This is a recording of El Muco at the Subtropics Festival in Miami, March 20th, 2011.
For this recording Scott and I both used the same SuperCollider patch, known as the “Flooper.” It is a large feedback network, where every unit is patchable into every other unit. It builds complex and slowly-evolving layers of sound where the performers are transformed into listeners.
This recording takes the original four channel audio and flattens it to stereo. Also, this is straight from the board, so no room sound has been mixed it. I suggest that you listen to this with headphones or a subwoofer to get the full effect.
A room recording of El Muco (Scott Petersen and Brian Kane) at the IBeam, Brooklyn, Feb 12, 2010. For this set we improvised with hacked electronics routed through various signal processing units written in SuperCollider. More documentation here.
A large composition for string orchestra, harp and piano, approx. 25 minutes. It is included as the final part of my doctoral dissertation.
The recording presented here comprises excerpts from the entire piece, read by the Berkeley Symphony as part of their Under Construction series, December 10, 2006.
The Berkeley Symphony, cond. George Thompson
Program Note: (N.B. These are the program notes that accompanied a reading of Anaphora by the Berkeley Symphony, as part of their Under Construction series.)
Anaphora was begun late in 2004 and finished in March of 2006. Written as a part of my dissertation thesis, Anaphora was placed in the unenviable position of being not simply a composition, but rather an exemplification of my compositional and theoretical thinking.
In the dissertation, entitled The Music of Skepticism, I spend many pages discussing what I mean by a “musical skepticism.” Rather than thinking of skepticism as type of crippling philosophical doubt, I tried to argue for skepticism’s utility its everyday application. By skepticism, I intended something quite specific: the continual need to revisit our everyday practices of listening and composition; the drive to continually question the way in which we apply of our musical concepts; the elicitation of continually new criteria from the weave of improvised practices that constitute our musical form of life. Furthermore, a skeptical music does not imply a stylistic demand. It is directed at making perspicuous our habits of listening in order to investigate the relationship between human intentionality and acoustic materiality. The proliferation of contradictory and conflicting aspects that accrue to musical passages can be used to expose the limitations, or better yet, the inadequacy of our intentional claims to totalize musical experience. Musical material is richer than our hearing alone.
Anaphora is my piece of musical skepticism.
For tonight’s concert I have excerpted 3 passages from the entire work, preceded by a “ritornello” or refrain. This refrain comes back many times in Anaphora, initiating a wide variety of events. The listener never knows when the ritornello will return; nor do they know how it will be re-orchestrated, truncated or expanded; nor do they know to where it will lead.
In the first excerpt, I contrast the strings with the harp and piano, in a fairly traditional manner. The harp and piano pick up an idea from the strings and, sticking to this tiny piece of material, they begin to stretch and transform it, coming in and out of phase with each other and the string orchestra. The listener is given the opportunity of hearing “the same” material played against itself, to the point where it can no longer be understood as, simply, “the same.” The notion of sameness is challenged, making the listener aware of the way in which they project the concept of sameness and different onto a purely sonic material which is quite indifferent to such labels.
In the second excerpt, I contrast the intentional and material properties of sounds by juxtaposing rich chordal sonorities (which offer up the suggestion of harmonic direction and promote affective and expressive projections upon the musical surface) and microtonal sonorities (which do not clearly afford such projections, and force attention towards the tuning and timbral properties of the chords). The point of this procedure is quite simple, namely, the simultaneous presence of chords, which evoke a rich history of tonal associations, with microtonally tuned chords, derived through acoustic principle of difference tones, produces a strange sense of flickering between incompatible systems—one acoustic, one harmonic.
