Selected compositions, with program notes, some scores and mp3s, in reverse chronological order.

See also the QQQ, Trollstilt, interface, Brittany Haas and Dan Trueman Band, and PLOrk websites for more information about Dan's music for/with those groups. All music published by Good Child Music.




Three Sean Nós Songs

for Iarla Ó Lionáird and the RTE Concert Orchestra
commissioned by the Irish Arts Council

~22 minutes

Orchestral settings of three traditional sean nós songs, as part of the Iomas Project:

  • Loch Léin
  • Siúl a Rún
  • Táim Cortha ó Bheith im' Aonar im' Luí

I was thrilled to be invited by Iarla to set these songs, the first of which is in Irish, and tells of the ancient landscape around one of Ireland's most well known lakes. The second two are macaronic, in both Irish and English. Siúl a Rún is a well known old song that Iarla learned from his great Aunt Elizabeth Cronin, one of the great figures of sean nós singing, and is told from the point of view of a young woman trying to bid her lover farewell as he leaves for war (perhaps). The last song, which translates as I am Weary of Lying Alone, is a fitting end to the sequence, though is perhaps not just about mourning.

These songs, which are performed continuously as a complete set—a mini oratorio of sorts—were premiered at the National Concert Hall in Dublin by Iarla and the RTE Concert Orchestra in September 2013

An article in the Irish Times about the Iomas Project, and a review.

a recording of the premiere of Siúl a Rún, along with Elizabeth Cronin singing the original version, can be heard about 20 minutes into the 10/23/13 The Rolling Wave, a wonderful RTE radio show.

poster



Just the Notes

tune books for tunes from QQQ, CrissCross, and Trollstilt

All of these tunes in this series were made by ear, never written down as they were worked out; with Just the Notes, I’ve transcribed them, in the hopes that the notation will help others to learn them, on fiddles and guitars, or whatever instruments are on hand. I think of these as fiddle tunes, but clearly they are not your typical fiddle tunes (whatever that might mean); while I like nothing more than to play these tunes with my friends and family in informal places (like our living room, or, as it may be, our basement!), they are a bit much to pick up on the fly, at a session. But it also doesn’t feel quite right to write them down, fix them on the page, imagine that they can be read like a “Classical” composition. They are, perhaps, somewhere... in between...

Read the rest of the preface

sample tune: Fosclachtha

more information


Rink

a suite for steel pans (with kick-drum and hi-hat), composed for Josh Quillen.

~15 minutes

In three movements, Rink's outer movements are intensely rhythmic, pitting different limbs against one another in a kind of taut, conflicted choreography. The middle movement is Josh's arrangement of a lyrical fiddle duo that I made as part of the CrissCross project with Brittany Haas; it's awesome to hear Josh bring it to life in with what might possibly be the polar opposite instrument from the fiddle.

  • Lurch
  • Fosclachtha
  • Spin

Big thanks for Josh for asking for this piece and doing such great work with it — and it is a monster!

Josh_premiere


Four Squared for Ligeti

for solo piano and laptop ensemble, composed for Kathy Supové and Sideband/PLOrk.

~11 minutes

Both Ligeti’s famous Musica Ricercata II, for solo piano (perhaps most known for its cameo in the Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut), and my own Four, for, um, solo 6-string electric violin (unknown for anything, as far as I know) are spare, spacious pieces, featuring just a few notes, oft repeated and separated by long silences. In an experiment in musical vandalism, I have smashed these two pieces together and filled most of the silences as best I can. At the heart of this new Frankenstein is a pair of “synchronic metropianos:” laptop-interconnected, strangely-tuned virtual pianos with embedded, pitched metronomes (don’t worry if that’s not crystal clear—you’ll hear). This pair, in tandem with a good, old-fashioned piano, creates a constantly shifting core of meter changes, among other things.

Surrounding this trio is a cohort of other laptop instruments. Some slowly sustain the piano sounds with modified golf video-game controllers (the tethers, fast becoming a standard instrument in the laptop orchestra worldwide; no kidding here!). Others type, creating chattering clusters of clicky sounds, all synchronized via a wireless network.

Finally (speaking of Frankensteins), others play a bizarre digital hybrid of the flute and electric guitar (affectionately called the blotar, a brainchild of the nutty Dr. Perry Cook), also with the tethers (multi-talented, these tethers), using a neural-network created with PLOrk co-Director Rebecca Fiebrink’s fantastic Wekinator.

Finally finally, the piece closes with the chatter of as many mechanical metronomes as we could muster, something Ligeti himself would surely have appreciated. Did I forget anything? I’m grateful to these wonderful PLOrk students for being so adventurous in taking on this piece and to Kathy Supové for inspiring this piece at the outset.

reh

Four Squared (in rehearsal, above) was premiered in April 2012.

