For the past few months I have been working feverishly on a huge “composition” project. Undoubtedly, it has been a time-sucking black hole, but one that has generated much excitement and many possibilities for the future. Learning how to construct and problem-solve for this project has been pretty absorbing – sometimes in a good “I’m fascinated” way and other times in an obsessive “how is this ever going to work” way. This huge project is still a work in progress, and always will be. It’s like a huge shape-shifting monster, with its own microbial colony always changing the game beneath the surface. The project I am referring to is Versipel New Music, an organization built from the ground up by Philip and I. We had been contemplating creating an organization like this for several years, and have poured over the questions and problems that doing something like this would entail. At the heart of the problem, we had moved to a place where contemporary classical music hardly seemed to exist. The rare offerings that did exist seemed rare, small and ancillary, never really reaching beyond the token presentation of a new work. We started to brainstorm on ways that we could push new music more into the forefront of the New Orleans concert music scene. We created Versipel to be a multi-tiered organization. We structured it to tackle the challenges we perceived in presenting new classical music in our area. We created a visiting artist series which will bring in top-level new music specialists from all over the place to perform works that they personally believe strongly in. In collaboration with several universities in the area, these performers will frequently interact with students through workshops, masterclasses and occasionally, perform with them. Secondly, the heart of Versipel New Music is The Versipel Collective – a collective of local musicians who will present several types of concerts, thereby nurturing our local performance scene (see our 2014-2015 schedule!). The Versipel Collective also has composer members who are the workhorses of our organization, organizing shows, applying for grants, schlepping gear, and sometimes performing on our shows. Our organization also serves to help promote their music. Most importantly, this collective serves the purpose of building a community of musicians who can share knowledge, ideas and grow over time. So what was the final straw in taking the plunge to start this group? Honestly, it was feeling that I have no control over any aspect of my life. Maybe this isn’t P.C. to bring up in a “business” site, but for me, all of this is very personal. I have many altruistic reasons for starting Versipel as well – I really want to raise the profile of new music in the New Orleans area. A concert music scene that has an organization dedicated to presenting new music will make the entire music scene in New Orleans more robust. It will also make for a healthier environment for the many composers in the area. I want Versipel will help bridge the gaps between different audiences and styles in the multifaceted New Orleans music and art scene. So, please check out our page. If you’re local, come to our shows. We also have a call for scores up, that anyone (regardless of age or nationality) can submit to. Last but not least, we are a new organization. In order to get our organization started, we have launched an Indiegogo campaign! Please check it out and support this exciting endeavor! Watch our fundraising video:
Earlier this week, I was ecstatic to hear two fantastic performances of my first song cycle performed by the Astralis Duo. These performances revived a work that I haven’t heard in almost thirteen years, and the songs have never sounded better. Soprano Stephanie Aston has an amazingly versatile voice with much color and sings these tricky songs with so much control and precision. Katalin Lucaks played the piano superbly, bringing out many hidden ideas in the piano part. The presentation itself was really well-done, and was accompanied by interactive video projections by New Orleans composer/video artist Peter Leonard.
“Four Songs” is a piece I wrote in 2000 when I was a student at UT Austin. I set four poems by Donald Justice; Landscape with Little Figures, Song, Bus Stop and Presences. I hope to post a recording and/or video soon!
I started off 2014 with a short residency at the Banff Centre in Canada! I had a fantastic time playing in the snow, making new friends, going on wintry hikes and listening to some fantastic music performed by other residents. I did some composing too, in my little composer’s hut, #7, the Mendelssohn cabin. While small, it had all the essentials needed to work on a new exclusively acoustic piece, a set of songs with the provisional title, “Forest Songs.” For years, I have had a strong desire to get back into writing vocal music. My first and only journey intro writing for voice was about fourteen years ago, when I wrote “Four Songs” for soprano and piano on texts by Donald Justice. In a strange coincidence, it looks like these songs will be revived for several new performances in Louisiana this Spring (details to come).
A couple of years ago, I made several sketches for new songs with a forest/nature theme and spent considerable time looking for texts. However, due to other projects, this new set of songs was pushed into the background until this month. I’m still looking for texts to go with my various sketches, but I have started two songs that use texts by Hilda Doolittle, “Huntress” and “Pursuit.” I am writing these songs for soprano and small chamber ensemble (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano). Ultimately, I hope to write five or six songs in this set and potentially, a couple of instrumental interludes.
So, I’ve been sitting on this piece for quite some time. About three years to be exact, working on it here and there amidst many other projects. I recomposed this piece four times which I don’t think of as a bad thing at all. The first three compositions just weren’t all they could be, they didn’t reach certain states of being/feeling that I am interested in creating in my music. Now the piece says and does more of what I originally intended it to do and more. It’s a piece that I am exited about, a piece I would love to hear and love to play.
