonics; trombones one and two hold notes on their instruments while singing bits of a lyrical theme. A pair of unmuted trombones then signal the return of vigorous rhythmic material and the pinning-eye gestures from the beginning.
(2009) trio for violin, bass, and percussion, 11:00
Getting There Clip
This excerpt comes from the last section of the piece.
A percussion, violin, and double bass trio is an unusual ensemble. There are unique challenges for the unamplified group: the bass must project to match the volume of the violin and percussion; the strings must match pitch (which can be more difficult when the pitch of the bass is often far from the violin); and the percussion must balance with the strings.
I heard “You Can Just Park Right Here” perform a Wuorinen trio for the combination and I was astounded by their ability to deal with these challenges with muscular flair. Matt Donello, the percussionist, asked me to write something for the group, and I said yes, knowing I wanted to explore bass technique, to work with kitchen percussion (pots-and-pans-type sounds), and to create an overall “earthy” sound world in a chamber ensemble. So I wrote a piece in which the strings often dispense with the silken approach of a Classical chamber ensemble in exchange for rugged and sometimes unruly sounds.
The structure for Getting There is largely characterized by rhythmic profile: the piece moves from regular, insistent pulse in the beginning to slower, fragmented rhythms in the middle, to regular pulse again. I accompany each shift in the piece with changing percussion sounds—drums, metal, ceramics, then drums again.
(2011) piano, 6:40
Jing Yang plays the piece in Paul Hall at the Juilliard School in April 2011.
All Rise is a piece obsessed with ascension, prolonged lyrical lines and increasingly-prominent pulsing chords. The form is simple: thrice it goes up, then it goes down, growing to a climactic end. The origin is less so. I wrote all my childhood pieces for the piano, but I’ve avoided it in recent years for a silly reason. Since I often used the piano as a pitch machine and nothing more, I came to regard the piano timbre as an invisible sound, like a stage scrim on which other colors were projected. I took this piece as a challenge to listen to the piano again, to savor the power and charm of the piano’s enormous expressive range. It is dedicated to my teacher, John Corigliano, who stretched me as an artist as much as I stretched the melodic lines in this piece.
(2010) mezzo-soprano or soprano and piano, 7:50
I Could Dissolve into Sunlight
Carla Jablonski, soprano; Paulina Simkin, piano; Le Poisson Rouge, May 2, 2010
Carla Jablonski, mezzo-soprano
The text for this song comes from a large poem cycle by Sarah Kate Moore, called The Song Sings Itself. A contemporary gloss on the Eurydice and Orpheus myth, this work retells the Orpheus myth from the various perspectives of the women in Orpheus’ life. The excerpt used in the song comes from Eurydice’s chapter, where Orpheus is a rock star-like figure, irresistible and unfaithful.
The three sections of the song deal with initial love and infatuation; mid-relationship disappointment; and spite and bitterness at the end of their earthly relationship.
(2013) soprano, piano, 5:20
For All the Cities So Bright
Amelia Watkins, soprano, and Bryan Wagorn, piano. May 6, 2013, Newark, NJ
I hear “Home on the Range” as an idyllic fantasy, and one that should be particularly resonant for 21st-century city-dwellers. Yet it is near-impossible to experience this beautiful text, buried, as it is, under heavy cultural baggage. I needed to find a fresh, non-ironic, path to these images, so I rearranged the words, moving backwards, line by line, from unfamiliar stanzas all the way to the refrain. Having grown up in Alaska, I often feel brief acute pangs of longing for a sort of fantasy life on the frontier. Hence, the music lurches among nostalgia, agitation, and longing.
the heavens are bright
the curlew I love to hear scream
and the antelope flocks
I love the white rocks
where the bright diamond sand
flows leisurely down in the stream
like a maid in a heavenly dream
oh give me a land
yes, give me the gleam
oh give me the hills
oh give me the mine
oh give me the steed
the air is so pure and the zephyrs so free
and the breezes so balmy and light
and the skies are not cloudy all day
where seldom is heard
a discouraging word
where the deer and the antelope play
oh give me the hills
oh give me a land
yes, give me a home
Home, home, on the range
I would not exchange
my home on the range
for all the cities so bright.
(2011) soprano and cello; 4:30.