Excerpt.


Justice Partial

for two strangely tuned Disklaviers, fiddle and laptop orchestra, commissioned by Western Michigan University for the Kalamazoo Laptop Orchestra.

~11 minutes

“Justice is a fickle thing!” This piece, like Justice herself, is one crazy contraption, with Disklaviers tuned up this way and that, tethered to one another via a laptop with a relentless virtual metronome, other laptopists chattering and chanting about this and that, typists typing away, busy as can be, a fiddler occasionally emerging, playing a tune, and mysteriously disappearing. Underneath it all is a carefully constructed if seemingly arbitrary set of limitations—laws, perhaps—that divide the ensemble in two, half believing one thing, half believing another. Rather than try to explicate these laws (those interested are welcome to examine the score and the software, where these laws are laid down), let’s just describe the whole scene as a musical-magical-realist-social-networked Law and Order about a Norwegian wedding gone wrong. Will Justice ever be Compleat?

I am grateful to Grady Klein for creating such a witty and intriguing text for the piece. I am also grateful to David Code and David Colson at Western Michigan University for initiating and enabling this commission.

Justice Partial was premiered in the Fall of 2012 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

JPstage


Symphony of W's
originally titled "W..."

commissioned by the Crash Ensemble
(flute/picc, clarinet/bass-clarinet, trombone, percussion, piano, laptop, violin, viola, cello, bass)

~24 minutes

Walking wobbly whilst waking and warning and being warned of the ways of the world and the underworld: these are all at work in the Symphony of W's. I call this a symphony in part because it is first and foremost simply sound and music: a "concord of sound," I hope. It is in four movements, like many symphonies, though perhaps the symphony it is most indebted to is Stravinsky's Symphonies of Winds, which is in but one short movement. Also, like many symphonies, it easily enough inspires a story, or the sense of a story as it may be.

W's kept cropping up as I composed this piece: the footsteps of a drunkard walking wobbly towards an abyss in movement 1; an Old Time tune called Ways of the World, which inspired the New tune I made for movement 2; an obscure Robert Frost poem—Warning—which I set more than 25 years ago and revisited for movement 3; and finally a sense of slowly waking, rising into a new world in movement 4 (there is also a bit of thievery here, from a famous Bach Chorale that features an ascending whole-tone scale). Finally, I can't deny that I was also hoping to reclaim this wonderful letter from it's political associations in some small way; it is full of zigs and zags and pizzazz, and deserves better (though the recent revelations of the former president's private painting habit make me wonder)..

Excerpts:

Wobble Walk
Ways of the Underworld
Warning
Whilst Waking

BTW: The Crash Ensemble is awesome!


Clapping Machine Music Variations

for laptops and any number of acoustic instrumentalists. Composed for Sideband.

~8–25 minutes

At the core of Clapping Machine Music Variations is a pair of laptop-based Drum Machinists. Surrounding this duo is an assortment of other instruments, some clearly defined laptop-based instruments, others more variable and traditional in type. CMMV takes specific inspiration from works by Steve Reich, Györgi Ligeti and Björk. In particular, the drum-machine algorithm was initially designed to mimic certain rhythmic processes in the Ligeti Études pour Piano, processes which also coincidentally generate the rhythmic pattern for Reich's Clapping Music (this should come as no surprise, as both composers were deeply influenced by traditional African rhythms); this algorithm is then used to generate variations on the original Clapping Music pattern, variations that are explored over the course of CMMV. More generally inspiring are pieces like Riley's In C,and Andriessen's Worker's Union, where some things are specified, other things are not, and anyone can join the party.

listen to the first version, with two violins.

under some duress, i wrote a paper about this piece.

Sideband performed this piece at ICMC in Stony Brook, 2010 and at the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener, Ontario—video.

PLOrk performed CMMV at Princeton in April 2010.

and the So Percussion Summer Institute did an insane version of CMMV in July of 2010; very rough handheld bad audio quality recording here.

i'm currently reworking CMMV so it can be performed by as few as two laptopists and two acoustic instrumentalists.

 


neither Anvil nor Pulley

for percussion quartet
composed for (and with) So Percussion

Unlike the anvil or pulley, the computer hides its purpose—to strike or yank will only break. What is this “tool” we call a computer? It is surely not really about computation, and what does it offer us as musical beings? neither Anvil nor Pulley is, in short, a wordless musical epic that explores the human/machine relationship in the digital age. Are there musical places we can travel to or musical buildings we can construct with this tool that were impossible—even for us to imagine—with its predecessors?

