Compositions

large ensemble works | chamber works | solo works

Concert Music

(♫ = audio)

Large Ensemble Works

Commissioned by Lorelei Ensemble
Text by Amaranth Borsuk
Video by Christopher O’Leary
Premiered Friday, May 10th, 2013 at Marsh Chapel, Boston, MA

Notes:

The Familiar Spirit turns the first recorded instance of “spirit-rapping” communication into a series of poetic vignettes that explore the technologization, eroticization, and community-building role of the 19th-century medium. When Margaret and Catherine Fox rushed into their parents’ bedroom the night of March 31, 1848 claiming to have heard mysterious noises in the night, little did they know this prank would bring neighbors, strangers, and eventually a cadre of credulous celebrities from Frederick Douglass to Fenimore Cooper into their home and their lives. With the first knockings of the spirit they called “Mr. Splitfoot,” the Fox sisters launched the spiritualist movement.

Through permutation, iteration and wordplay, the text captures the echoes of those early knockings, while the score imagines the event as a bizarre religious ritual, with meditative drones, dense clustered textures, and percussive, propulsive chanting.

The Familiar Spirit

Commissioned by Juventas New Music Ensemble
Libretto by Jillian Burcar
Premiered May 19-22, 2011
Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director
Cambridge YMCA Theater, Cambridge, MA

Winner, The American Prize in Opera Performance, 2012 (Professional Division)
2nd Place, National Opera Association 2010‐2011 Opera Production Competition (Professional Division)

Notes:

Light and Power is a dramatic reimagining of the historic rivalry between American inventors Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, and the fate of electric power that hangs in the balance. May or may not include cyborgs from the future.

Premiered February 11th, 2010, Bovard Auditorium, Los Angeles, CA
USC Thornton Symphony
Donald Crockett, conductor

Notes:

As the title suggests, Splintering deals with fractured material. Musical ideas are always being broken down into their component parts, until one of those parts becomes the focus of the next dismantling.

Splintering – USC Thornton Symphony

Chamber Works

Commissioned by the Ray-Kallay Duo
Premiered October 23rd, 2015, at Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Pasadena, CA

Notes:

Much of the musical material in Because Patterns is derived from a kind of totalistic cellular automata first shown to me by mathematician and artist Gwen Fisher. Using a set of simple rules, the content of each measure determines the content of the next measure. One interesting thing about this particular set of rules is that the quality of the “seed” measure will tend to be similar in character to the quality of the subsequent measure. In other words, simple patterns tend to generate more simple patterns, complex patterns will generate more complex patterns, random-seeming patterns will generate more random-seeming patterns, symmetrical patterns will generate more symmetrical patterns, etc.

Occasionally I tweaked the content of these patterns because they disagreed with my musical intuition. Eventually the proliferation of these “glitches” became perceptible as a kind of pattern in its own right. The result is some kind of hybrid between a human-made artifact, a machine-made product, and a natural process.

Commissioned by gnarwhallaby
Premiered March 29th, 2015, Neighborhood Church, Pasadena, CA

Notes:

The genesis of Sad Trombone is the quintessential sound of failure, the chromatic descending four-note motive that often accompanies a wrong answer on a game show, a pratfall, or a botched opportunity. Variations of this descent pop up here and there throughout music history, like the ground bass that underlies Dido’s gorgeous lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. But at some point between then and now, this motive transformed from a sound of despair to one of disappointment, precariously balanced between comedy and melancholy.

Unsurprisingly, the trombone is the sort-of-soloist of Sad Trombone, constantly trying to air its grievances while being thwarted by other actors. Various transformations and escapes are attempted, but in the end, failure wins.

Sad Trombone is written for and dedicated to the ensemble gnarwhallaby: Matt Barbier, trombone; Brian Walsh, clarinet; Derek Stein, cello; and Richard Valitutto, piano.

Commissioned by Meerenai Shim
Premiered July 11th, 2014, Center for New Music, San Francisco, CA

Notes:

Pheromone emanates from the idea that information can be passed invisibly or unconsciously from one entity to another, binding these entities together into a collective identity. Instead of a dialogue or soloist/accompaniment relationship, the flute and piano often express the same idea from different perspectives. Meanwhile, the electronics inhabit the wake left behind by the acoustic instruments, secreting an ethereal trail of evidence.