Perhaps the simplest, and most pedagogically clear moment of musical skepticism appears near the end of the third excerpt, where a massive pizzicato cloud in the strings transforms itself into series of unisons on middle C. In the passage that follows, this unison pizzicato is slowly blurred and stretched back into a cloud. In reality, it is nearly impossible for an entire string orchestra to play a unison note pizzicato perfectly in time—there is always someone a little early or late due to the complexities of producing the note (the resistance of the string against the finger, etc.). However, perceptually, the ear is quite willing to compensate for this discrepancy and hear this tiny cloud of notes as a single point in time. By slowly stretching this “single point” into a cloud, the ear struggles in vain to hear it as a single point, until the moment when a switching-effect is perceived. In an orchestral reading of a very early version ofthis passage, it produced a chuckle amongst the members of the string orchestra and the audience—but not all at the same time. The chuckle recorded the moment when the ear “gives up” its attempt to hear this cloud as a point, and begins to hear it as a cloud. This discrepancy between the idealizing activity of the ear and acoustical reality becomes a lever with which to pry the habits of listening out of their hiding place in the form of life and into perspicuousness.
These three examples do not comprehensively cover the ways in which a musical thinking about the question of skepticism is manifest in Anaphora. In fact, I am sure that an attentive listener will find other moments (more subtle and satisfactory and perhaps less pedagogical) that similarly bear the lineaments of this musical skeptical thinking. In retrospect, it may be discovered that these moments were more worthy of demonstration and explanation than the ones I have highlighted here; but, to quote Wittgenstein, explanations must come to an end somewhere, and it becomes time to let the work speak for itself.
This is an semi-improvised piece for piano, guitar, accordion, violin, cello and live electronics, conducted by stopwatch. The players follow a score which determines playing technique, general duration, and manner of entering/exiting. The electronics are mixed live, and were programmed in Max/MSP.
Two versions of this piece are available (and quite dramatically different):
1) The Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players
Jason Levis, piano
Marie Abe, accordion
Brian Kane, guitar
Leighton Fong, cello
Graeme Jennings, violin
John MacCallum, live electronics
Recorded live at Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley, April 3, 2006.
2) Wet Ink
Eric Wubbels, accordion
Kate Soper, piano
Matthew Hough, guitar
Olivia De Prato, cello
Jane O’Hara, violin,
Jeff Snyder, electronics
Recorded live at Symphony Space, New York City, December 1, 2007.
Program Note: This is a semi-improvised work for small ensemble and live electronics, conducted by stopwatch. Each instrumentalist in the ensemble is given an ever-shrinking set of sounds, and must follow very specific instructions about co-ordination with the other members of the ensemble. Creating a complicated network of embedded relations, every sound made by an instrumentalist has the potential to be interpreted as a cue for one of the other players in the ensemble without the instrumentalist knowing what kind of cue he or she may be giving. The goal is twofold: to force the players (and the audience) to pay attention to the beginnings and endings of sounds – aspects which are not often the most perspicuous – bringing them into audibility, and thus critiquing our habitual modes of listening. To complicate matters, a blanket of electronically processed sounds is overlaid on the ensemble, providing resistance and forcing the process of listening into a tenuous state of double attentiveness. The relation between the electronics and the ensemble is ripe for an allegorical interpretation.
A note on the title: In the context of David Pears’ book The False Prison the phrase “either super-idealized guidance or caprice” refers to Wittgenstein’s rule-following paradox. I leave it to the listener to glean what it means in this context.
An ongoing cycle of electro-acoustic pieces and sound installations of various lengths, characters, and formats. Much of the source material is borrowed, derived, or based on animal and human sounds. This archive of material is then re-configured and transformed into various projects. Three such projects are:
1. A series of short electronic studies. First public performance in May, 2005, at CCRMA, Stanford University. They were realized using a variety of software: Max/MSP, AudioSculpt, CSound and ProTools– I’m recalling that OpenMusic was used to generate some CSound score files. These are best listened to in sequence!
2. A sound installation designed to be incorporated ino the collaborative Sound Garden project by various composers working out of CNMAT. The installation ran UC Berkeley campus on April 23, 2006. A second version of the installation ran in the Berkeley Art Museum, January, 2007, as part of an opening celebration for a Bruce Nauman exhibition. I recommend looking at the description of the installation to get a better sense of the work.
Program Note: The Sound Garden is a collaborative sound installation organized by composers working out of CNMAT (the Center for New Music and Audio Technology). The installation ran on April 23, 2006, on the UC Berkeley campus.