The cast: a turntable spinning vinyl with the fuzzy, crackling remains of some old sounding fiddles tunes; virtual metronomes, clicking relentlessly, but reset by striking some old chunks of wood; re-purposed golf video game controllers—joysticks with pull-strings, aka the tethers; a huge bass-drum with speaker drivers attached, performed with hand-held microphones, the resultant feedback tuned via digital filters changing to the key notes of a well-known Bach Prelude; difficult drum machines; four virtuoso and highly imaginative percussionists

The story: we begin with the crackle and fuzz of a needle dropping on vinyl… well, best just to look and listen... In five acts, of varying lengths and natures:

  • Act 1: Another Wallflower [from Long Ago]
  • Act 2: 120bpm [or, What is your Metronome Thinking?]
  • Act 3: A Cow Call [please oh Please Come Home!]
  • Act 4: Feedback [in Which a Famous Bach Prelude becomes Ill-Tempered]
  • Act 5: Hang Dog Springar [a Slow Dance]

Composing for (I really should say “with”) So Percussion is an incredible pleasure. Their collaborative and adventurous spirits (not to mention their sheer musical abilities) are awesome. In the past, I’ve had the privilege of actually performing my own music with them; while I don’t join them in neither Anvil nor Pulley, a doppelganger of sorts—in the form of a turntable—sits in.

So Percussion premiered neither Anvil nor Pulley in Austin, Texas on March 11 followed by the NYC premiere at Zankel/Carnegie on March 25. reviews here and here and here.

A recording was released in 2013 on Cantaloupe Music.



12bpm score page


From Orton

for Trollstilt (Monica Mugan, guitar; Dan Trueman, fiddles) and Jennifer Trueman (voice)

~13 minutes

Orton Enstad was my great uncle. He died at 102 in the fall of 2008, on the eve of election day. Ort was delivering meals on wheels to the elderly well in to his 90s, and I vividly remember him driving me around Wausau, Wisconsin (his home town), in his 90s, nothing to it. On his 100th birthday, I had the privilege of traveling to Wausau to play fiddle at the celebration; Ort was a great fan of the Hardanger fiddle. Ort's parents immigrated to the US from Norway and the Faroe Islands (the story goes that Ort's father stopped at the islands on the way to the US and picked himself up a girl while there). At some point, Ort became interested in thoroughly researching the family tree, and left us with a substantial collection of photographs, stories, and articles. In his last couple years, after his wife Segrid had passed away, Ort was stuck in a retirement home and none too thrilled about it. Every day he would march up two flights of stairs, get on the exercise bike, and pedal away while imagining the bicycle rides he used to take around the farm and church that his family built. Needless to say, Ort was a terrifically optimistic and inspiring presence. 

From Orton is a short piece we made to celebrate some of what he left us. Drawing on photographs, stories and personal memories, we put this piece together over the last couple years. We even have a recording of Orton himself reading the poem a couple months before he died, but couldn't find a way to include it in the piece (perhaps because it would have overshadowed everything else). Maybe for another piece.

image

premiered at Galapagos Art Space in NYC on 2/26/10

excerpts:
1
2
3


teeter.lack.fall
(an epic yarn (in 19 minutes))

for flute, viola, harp, hardanger fiddle, and percussion
composed for Janus

I've always liked the way good stories can collapse an entire lifetime into a brief moment, or extend a brief moment into what seems a lifetime. This is especially true of stories told--by the fire, on the beach--as opposed to read. teeter.lack.fall aims to tell such a story (or be such a story), using abstract musical words and paragraphs; short moments might take a lifetime, while lifetimes may pass in a blur. The Hardanger fiddle is a special inspiration for this story, given its long history of tales and legends featuring maids and maidens, dancers and drunks, lovers and murderers. My memories of some of these tales are more qualitative than specific; I remember how it felt to hear the story more than I do the story itself.

an excerpt from the premiere.

image


silicon/carbon
(an anti-Concerto Grosso)

for chamber orchestra and laptop anti-concertino
commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra

~15 minutes

The Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk) is a new ensemble of computer-based instruments that is exploring how laptops can be used to make music in both new and old-fashioned ways. New: exploring the laptop’s ability to manipulate time, timbre, and tuning, among other things; Old: operating (more or less) within the familiar social and acoustic contexts of the orchestra, chamber ensembles, fiddle bands, jam sessions, etc…. We use funny looking speakers that roughly emulate the way acoustic instruments cast their sound about, and we sit on pillows, as if to meditate, but more often than not debugging our “instruments.” In this piece, a subset of PLOrk sits in front of the orchestra, in the manner of a concertino, though musically acting quite differently, sometimes processing the sounds of an orchestra to create gentle harmonies, other times providing a (wirelessly synchronized) warped metronome (inspired by Norwegian dance music, of all things) for the orchestra to follow. The laptop itself is our instrument in this piece; we smack it (and are actually able to control its sound this way!) and drive with the trackpad and keys, sometimes treating it like a glass harmonica, other times a weighty hand-drum. In the original Star Trek (I believe), a distinction was kept between carbon-based and silicon-based beings. Carbon and Silicon, but one row different in the table of elements, are functionally quite similar, but different enough that life is built on carbon, computers on silicon. In this piece, we are exploring one particular way that familiar carbon-based music making can meet new, silicon-based music.

nytimes pic

Silicon/Carbon
was reviewed here.

