||At the heart of my acoustic music is The Janus Cycle, a group of 11 works that all share a common formal construction, a bipartite scheme in which a kaleidoscope of short, rapidly juxtaposed materials either precedes or proceeds a monolith of textually unified ones. The cycle was composed during 1992-1996 and includes solo, chamber, orchestral, and choral compositions.
The sixth work in the cycle is the marimba solo Narcissus:Strata/Panacea, premiered in 1994 by Tatiana Kóleva at the Darmstadt sessions in Germany. Click on the word kaleidoscope to see the dense, mercurial, and virtuosic opening of the work. Click on the word monolith to see the pieces conclusion, a sparse and static contrast.
Mt. Moriah is a string quartet that was played by the Arditti String Quartet in San Diego. Again, click on kaleidoscope and monolith to see these contrasting materials.
The manner in which I compose varies from work to work and within a given composition. Occasionally I will through-compose a piece, that is, start at the beginning and compose in a linear fashion. More often some portion of the middle or ending might be composed first; it, in turn, informs the creation of distant or neighboring parts. In all cases, I begin by getting my mind around three things: the instrumentationthe possible sound world of the piece and the idiomatic traditions of the medium; the durationthe total period of time during which materials will sound, form will be articulated, an audience will be captive, etc.; and the person or group for whom I am composingtheir character, strengths, interests, and so forth.
There are aspects of my work that are totally intuitive and those that are quite schematic. In practice these apparent opposites blend together. However, each piece takes shape as these (imagined) poles debate, the one side reacting to the music put forth by the other, reshaping it, and positing it anew. The dichotomy is simplistic, but it really does express, albeit crudely, the manner in which I make creative decisions.
Disciplines, a solo piano work inspired by Sun Ra and commissioned by Betty Freeman for Leonard Steins 1998-1999 Piano Spheres series in Los Angeles, was premiered by Gloria Cheng. Click on the fifth movement, From Saturn to Alabama: Travels in Outer Space, which employs a formal architecture that is based on the narrative scheme in Georges Perecs book Life: A Users Manual (which itself is drawn from mathematical observations of the game of chess). The musical form suggests the unmalleable rigor of a system, but at all levelsthe creation of the rules, the composition of musical materials, and the ways in which materials occur and interactthe composition is subject to how I intuitively play within the rules. Style is not determined by formal precepts but by predilection. An expressive aesthetic emerges not out of the creation of rules, but as the reaction to the rules.
Chance procedures are rarely employed in my compositional technique, but notations that engender performance responses of limited indeterminacy occur frequently throughout my work. Click on 7 canons for flute, vibraphone, and cello to see gestures whose precise temporal location is left to the performers discretion. For me, indeterminate notations can best express stochastic events, they make every performance notionally different, and they suggest that performers may listen and communicate as improvisers.
The sound and texture of many concurrent conversationsfor example, in a busy train station or restaurantis intriguing to me. The listener gets only a glimpse into a few narratives. The conventional meaning of each conversation is incomplete, but a new complex of changing foregrounds and backgrounds results. Click on Triple Concerto to see how vocal rhythms and pitches are prescribed, but members of a choir are instructed to compose their own texts, based on a dream or nightmare.
Other scores suggest temporal precision but are graphically, rather than metrically notated. Click on Scipio Wakes Up to see a passage scored for six sound-sculptures.
A number of works involve a theatrical element such as column facing on 3 behind lintel, commissioned and premiered by Zeitgeist. Most of my work could be described as absolute, but this piece is strikingly programmatic. In it I tell the story of Richard Nickel, an architectural photographer, Louis Sullivan fanatic, and maverick preservationist who died in 1972 in the demolition of Sullivans Chicago Stock Exchange while photo-documenting its interior. The quartet of playersbass clarinet, piano, and two percussionhave speaking roles and ritual activities which, over time, take over completely.
My piece Tlön arouses discussions about the boundary conditions of music. The piece is scored for 3 conductors and no players. The conductors face the audience and direct imagined ensembles, following indications of tempo, meter, dynamic, cues, and diacritical markings. Downbeats are synchronized but within measures a counterpoint of polytempo, polyrhythm, and polymeter exists. The composition is an unusual exploration of conventional issues like dynamic, texture, and temporal dissonance, but within an ocular rather than aural world. From a virulent argument in sign language one apprehends that loudness is as much an emotional and psychological condition as it is one measured in decibels.
Almost all of my scores are notated by hand. There are a few that I have produced with the computer, and this is particularly efficient for generating parts in large ensemble pieces. However, at a certain point I recognized that my imagination was being restricted by the confines of the software. It is not just that there are limitations, but I found that I was composing music that would fit the software, rather than the other way around. I am heartened by the many performers who agree that there is an inherent expressivity and personalityabove and beyond the "music" itselfin a neat, handwritten score, that is seldom possible in a computer-generated one. Circumstances may change, but for now my default is the pen and straightedge.
Additional excerpts from scores may be viewed by clicking on titles that appear in the LIST OF WORKS.
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