Commissioned by Los Angeles Percussion Quartet
Premiered December 8th, 2013 at Atwater Crossing, Los Angeles, CA

Notes:

Being close to someone can mean agreeing not to see parts of them, and in some sense Blindnesses is about the absences that this mutual understanding contains. Four vibraphonists perform a delicate choreography that requires each performer to be intimately, meticulously aware of the actions of the other players around them. The vibraphone techniques used, incorporating pitch bending and envelope shaping through bowing, borrow from the language of audio synthesis. Meanwhile, the electronic accompaniment, at times barely present, other times aggressively glitchy, reflects back distorted shards and discarded fragments of the live performance’s musical material.

Blindnesses – LA Percussion Quartet

Written for TempWerks
Dedicated to Arthur Jarvinen
Premiered Saturday, September 22, 2012 at Beyond Baroque, Los Angeles, CA

Notes:

In preparation for performing this piece, each player collects field recordings of ambient noise from seven different rooms. Each room must have a hum or noise profile that is at least vaguely pitched, and distinct from the other rooms. During recording, each room must be empty and intermittent types of noise (people talking, foot traffic, animal sounds, etc.) should be avoided if possible. Each recording must be at least seven minutes.
In performance, each player must be equipped with some method of sample playback (laptop, mixer, etc.) that allows the player to fade recordings in and out, to immediately start and stop their sound at two different volume levels (full and half), and to crossfade between two different recordings.

During the course of the piece, the combined room ambiences eventually become melodic and harmonic ingredients. Toward the end, the performers must be quite virtuosic with their electronic setups.

Song from Twenty-Eight Rooms – TempWerks

Performed by Hear Now Festival Ensemble, May 14th, 2011

Notes:

Ghost Almanac is a musical analogue of how memory works, a sonic map of the mental landscape. It reflects both the way thoughts we wish to forget can be maddeningly persistent, and the way thoughts we wish to remember can be eerily insubstantial. These processes are texturally embodied by resonance, reverberation and decay, and motivically embodied by echo, repetition and fragmentation of material. The piece explores chaotic, dense textures (when the mind is overwhelmed) as well as more meditative textures permeated by silence (when the mind is lucid).

Ghost Almanac

Premiered Friday, September 26th, 2008, MacDonald Recital Hall, Los Angeles, CA
Aki Tsai, violin; Nia Allen, cello; Gary Shields, piano

Notes:

Piano Trio I is a parody of the classical sonata that hews to most of the written traditions of the form, while disobeying most of the unwritten conventions that make the form coherent. The result is mostly about instant gratification.

Piano Trio I – Isaac Schankler

Notes:

Premiered Tuesday November 20th, 2007, Alfred Newman Recital Hall, Los Angeles, CA
USC Contemporary Music Ensemble
Alexandra Loutsion, soprano
Donald Crocket, conductor

Sharp is a song cycle based on a set of poems by Jillian Burcar. I was struck by their direct and powerful imagery, and I wanted to set her words in a way that amplified their emotional qualities without compromising their original spirit. Using a combination of sung and spoken text, parts of her poems are presented more than once, in different ways, reflecting the conflicted nature of the speaker. The three songs also comprise a narrative arc, progressing from anger in “Poison Bones” through introspection in “Crayola Girl” to something else entirely in “With Such Teeth” (which, according to Jillian, was written while listening to “Mack the Knife”).

(Note: a version for soprano with piano accompaniment is also available.)

Solo Works

Commissioned by Kelly Sulick
Premiered February 24th, 2014 at the Mid-Atlantic Flute Fair, Reston, VA

Notes:

Somniloquy is a piece for flute and electronics that gets its title from a fancy word for sleeptalking. The flute plays the part of the sleeper, with subdued unconscious mumblings eventually giving way to more loquacious and labyrinthine figures. The sleeper goes through many stages, exploring both complex, breathy sounds and pure, unfiltered tones. In the electronics, a chorus of unstable noises bubbles up to the surface, beyond the control of the sleeper.

Commissioned by Nicholas Isherwood for The Electric Voice
Premiered Thursday, August 22nd, 2013, Adam Concert Room, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand
Performed Sunday, August 25th, 2013, University of Auckland Music Theatre, Auckland, New Zealand
Performed Saturday, September 7th, 2013 at MorYork Gallery, Los Angeles, CA

Notes:

Mouthfeel is inspired by an article detailing the creation of the Doritos Locos Taco, and the equal parts admiration and disgust experienced while reading it. More generally, it is about how things that seem fine from far away can be horrifying up close, and vice versa.