See some wonderful videos made by Jeremy Robins about the piece.

check out the score.

listen at the ACO site
(though the streaming quality is poor)
--performed by the American Composers Orchestra
--with members of the Princeton Laptop Orchestra
--Hardanger fiddle solo by Dan Trueman
--conducted by Jeff Milarsky



Lasso and Corral: Variations on an Ill-Formed Meter

for violin, hardanger fiddle (or scordatura violin --AEAC#, low to high strings), bass clarinet, piano, and laptop

~13 minutes

In the study of musical scales and meters, the notion of well-formedness usually manifests itself as a set of specific constraints. For instance, one common constraint is maximal evenness; in the case of a well-formed diatonic scale, the seven notes will be distributed as evenly as possible across the twelve half-steps that divide the octave. Similarly, the beats that define a meter will be spread out as evenly as possible across the smallest pulse that evenly divides the measure. Scales and meters that satisfy these constraints are deemed "well-formed" (see Justin London's work for further information about this concept with regards to meter)

In this context, there were several starting points for this piece. The first is the Norwegian telespringar, a dance that has a decidedly unusual meter; each of the three beats are of significantly different lengths and it is impossible to evenly subdivide the meter—it feels as if time has been warped. Another starting point is the North Indian dhamar tala (5+2+3+4), and while the metric theory has a way for explaining such uneven divisions, its asymmetries are still somewhat unsettling.

Two particular experiences with metronomes also provided some initial inspiration for this piece. The first came years ago while I was practicing rapid spiccato with a metronome, gradually increasing the tempo of the metronome while endeavoring to keep the bow strokes even. I was struck by how my sense of time changed whenever I stopped bowing — the metronome seemed to speed up! It was as if time slowed while I was paying such close attention to playing rapidly, and then resumed its normal rate when I stopped. This experience was clear as day and reproducible; if somehow we could quantify our cognitive sense of time’s speed, I am sure this would be measurable.

The second experience came during rehearsals of another piece of mine (“Matisse’s Garden Lesson,” from Five (and-a-half) Gardens) which features an old-style mechanical metronome tick-tocking away on top of a toy-piano. During the rehearsal, it became clear that the metronome was malfunctional and a bit asymmetrical; one beat (with the ticker moving from left to right) was a bit longer than the other. Remarkably, we adjusted to this asymmetry and became accustomed to this lopsided quality.

Variations on an Ill-Formed Meter uses an audio-visual laptop-based click-track to explore one particular metric structure. The click-track, which is audible to the audience (no headphones), reveals different aspects of the meter to each player independently and changes over the course of the piece, sometimes from bar to bar (each player follows their own laptop’s click, and the four laptops are networked synchronized). It begins in a somewhat simple 7, and remains in 7 throughout, but the nature of the 7 changes dramatically, even while the overall tempo remains constant. The players can see their click-track via an on-screen rotating phasor which helps coordinate the players the way a conductor might, keeping the orientation of the meter transparent. Naturally (or unnaturally), this click-track is no ordinary click-track, and at times the underlying pulses speed up and slow down, but in highly consistent, programmed and learnable ways. It also is a pitched click-track, providing a changing harmonic backdrop for each variation.

Of course, there are many other aspects to this work and in particular I am inspired by the awesome and wonderful Scandinavian fiddle bands JPP, Frigg, Våsen, and others; in a way, I think of the click-track as a lasso used in a valiant attempt to corral an out-of-control fiddle band. I am also naturally inspired by the mechanical rhythmic explorations of Nancarrow. Finally, the harmonic material for this piece is largely driven by the possibilities of an unusual tuning (AEAC#), itself asymmetrical and seemingly ill-formed, for the Hardanger fiddle.

Variations was composed for Todd Reynolds, Ken Thompson, Kathy Supove and me for the New Interfaces for Musical Expression festival in NYC 2007. Subsequent performances at Banglewood Mass-Moca and ICMC in Copenhagen with the Finnish group Uusinta.

Score
click-track software
(using the Cyclotron)
an excerpt
.


Triptick:

for piano trio
(composed for the Society for New Music)

~22 minutes

in three parts, to be performed in any order, combination, or individually.

"verbing weirds language." Calvin.