The goal was to produce a multi-faceted outdoor installation for the lovely patio and pathway space between Hertz Hall and the Faculty Club, agreeing on the idea that the sounds would have some sort of creaturely aspect. My contribution to the project comes in the form of three automated sound modules that sprang from materials previously developed as part of “On the Expression of Emotions in Animal and Man,” an ongoing series of electronic works: first, a signal-processing patch that transforms and manipulates various “field recordings” and electronic “imposters” into a constantly changing sound collage; second, a granular-based patch that creates various kinds of artificial birdsong; third, a patch that plays various unprocessed recordings of footsteps and animals sounds, panning them across the space. Designed to work alongside the contributions of other composers, these patches are sparse enough to allow other sounds “in” while maintaing a certain degree of interest for a casual listener to the installation. The other contributions by Jeremey Hunt, Evelyn Ficcara, Heather Frasch, and Daniel Cullen must not be neglected while listening to the mp3 (which features only two of my three contributions). One must imagine the sounds of footsteps; small, quiet, high pitched sounds coming though glass; and, the continual tolling of an artifical campanile, producing an atonal reflection upon the sounds of Berkeley’s famous landmark (which will also played while the installation ran). Hopefully, the project will be documented in more detail after the event.
From my perspective, the processing based on the sounds of animals focuses one’s attention onto the rhythmic qualities and odd inflections inherent, and away from the causal source. At the same time, it is no secret that the causal source is sometimes quite easy to recognize. The birdsongs and processed sounds must also be imagined as coming through an 8 channel speaker arrangement, placed admist the foliage and trees behind Hertz Hall. Working in a space between the artifical and the real, between recognition and doubt, between the ear as a threshold for the assimilation of knowledge and as a barrier to the accomodation to shocks–the sound garden explores the alpha and omega of sound and signification.
In addition to the sound installation, Dawn Frasch contributed the scultptures seen in the slideshow.
a map of the Berkeley campus, detailing the location of the sound garden and the position of the dodecaphonic speaker
in the center of the space, facing NW
just past the entrance, facing E
the entrance with dodecaphonic speaker
near the entrance, facing N
the control booth
sculpture and speaker in a flower pot
Here is a picture of the Max/MSP patch that ran my contribution to the installation.
3. An hour long solo improvisation for the radio. Originally broadcast live on WKCR’s Live Constructions, June 24, 2007, 10-11 PM.
This is a piece for solo piano, approx. 10 minutes in length. Three kinds of musical material are developing simultaneously, and begin to interact in surprising ways. It is my first foray into computer aided composition; much of the material was generated with OpenMusic, and developed intuitively afterwards.
Michael Seth Orland, Piano
Recorded live at Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley, April 25, 2005
Program Note: I present two quotes which indicate what I intend by the term figura:
“Several Figur’d Atomes well agreeing,
When joyn’d do give another Figure being.
For as those Figures joyned, severall waies,
The Fabrick of each severall Creature raise.”
– Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle
“As figures of the existing, unable to summon into existence the non-existing, artworks draw their authority from the reflection they compel on how they could be the overwhelming image of the non-existing. Artworks draw credit from a praxis that has yet to begin and no one knows whether anything backs their letters of credit.”
– Theodor Adorno
This work for solo violin was inspired by the work of artist David Rabinowitch and is fondly dedicated to him.
David Ryther, Violin
Recorded live at the Berkeley Arts Center, Nov. 9th, 2003
Program Note: ”Measure is the Heaven of Desire” was written as a response to my encounter with the sculptor David Rabinowitch and his recent work at the Oliver Ranch. Rabinowitch’s work is concerned with the conditions of the possibility of experience. The viewer becomes aware of their own experience as a body within a gravitational field, measuring out relations to the exterior world. These relations reveal the profound relativity of our experience.
In thinking about this work I realized that it would be possible to write a piece of music based on “the condition of metricality” which is heart of Rabinowitch’s aesthetic. Here, the concern is an investigation of how we measure out time. The piece is constructed in three “stanzas” which are strictly notated. At the same time the introduction of tremolos of different speeds cuts against our clear perception of duration and tempo. Lastly, two interludes, notated without barlines, are inserted between the three stanzas. Their static and unmeasured temporality acts as the counterpart to the strictness of the stanzas, revealing time from another frame of reference.