Commissioned by Aron Kallay for Beyond Twelve Tour and Recording Project
Premiered Friday, September 28, 2012, Heaven Gallery, Chicago, IL
Performed Saturday, September 29, 2012, Beyond Twelve at SoDo Theatre, Champaign, IL
Performed Sunday, September 30, 2012, Fishers Library, Indianapolis, IN
Performed Wednesday, October 3, 2012, Hartt School of Music, Hartford, CT
Performed Thursday, October 4, 2012, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, PA
Performed Friday, October 5, 2012, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
Performed Saturday, October 6, 2012, Spectrum, New York, NY

Notes:

Alien Warp Etude is loosely inspired by Chopin’s Etude Op. 25 No. 1., nicknamed “Aeolian Harp” by Robert Schumann, who imagined the piece emanating from a wind-powered instrument with various scales “intermingled by the hand of the artist into all sorts of fantastic embellishments.”

In keeping with this idea of overlapping scales, the tuning of this etude borrows elements from two overtone series, separated by a “neutral” or “androgynous” third, which falls between the major and minor third. This etude explores the ambiguity introduced by this interval, as well as tensions between abstract, mathematical patterns and a flowing, melodic lyricism.

Alien Warp Etude

Commissioned by Aron Kallay
Premiered Saturday, Sept. 30th, 2010 at Alfred Newman Hall, University of Southern California

Notes:

Man on Wiire is an acrobatic act demanding tremendous agility and precision from the pianist, involving massive leaps, tricky hand-crossings, and sudden shifts in character. Meanwhile, the performer’s movement is monitored by an accelerometer (here, a Nintendo Wii controller) and used to electronically modulate the piano’s sound. A performer at rest will pass through a “clean” piano sound, while greater movement will create greater and greater disturbances—much like the disturbances of a taut wire as the tightrope walker makes his way from end to end.

Man on Wiire – Aron Kallay, piano

Commissioned by What’s Next Ensemble
Premiered by Jack Stulz, May 28th, 2010, Alfred Newman Hall, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Recorded by Alma Fernandez, April 28th, 2012, Beyond Baroque, Los Angeles, CA

Notes:

This work features samples from two of the earliest known audio recordings:

1) An excerpt of Handel’s oratorio “Israel in Egypt” performed on June 29, 1888. Recorded from over 100 yards away and subject to over 100 years of decay, the chorus of 4000 voices is almost buried by distance and time.

2) An after dinner toast given by composer Arthur Sullivan on October 5, 1888. Here, Sullivan comments on Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph:

“For myself, I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the results of this evening’s experiment — astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.”

Mobile II – Alma Fernandez, viola

Commissioned by Andrew Tholl
Premiered October 17th, 2009, South Pasadena Public Library, Los Angeles, CA
Finalist, ASCAP/SEAMUS Student Composition Competition

Notes:

Mobile I is a work for solo violin and live electronics. It is an audio analogue of a sculptural mobile, in that it has many “moving parts,” but any given configuration of the parts is still recognizable as the same structure.

The electronic output is derived from an ongoing spectral analysis of the violinist’s performance. The violinist acts as a demiurge, igniting the initial spark of electronic sound. However, as the piece progresses, the results of the analysis are partially fed back into the system to be analyzed again, eventually resulting in a self-sustaining cascade of sounds that is unpredictable on the micro (note) level, yet consistent on the macro (texture) level.

Similarly, the violinist’s part has a degree of indeterminacy and agency. Parameters left to the discretion of the performer include number of some repetitions, duration of some rests, method of producing unpitched sounds, and movement in space.

Premiered by the composer, March 3rd, 2008, USC United University Church, Los Angeles, CA

Notes:

As the name obliquely hints at, Web Variations is a set of variations based on the second movement of Anton Webern’s Variations for Piano, op. 27 (“Sehr schnell”). While the pitch content is identical to the original, the rhythms, registers, and textures are radically different in each variation, creating new stylistic and affective contexts for Webern’s crystalline material.

Web Variations – Isaac Schankler

Premiered by the composer, March 3rd, 2008, USC United University Church, Los Angeles, CA

Notes:

White Mass is inspired by the music of Charlemagne Palestine and Alexander Scriabin.

White Mass – Isaac Schankler

Premiered Sunday November 6th, 2005, Alfred Newman Recital Hall, Los Angeles, CA
Katalin Lukacs, piano

Notes:

Oscillations reflects my fascination with the boundaries between different kinds of musical material. The piece is always trying to extend the enigmatic moment between states, the transition when you’re not sure you’re in one place or another, when chorales melt into fugues, pop progressions peek through undulating chromatic gestures, or ballads emerge from furious toccatas. It’s an indecisive piece.

Oscillations – Katalin Lukacs, piano