In my very first composition class when I was 22 (I got a late start), one of my peers argued passionately that a good piece will have all its materials in the opening moments and that its trajectory will be predetermined from this moment on. Beginner that I was, I was impressed if not convinced, and today I find it hilarious. The three “variations on a piece” that make up Triptick all begin identically and then diverge, introducing new material as needed. Another motivation for this design were words that have multiple seemingly unrelated meanings: Foil, Clock, Stretch, Keen, Hide, Trip, Tick, etc.... (try thinking of these when falling asleep). Is it possible for music to function analogously? In each of these pieces, I had a pair of such words in mind and allowed their meanings to inspire my compositional process, sometimes directly, as with “stretch,” which directly motivated both the warped meters and stretched chord progressions (where a stack of minor-9ths is gradually stretched to a stack of major-9ths, for instance). A third inspiration for composing a “variation in pieces” is the work of many painters (my mother included) who will paint a series based on a single subject; why choose one? Finally, I have an abstract feeling that somehow this piece is indebted to Schubert; material heard earlier floats by periodically, and then disappears, as if in a dream--not unlike my experiences hearing, say, Schubert's Eb Piano Trio.

asd

A recording of Triptick was released by the Society for New Music in early 2010.

Left (Foil/Clock): score
Center (Stretch/Steel): score
Right (Keen/Hide): score

 


Scales and Metronomes:

for solo cello
(composed for Florent Renard-Payen)

~18 minutes (in 4 movements)

Etudes can be merciless, driving the lonely student into unstable psychological states. There is a wonderfully ugly painting by Matisse of a boy practicing piano; a metronome lurks behind the music stand and a statuesque, didactic figure looms behind the boy. Between a rock and a hard place. While these four pieces are not literally etudes, they do obsess at times on scales, particular textures and techniques, and the relationship a hard-working student might have with a metronome (in this case, the sometimes-possessed metronome inhabits the cellist's feet). But, unlike a set of etudes, the intent here is not to provide a weight for a student to lift in an effort to build their technical muscles. Rather, my interest is in the extreme psychological states. This is not to say that I hope to put Florent or any other cellist between a rock and a hard place, but I do hope that these pieces invite a kind of practice where one, like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, can be lost from the world for a while and not sure of returning quite the same.

Florent has performed the work several times (and survived!). I am greatly indebted to Florent for inspiring this piece and also for his careful attention to it; most of the bowings and articulations are due to his suggestions.

an excerpt from movement 3, from the premiere.

adf

Five (and-a-half) Gardens:

... is an hour-long performance piece combining animated paintings, spoken word, and electronic chamber music performed by the groups Trollstilt and So Percussion.

The animated paintings, by Judy Trueman, are framed by a whimsical creative filter where older works of art (pieces by Matisse, Agnes Martin, and others) are re-imagined as gardens, and then abstractly painted and animated.

Music by Dan Trueman is performed with a "garden of instruments," including amplified tubes (the eToobs, reaching 10 feet in length!), terracotta pots, buckets of water, toy pianos, and a big blue wheelbarrow. A laptop is used to process these instruments and "paint" unusual sonic textures on a set of hemispherical speakers distributed throughout the ensemble.

Poems by Jennifer Trueman, inspired by the writings and quotations of these same artists, emerge from the "garden" as well, performed by J. Trueman and Rinde Eckert.

Finally, in some performances, the gardens are explored by Tara, the performance weaver created by Tomie Hahn and Curtis Bahn.

The video included here (at right) includes only the animation; the piece proper is a live performance piece, and seeing So Percussion perform with the various instruments is central to the experience.

here's the score. for more information and media, visit the Five (and-a-half) Gardens website.

Available from New Amsterdam Records.

 

Five (and-a-half) Gardens on Vimeo.

excerpts:
Martin's Garden
Matisse's Garden Lesson
Cal's City Garden (with Cage)
Matisse's Coastal Garden
The Wheelbarrow Piece
Noel's Song
Noel's Garden
Postlude

 


Pieces for PLOrk

I've compsed a bunch of pieces for the Princeton Laptop Orchestra which i co-founded and direct. The PLOrk website has extensive documentation of these pieces and many others written for the group.

--The American Composers Orchestra premiered a piece Silicon/Carbon: and anti-Concerto Grosso, combining PLOrk and the ACO at Zankel Hall on April 25; reviewed here, videos about the project here.

--In May 2008, PLOrk completed a commission from Turbulence for a new PLOrk piece, The Telephone Game: Oil/Water/Ether.