Here is the program note, which describes Icons reasons for existence…
As a guitarist, I grew up listening to and playing classic rock and heavy metal during its peak years, the 1980s and 90s. The guitar icons I looked up to included Jimmy Page, Dave Mustaine, Marty Friedman, Tony Iommi, Dimebag Darrell, Randy Rhodes, and Zakk Wilde among others. These guitarists all had a great sound and a powerful mode of expression – wild solos and riffs immersed in a crunch of amplified noise, reverb and distortion. For this piece, rather than incorporating or emulating the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic material typical of this style, I took a couple of iconic guitar sounds and distilled them down to their very essence. The pluck (picked – clean and distorted), the trill, and the bow (à la Jimmy Page) formed the primary seed materials for the entire composition. Other elements of the piece extracted from rock gestalt include distortion, noise fills, and feedback. There are several underlying processes used to alter these basic materials over time, which in turn govern the overall structure of the piece.
Icons is for flute, clarinet, violin, bass and electric guitar.
You can download a pdf preview of the notes and first five pages here: Icons-preview
You can download a full pdf of the score here: Icons-fullscore
This summer I have been involved with my first studio recording project. My piece “Embers” for saxophone and piano has been recorded and will be part of an album of new & adventurous music for saxophone, piano, and electronics. The star of this CD is saxophonist Richard Schwartz, who commissioned and premiered “Embers” to begin with. I am super excited as this will be the first time a piece of mine has been professionally recorded and set for release on a commercial CD. The album also includes works by Philip Schuessler (who plays piano on Embers), Stephen Suber and Ray Pizzi. We recorded the album in June & July in the recording studio at Louisiana State University with a great recording engineer, Bill Kelley. It has been an interesting process and now we are in the final stages of getting this project completed!
Even though this has been a minimal, bare bones recording project involving only a few performers, the costs still add up. We have launched a Kickstarter project to help generate funds to bring the project to completion. You can check out our Kickstarter video below and then head on over to our Kickstarter page for more information.
Project page: http://kck.st/1d7IPD5
It’s been a while since I’ve posted any updates. Here is what has been going on!
The Anemone Fragments for cello and electronics recently received its second performance at Music on the Mountain, Birmingham Alabama. The piece was once again performed by Craig Hultgren, cello accompanied by *yours truly* on electronics. Craig performed a whole concert of new/recent music for cello with and without electronics. The concert also contained a follow-up presentation of Craig’s Vox Novus project, 15 Minutes of Fame. Here is a recording of the performance.
In other news, saxophonist Richard Schwartz is recording a new album of newish pieces for solo saxophone, with or without piano and/or electronic accompaniment. My piece Embers, is set to be the title track of his album, which will be released on Centaur Records later this year.
I’ve also been working away on finishing two pieces, Icons for clarinet, violin, bass, electric guitar, and percussion and Crickets and Gongs for orchestra.
A few weeks ago I attended the Worlds of Discovery and Loss: The Art of Migration, a festival hosted at the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts at UC Davis. This festival was more than a new music festival, it was a collaboration between several artistic disciplines including visual arts and theater. The festival was also infused with scholarly discourse through the inclusion of fascinating scholars like Isabel Wilkerson, Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University and Peter Kulchyski, Professor of Native Studies at the University of Manitoba. This diversity created an interesting environment of dialogue and cross-pollination between disciplines with space to reflect on the overall theme of the festival, which was to examine “the creative worlds generated by different kinds of migration” and to explore “the ways in which artists cross various boundaries, both real and imagined.”
Within the larger theme of the festival, the musical offerings were diverse and quite strong. Participating ensembles included The Empyrean Ensemble, Rootstock Percussion, the Calder Quartet, and the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra performing five concerts over the course of three days. The concerts included a variety of recent works, some classics, and works by composer fellows and the composer-in-residence, Lei Liang. As a composer fellow, I was fortunate to get the know the other composer fellows during seminars, concerts, meals and walks. Our guides were Lei Liang, the composer-in-residence along with UC Davis composition professors Laurie San Martin, Sam Nichols, and Kurt Rodhe.
The Empyrean Ensemble premiered Black Grey Red Orange Grey Blue Grey for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion, written last November specifically for the festival. When I was composing this piece, I was feeling an intense connection between emotional states, colors, and sounds almost in a synaesthetic way. Here is the recording from the world premiere performance:
“From glowing prismatic intensity to the blackest black, this piece explores specific colors and associated psychological states such as anger, despair, passion and contemplative sublimity. The emotional states came first, and when immersed in these states, one cannot help but see vivid colors and hear prismatic sounds. The colors refract and collide, ebb and flow, bleed into one another, intensify, are erased, then dissipate.”