The title is taken from a line of Hopkins: “What by your measure is the heaven of desire / the treasure never eyesight got, nor was ever guessed what for the hearing?”
This is a three movement work for clarinet and string quartet, approx. 22 minutes in length. The piece is based on the writings of three Greek philosophers: Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Epicurus.
The Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players
Peter Josheff, clarinet
Karen Shinozaki, Cary Koh, violins
Darcy Rindt, viola
Leighton Fong, cello
David Milnes, conductor
Recorded Live at the International House, Nov. 22nd, 2003.
Program Note: For many years, I have been especially interested in the classical materialist thinking of Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius. In particular, I have been drawn to the manner in which these thinkers conceive of matter in both literal and metaphorical terms. In the Clarinet Quintet I have tried to reach two goals: firstly, to draw an analogy between “musical material” and “matter” as the philosophers conceive of it, and secondly, to shows this “material” from different musical perspectives.
In the first movement I tried to create a world of flux. By repeating a melody for violin again and again, but always in a constantly changing context, I tried to show the fluid and permeable nature of things. Paradoxically, one can only reveal flux by contrasting it with things that remain the same. In other words, the idea of flux only makes sense in relation to a world that could be understood as permanent. The trembling high harmonic F-sharp in the first violin embodies this paradox of stability and change.
The second movement is concerned with permanence. Here flux gives way to a deeper unity. This movement was written as a series of independent fragments, all based on a single compositional system, and were eventually arranged into their present sequence. In a certain sense, concepts like succession, causality, order, or “before and after” are irrelevant here. Although the musical surface is quite diverse, I hope the listener gets the sense that there is something profoundly unifying underneath it all. For me, silence is the unity that holds it together.
The third and final movement represents a break from the opposing philosophies of the first two movements. Here I have taken the perspective of a different sort of materialist, one who accepts the determinations of matter, but finds more interest in the conventions produced by human interaction with material. In this movement the conventions return – a ritornello form, reminiscences from other movements, a cadenza, and so forth. Yet, the movement also unexpectedly breaks with these conventions. A rupture occurs just after the first violin recalls its shimmering harmonic F-sharp, and the piece launches off in a surprising direction.
This is an electronic work based on Beethoven’s Melodram for Glass Harmonica and Reciter. The piece uses a wide variety of electronic music techniques to create an unusual musical narrative.
The piece was realized in Berkeley, using MAX/MSP, Audio Sculpt, Open Music and ProTools.
Beethoven’s Melodram, for glass harmonica with recitation, was composed in 1814 as incidental music for Friedrich Duncker’s drama entitled Leonore Prohaska. My Melodrama, for electronic medium, was composed in 2003 as a long coda, attached to the end of Beethoven’s trifle.
Duncker was a civil servant and secretary to King Friedrich Wilhelm III, and Beethoven’s involvement with the play may have had to do with a desire to ingratiate himself with the aristocracy to secure commissions. The play told the story of a heroic Prussian girl who, disguised as a male, enlists in the army to fight in the Wars of Liberation. Naturally, she dies from the wounds received in battle. The play was never produced.
Du dem sie gewunden
Es waren dein zwei Blumen für Liebe und Treue.
Jetzt kann ich nur totenblumen dir weih’n,
Doch wachsen an meinem Leichenstein
Die lilie und rosa auf’s neue.
My free translation:
Entwined were these flowers two,
The blooms of love and fealty true.
Now, consecrate I the flowers of death alone,
and yet, upon my gravestone
the lily and rose grow anew.
Beethoven probably wrote his “Melodram” for the variety of glass harmonica known designed by Ben Franklin (1761) and manufactured in London. Franklin’s “armonica” is designed with glass bowls fitted concentrically on a horizontal rod and actuated by a crank attached to a pedal.
According to the Grove, there is ample testimony that players of the “armonica” were apt to become deranged. This is attributed to “the irritating permanence of extremely high partials and the continuous contact of the sensitive fingers with the vibrating bowls.” In some German towns the armonica was banned, but despite its illegality it remained one of the most popular instruments of its time, reaching its heyday in the years up until 1830. Goethe once wrote that in the sustained chords of the armonica he could detect “Die Herzblut der Welt”.