 

fd

Traps Relaxed:

for strings, percussion, and electronics
(composed for the American Composers Orchestra)

Traps Relaxed is an expanded version of Traps, which I composed for string quartet and electric violin/laptop in March 2003, as the 2nd Gulf War began. Traps Relaxed, composed during the run-up to the elections of 2004, follows a similar process as did Traps, so I’ll begin by including some notes from the original Traps:

“ While I don’t usually get technical in program notes, but here goes… Traps is a delicate exploration of a simple process I call “traps.” A trap is a way of forcing whatever note I play to be transposed to a single pitch (or set of pitches); while I play, the computer remembers that last couple seconds of what I have played and then, depending on the note that I play, transposes it’s memory to the “trap” pitch. So, for instance, when the trap is a high F, if I play an A below that, the “trap” will, some short time later, transpose my remembered A up a minor-sixth, so it sounds a high-F. The only “problem” is that sometimes the trap’s memory might be long enough to remember other pitches I had played prior to the A, say, a low open D-string, so that D will also get transposed up a minor-sixth, to B-flat, yielding a not-quite-simultaneous sonority D–B-flat–A–F. This is precisely how Traps begins, and it continues slowly through a series of ascending traps, some of which are single notes, others two-note traps.”

Traps Relaxed starts similarly to the original Traps, but gradually diverges, relaxing into possibilities offered by the larger ensemble, and ending up half-again as long (about 13 minutes). In tonight’s performance, I am using eight hemispherical speakers to distribute the sounds of the “traps” throughout the ensemble. These speakers, which I designed with my father and Perry Cook, radiate sound more like conventional instruments and, if things go well, should help the electronic sounds emerge seamlessly from the acoustic ensemble. I have used these speakers with smaller ensembles, but never on this scale before, and I can safely say that I would never have composed this piece without them; I simply can’t imagine this piece realized with a conventional PA system.

Traps Relaxed was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, Steven Sloane, music director; Robert Beaser, artistic director; Dennis Russell Davies, conductor laureate, for its “Orchestra Underground” series. It was composed while supported by an Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts.

see this article for more information about this piece and the traps algorithm.

here's the score.

Premiered at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on January 21, 2005.


Transparent Body:

Transparent Body was composed for and with the Terrain Dance Company (a duo for Christopher Williams and Rebecca Lazier) and premiered at Danspace in New York City in September 2004. Transparent Body was featured at the International Computer Music Conference in the Fall of 2006 in New Orleans.

Composition of Transparent Body was supported in part by a grant from the New Jersey Council on the Arts.

--Watch a video of a revised version of Transparent Body. Video quality is poor, but you get the idea.
--Watch a video of the premiere of Transparent Body. Much better video quality, but a bit long winded....


A Cappella:

for eight cellos

A Cappella is a short, intimate piece, probably best heard from within the ensemble, where the subtle details of each instrument are transparent, summing up to a meditative, immersive whole. Inspired both by the sheer beauty of the sound of a cappella vocal ensembles (which is surely exceeded by the sheer beauty of eight cellos!) and by the abstract textures of some electronic music, A Cappella begins where an earlier piece of mine, Counterfeit Curio, finishes, belaboring possibilities that were at first inaccessible. A Cappella was composed for the Tarab Cello Ensemble in January 2003.

On the Bridge Records release, Machine Language.

an excerpt


Traps:

for string quartet and electric violin (or violin/viola/5-string violin) and laptop

I don’t usually get technical in program notes, but here goes… Traps is a delicate exploration of a simple process I call “traps.” A trap is a way of forcing whatever note I play to be transposed to a single pitch (or set of pitches); while I play, the computer remembers that last couple seconds of what I have played and then, depending on the note that I play, transposes it’s memory to the “trap” pitch. So, for instance, when the trap is a high F, if I play an A below that, the “trap” will, some short time later, transpose my remembered A up a minor-sixth, so it sounds a high-F. The only “problem” is that sometimes the trap’s memory might be long enough to remember other pitches I had played prior to the A, say, a low open D-string, so that D will also get transposed up a minor-sixth, to B-flat, yielding a not-quite-simultaneous sonority D–B-flat–A–F. This is precisely how Traps begins, and it continues slowly through a series of ascending traps, some of which are single notes, others two-note traps.

Traps was written in the opening days of the 2nd Gulf War; March 2003. Shocked and awed, indeed. Traps was premiered in the Fall of 2003 with the Brentano String Quartet and recorded with the Daedalus String Quartet.

On the Bridge Records release, Machine Language.

An excerpt


Counterfeit Curio

for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin/viola, cello, electric violin/laptop, piano, percussion.
commissioned by the Society for New Music

We discover a very old, noisy recording of an unfamiliar tune, a tune that seems archaic, belonging to a distant culture. We listen, analyze, dissect. We use it, appropriate it, and create a new piece that is meant to exhalt it. Our new piece begins with the old recording, and then abstracts it, taking it elsewhere, until we discover our own music in the noise of the old recording.