Lauren Snouffer, soprano, and Sofia Nowik, cello.
text by W.S. Graham:
I leave this at your ear for when you wake,
A creature in its abstract cage asleep.
Your dreams blindfold you by the light they make.
The owl called from the naked-woman tree
As I came down by the Kyle farm to hear
Your house silent by the speaking sea.
I have come late but I have come before
Later with slaked steps from stone to stone
To hope to find you listening for the door.
I stand in the ticking room. My ear, I take
A moth kiss from your breath. The shore gulls cry,
I leave this at your ear for when you wake.
(2013) SSAATTB a capella
Love (after Rochefoucauld)
The Yale Glee Club, Jeffrey Douma, conductor, November 22, 2013
from an epigram by Francois de la Rochefoucauld, translated by Tom Clark
much talked about
I have kept most of Tom Clark’s translation, but have used a couple words from other translations. As much as possible, I tried to illustrate the text through the architecture of this brief setting.
for the Record
(2012) organ and percussion (samples), 12 minutes
This work renders the collision and joining of sustained organ chords with deep-layered, polyrhythmic sound effects. Many of the rhythms in the piece—some resembling idling engines—were developed using MIDI-generating software and Euclidean geometry.
(2009) recording for synthesizers, 5:35
I created this piece with five electronic instruments, in the fall of 2009. There are two similar episodes in this track, suggesting the idea of a recurring series of events—sleep phases or whatever; I wasn’t scientific about it.
(2009) violin, cello, bass, and piano, 1:36
Patti Kilroy, violin; Leat Sabbah, cello; Carlos Barriento, bass; Conrad Winslow, piano
This is a short piano+violin+cello+double bass interlude, written along several song arrangements for a show at Brooklyn’s Death By Audio, in the fall of 2009. The chords in the middle of the interlude form the basis of a composition for string quintet and electronic textures called Nearly Resolved Chords.
I wrote several jingles for Sirius radio, for their show “Doctor Radio.” I am told they used one for a promotional spot, though I never heard it on the air. Miniature compositions are fun to make! The material’s got to stand up immediately, do its business and go away. At the very least, it’s a fun exercise in production.
Doctor Radio 6 Adjusted
This one, “Dr. Raj” includes a celeste part at 0:27 that reminds me of Copland’s Piano Concerto, at 1:08 in part 1.
And my first attempt, which was rejected for being too cute:
Doctor Radio Theme
I’ve written several ringtones for friends and for myself. It’s a fun exercise in practical miniature form.
Ike No. 1
Ike No. 1
Ike No. 2
Ike No. 2
I have opinions about ringtones, which I express here.
This project, Three of a Feather, comprised a number of short sequences created by Celia Rowlson-Hall, using Monica Bill Barnes’ dancers and choreography.
View the rest, as as well as Celia’s outstanding portfolio, here.
The Organ Grinder
I played and wrote with the experimental rock band dodger from 2002–2007. We wrote weird music, rooted in 60s melodic sensibilities, theatre of the absurd, and a tendency to favor dense instrumentation. Matt Kamm (aka Telethon Veginald Cheeseburger) set the vibe for the band, Phil McCombs loved every bass line he wrote, Miguel Miranda and then Jeff Ilgenfritz (of Mumpsy) played drums, and multi-instrumentalist and composer Sean Moore wrote and recorded violins, trumpets, and vocals.
I love the collaborative approach to writing because your ego must absent itself. You can’t walk into an arranging job, for example, with the attitude of owning the piece; it doesn’t work. It’s liberating then, because you have to serve the project. Everyone involved must refer to a common tone.
This track, “The Organ Grinder” is a good example of that type of process. It was through-composed by all of us. Matt came in with a skeleton for a song, and we each wrote (recorded) sections of the song, and built the song out from that. This is maybe my favorite track we did.
You can hear the rest of our last album here.
Here’s a performance from 2006. I love these guys.
(2009–2011) arrangements, orchestrations, sometimes musical direction, Off-Broadway musical
I arranged and orchestrated this show, commissioned by the co-creator of the Blue Man Group, about two 14-year old girls who fall in love at a Christian summer camp. It received an extraordinary showcase production in the legendary La Mama experimental theatre club, the last production approved by founder and oracle, Ellen Stewart, before her death. The actors were so perfectly cast that it was beautiful and strange.
Check out the CAMP WANATACHI website for media.