Initially, I was drawn to the glass harmonica’s “vibrant, piercing sweetness”. Due to the unique way in which it is played, the glass harmonica possesses both a pure sine-wave aspect, and a noisy, slip-stick aspect. It a sound that is alienated from itself, divided in half, contradictory, dialectical. It has strange connotations: once revered by figures as grand as Goethe it has become relegated, for us, to a kitsch instrument, lacking the seriousness of other members of the present day instrumentarium. In Einstein’s book on Mozart it is relegated to the chapter on mechanical instruments. Yet, as kitsch it possesses the meanigfulness of a collective wish-image while evacuating its meaning by simulatenously presenting this image’s premature foreclosure.
Schopenhauer wrote that Beethoven’s music “presents us with the greatest confusion which yet has the most perfect order as its foundation; with the most vehement conflict which is transformed the next moment into the most beautiful harmony. It is rerum concordia discors – the discordant concord of things.” One cannot miss the dialectic in this last description.
Rather than musically “deconstruct” the sound of the glass harmonica — showing how it is comprised, revealing the mechanics of the sounds, reducing the figuration of our imaginatve associations to their formalization – I sought to work against the grain, by unfolding the possibilities suggested by the text and the sound. While working, I began to associate the “sine wave” aspect with a heavenly, otherworldly dimension; a world abstracted from the discordant friction and noise of this world’s flux or even Schopenhauer’s principium individuationis. In conjunction, I associated the noise aspect with the hellish, the demonic, the worldly, rubbing, irritation, continual striving. I read Schopenhauer’s understanding of Beethoven back into the sound of the armonica.
The text suggested a trajectory. It too has a dialectical quality. The lily and rose, symbols of “liebe” and “treue”, discarded in this World grow anew as “totenblumen” on “meinem leichenstein”. This image led me to the idea that a narrative of death, purgatory, hell and heaven – a divine comedy – might be an appropriate setting in which to unfold the relationship of the dialectial musical aspects.
I also maintained the traditional formal plan of the melodrama, constantly alternating between spoken text and instrumental music. On the local level I composed the alternation of “text” with music throughout the piece, as well as insuring that each textual section relates to the last as in conventional melodrama, where it continues the narrative. The music interjects, commments, colors, contradicts the text. Of course the text isn’t always literally text, rather it suggests the movement of textual meaning always heading dramaturgically in some specific direction. However, this process becomes more generalized as the piece goes on. In fact, the entire piece could be described a journey from the concrete to the abstract.
As a guide to the narrative, the piece can be parsed into three sections: 1) “Melodram” and the dying scene; 2) The divine comedy; 3) A conclusion, which looks back in reflection and dramatizes a moment of Schopenhauerian resignation. If captions are what one needs, they would be inscribed as follows: I. Melodram und der absolute Meister; II. Aus der Hölle zu Gott/Aus dem Himmel zum Teufel; III. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.
A short song cycle for soprano, piano, clarinet and cello. The songs are composed on three ecphrastic sonnets: the first a description of a tapestry, the second a cathedral, and the third a statue of Achilles. The settings attempt to embody Santayana’s startling naturalism.
Karen Hall, soprano
Marika Hughes, cello
Matt Ingalls, clarinet
Hadley McCarroll, piano
Recorded live at Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley, May 2nd, 2001.
Program Note: In the past few years, the work of George Santayana (1863-1952) has become increasingly relevant to me. His philosophical writings, although sadly undervalued, still command an occasional glimmer of respect in the philosophical community. This is in contrast to his poetry, which has been universally forgotten. But Santayana began as a poet (seminally influencing writers such as T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens) and his once-celebrated works on aesthetics never stray far from the germ initiated in his poetry.
I have chosen to set three of his ecphrastic sonnets (written between 1896 and 1901): the first a description of a tapestry, the second a cathedral and the third a statue. These poems, anti-romantic in tone, formally conservative, lacking in sensuous imagery, seem anything but expected from Santayana the radical naturalist. But on a second glace we see that the conventional claims of these poems are anything but conventional. How are we to understand the casual declaration of the final line from “Before a Statue of Achilles”? This is precisely the task that I set before myself in composing these settings: to dramatize the poems’ complex ethical and epistemological claims through the co-operation and antagonism of the musical ensemble, to make palpable the startling cosmology that the poems assume — in other words, to give a musical “reading” of these poems in the spirit of which Santayana, the “old philosopher in Rome”, might have been pleased.