Well, the story of Counterfeit Curio is quite the opposite. The “old, noisy recording,” which ends the piece, is in fact a fake, created in the waning months of 2002, and the tune it holds is in fact original, new, and grows out of the music that precedes it. Rather than serving as a model, a trove of material to be used as a starting point, the tune is a postlude, an incomplete summary of its inspiration. The story of Counterfeit Curio is then not in discovering the history of the original tune, attempting to verify its authenticity, but in discovering the tune itself.

Counterfeit Curio, composed in the Fall of 2002, was commissioned by the Society for New Music with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts.

On the Bridge Records release, Machine Language.

An excerpt


Tunes for 6-string Electric Fiddle and Hardanger Fiddle

mp3s of a growing set of tunes for my 6-string efiddle, using varying scordatura:

--Sprung
--Wallflower (transcription)
--Dervish
--Duncan
--Battooota
--Four (transcription)

ok, here's one for Hardanger fiddle that several people asked about:

--Brurmarsj frå New Jersey (for Beth and Jason); mp3/transcription

*see also the Trollstilt page for other fiddle tunes with guitar

***see also also also Nancy Zeltsman's arrangment of Wallflower for marimba in her new book.

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Three Pieces

for hardanger fiddle and orchestra
commissioned by the American Composers Forum, with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation.

I have always loved the sound of the Hardanger fiddle. With its resonating strings and sparkling timbre, the instrument grabbed my ears when I first heard it some 10 years ago and never let go. The traditional music for Hardanger fiddle (or hardingfele) is tuneful, yet hard to whistle; rhythmic, yet hard to dance to; complex, yet seemingly transparent. These three pieces aspire to be the same, and to celebrate the beauty of the hardingfele. While inspired by (and indebted to) the traditional music of Norway, this music is its own, and reflects my personal experiences with a wide range of music.

Ricercar, like some of the Renaissance ricercare, begins as a kind of “searching out,” with the improvisatory sense of a prelude, and later features layers of rich counterpoint, with many lines moving against one another; the hardingfele pilots throughout, never having a moment of rest, and is even in control when the full orchestra is at work, overwhelming the fiddle. I first composed Ricercar with Monica Mugan, of my duo “Trollstilt,” and I am indebted to her for its spirit.

Fire Song is a simple tune that reaches upwards, gently, and repeats itself in various combinations and harmonizations. This short song began as a piece for solo violin, was later expanded for string quartet, and finds itself now using the full string sections of the orchestra—in the past, I have been asked to make the piece bigger, longer, more ambitious, but to me its magic lies in its restraint; making it bigger only makes it weaker. Perhaps in the future another version of the tune will reveal itself.

For much of its history, the hardingfele was unwelcome in the church, in large part due to associations with the Devil. In Jack’s Polka, the devilish side of the instrument comes forth, associated with an Irish myth—the Jack-‘o-Lantern, and the story of Jack, who nearly succeeded in evading the devil—and the Polish-American Polka, twisted beyond recognition. Lawrence Welk, beware!

Three Pieces, composed for Andrea Een and the St. Olaf Orchestra, was commissioned and underwritten by the American Composers Forum, with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation.


excerpts:
Ricercar
Fire Song
Jack's Polka

scores for: Ricercar, Fire Song, Jack's Polka



Still

for violin, electric violin/laptop/spherical speakers, and cello

Still was composed for the American Composers Orchestra OrchestraTech Festival in 2001. Still (which originally had the awkward and irritating title, dis-(re)locations) was completed on September 11, 2001—I was holding the score in my hands as the news of that day came in—and premiered just a dozen blocks north of the WTC site the following month; I went as close to the site as I could that evening and watched the empty trucks move in and the overloaded trucks move out. While not normally prone to paranormal or metaphysical thinking, I found it disconcertingly eerie that the kinds of musical ideas I was working with in the piece—continuity vs. discontinuity; slowly descending, vanishing gestures; recollection; disintegration; senses of place—were so powerfully—indeed overwhelmingly—at work during that day, and yet the piece had been completed earlier, without any knowledge of what was to come.

On the Bridge Records release, Machine Language.

An excerpt


Roulette

for orchestra

Roulette began as a duo of the same name for Hardanger fiddle and guitar (my duo Trollstilt, with guitarist Monica Mugan). Much of the piece is inspired by both the music and design of the hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle), an old traditional instrument from Norway. The hardingfele has a flat bridge which encourages a forceful playing style of primarily double-stops (two notes at a time). Running through this bridge and underneath the fingerboard are a set of five resonating strings that sing along with the double-stops, providing a continuous harmonic glow that shifts gently with the tonality of the tunes. In a general sense, this design served as a metaphor for the construction of Roulette; gentle counterpoint in the winds is echoed quietly in the strings, and vigorous "fiddle" tunes are in turn reinforced by the winds. Unlike the hardingfele, however, the "understrings" (resonating strings) in Roulette can take the leading role, driving the music forward.

The traditional dance music of the hardingfele features repetitions and variations of short pseudo-melodic loops. Because of the double-stopped texture, the tunes that the fiddlers play (often inspired by cow calls and hollers) become obscured, providing a "sense" of tunefulness while frustrating efforts to isolate and sing the tunes. These "pseudo-tunes" are further obfuscated with lopsided rhythms and ornamentation, which makes it all the more frustrating to the outsider when they see the fiddler tapping along with an even beat that is seemingly unrelated to the tune. Similarly, in Roulette, tunes of various lengths are repeated and varied, all over a continuous complex of "footstomps" in the percussion. Ultimately, Roulette is about a kind of dance music and Roulette's orchestra a hardingfele on steroids.


score


Machine Language

for violin, electric violin (or viola), cello and percussion

In the study of genetic algorithms, computer scientists create virtual species with virtual genetic codes and allow for spontaneous mutations within some kind of Darwinian "survival of the fittest" context. These species reproduce and evolve, doing in minutes what has taken many millions of years for "real" creatures to do, often resulting in an unexpected beast who survives alone, victorious. In one particular case, the test for survival was a wrestling match; generation after generation, virtual wrestlers would tangle, mutate, and (if they survived) reproduce, their bodies evolving into highly optimized wrestling machines. One notably successful (and amusing) species that emerged was an enormously tall, wide and skinny creature that simply fell flat on top of its opponent, smothering it.

Coming in at just under 20 minutes and moving with geological--as opposed to computational--swiftness, Machine Language is in part an imagination of the sounds of the languages these virtual species might speak, or perhaps of the music they might make. There is, I think, a sense of undirected evolution in the piece, but rather than gradual evolution, we have "punctuated equilibra"--discrete moments of change followed by lifetimes of relative stasis. And, rather than admiring a celebrating victor, we finish with harmonious (for lack of a better word) cooperation. 

On the Bridge Records release, Machine Language.

An excerpt


Study II: in grain and shadow 

for electric violin (or viola) and laptop

Study II: "in grain and shadow" is from a series of pieces I have been composing that explore various potentials of my instruments, including the Bowed-Sensor-Speaker-Array and the electric violin. Using a simple granulizing delay-line algorithm (the munger~, which I wrote in C as an external for MAX/MSP, released as part of the PeRColate toolkit), "in grain and shadow" makes a lot from little, taking soft sustained notes and building fluctuating, harmonic textures. In addition to the familiar expressive dimensions of the violin, a foot-pedal is used to "play" the density and character of the clouds of grains that shadow the violin's sound, drawing them in tight around the violin, and then releasing them, obscuring the source completely; it is a song of slow inhales and slower exhales.

"in grain and shadow" is included on a CD, titled "./swank," by my duo interface (with Curtis Bahn). "./swank" has eight tracks of improvised electro-acoustic music recorded live at Mobius Art Space in Boston (Perry Cook joins us on his sensor-digeridoo, the DigitalDoo, for one track) and was released by c74 Records (owned by Cycling74, makers of Max/MSP) in 2000.

mp3 and score


Spring Rhythm 

for string quartet

Spring Rhythm was inspired by two disparate sources: the Medieval Motet and the famous "spatter" paintings of Jackson Pollock. The textures of Pollock's paintings seem highly musical to me; it is not hard to imagine the beautiful musical textures we might create if we were to treat his paintings as "scores." I am impressed by the physicality of his paintings; they convey a sense of gravity and effort. In constructing the textures of Spring Rhythm, I imagined how Pollock must have felt working on, for instance, Autumn Rhythm (after which my piece is named). After "spattering" an initial texture, I iterated it, and with each iteration, I would subtract one or more of the parts, replacing them with new parts and attempting to do alone what generations of Medieval composers might have done with a single motet. Over the course of many iterations, the original texture (or Motet) gradually changed into something entirely different--the sense of the original, however, always remained, if becoming ever more distant...

On the Bridge Records release, Machine Language.

An excerpt


Waltz

a sonic scene

I had a scene in mind when putting together Waltz, a scene involving a one-sided conversation, an open window, music from afar, and a listener drifting between the day and day-dreams. I find it fascinating how we can listen through recordings to create virtual worlds and extreme psychological spaces. Waltz features real-world sounds, a 1917 recording of a Brahms Waltz (so noisy that it is remarkable that we can listen through it and hear anything at all), Monica Mugan's voice, and layer upon layer of hyper-processed electric violin. 

Listen (ca. 12 minutes): mp3