ON A PIECE OF TAPESTRY
Hold high the woof, dear friends, that we may see
The cunning mixture of its colours rare.
Nothing in nature purposely is fair,–
Her beauties in their freedom disagree;
But here all vivid dyes that garish be,
To that tint mellowed which the sense will bear,
Glow, and not wound the eye that resting there,
Lingers to feed its gentle ecstasy.
Crimson and purple and all hues of wine,
Saffron and russet, brown and sober green
Are rich the shadowy depths of blue between;
While silver threads with golden intertwine,
To catch the glimmer of a fickle sheen,–
All the long labour of a captive queen.
CATHEDRALS BY THE SEA
For Aeons had the self responsive tide
Risen to ebb, and tempests blown to clear,
And the belated moon refilled her sphere
To wane anew — for, aeons since, she died –
When to the deep that called her earth replied
(Lest year should cancel unavailing year)
And took from her dead heart the stones to rear
A cross-shaped temple to the Crucified.
Then the wild winds through organ-pipes descended
To utter what they meant eternally,
And not in vain the moon devoutly mended
Her wasted taper, lighting Calvary,
While with a psalmody of angels blended
The sullen diapason of the sea.
BEFORE A STATUE OF ACHILLES
I gaze on thee as Phidias of old
Or Polyclitus gazed, when first he saw
These hard and shining limbs, without a flaw,
And cast his wonder in heroic mould.
Unhappy me who only may behold,
Nor make immutable and fix in awe
A fair immortal form no worm shall gnaw,
A tempered mind whose faith was never told!
The godlike mien, the lion’s lock and eye,
The well-knit sinew, utter a brave heart
Better than many words that part by part
Spell in strange symbols what serene and whole
In nature lives, nor can in marble die.
The perfect body is itself the soul.
This is a short piece for woodwind quintet, approx. 3 minutes in length. The basic material comes from a recording of woodpeckers, which was found on an old 45 rpm record called Akustische Kuriosa, distributed by the Experimentalstudio Gravesano.
A three movement sonata for piano. The piece integrates a series of compositional techniques into a large multi-movement work.
Hadley McCarroll, piano
Recorded live at Hertz Hall, UC Berkeley, Dec. 6th, 2000.
Program Note: The “Sonata for Piano” was composed as an attempt to consolidate various compositional techniques used in previous works, especially my Six Pieces for Trio, into a large, multi-movement work for a solo instrument. In thinking about how to proceed, the idea of writing a piano sonata suggested itself. Formally, I composed along traditional lines. The piece is comprised of a first movement in sonata form, a slow second movement in a rounded form, and a quick theme and variations for the final movement. This final movement is the most unusual: after basing its theme on a single bar from the 2nd movement, and moving through a series of variations, the opening melody from the 1st movement re-appears in the final variation. The theme and melody combine, culminating in a violent outburst.
A chamber piece for clarinet, bassoon, french horn, violin, viola, and cello. The piece is constructed in five short movements, which surround a series of polyrhythmic duos and trios, exploiting the unusual instrumentation. Duration: approx. 15 minutes.
Commissioned by the Snooty Chamber Orchestra. The instrumentation is violin, viola, cello, bass, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and bassoon, plus conductor. Between movements the conductor directs the ensemble in partially notated improvisations. Duration: variable, 10-20 minutes.
Premiered by the Snooty Chamber Orchestra, at Bruno’s, San Francisco.
For two string quartets, bass, and three percussionists. This piece integrates notation and improvisation to create broad, monolithic textures. The ensemble is co-ordinated by stopwatch, rather than conductor. Duration: 32 minutes.
Premiered at the Crucible Steel Gallery, San Francisco, 1996.
Here is an improvisation by Matt Ingalls (clarinet) and myself (on alto saxophone) performed live at KZSU on March 28, 1996, for the Day of Noise. Sorry for the poor sound quality of this recording — it came right off the board and onto a cassette tape.