Breaking Point (2013) 12′
electric guitar, clarinet, trumpet, piano, percussion, string quintet.
Commissioned by Present Music (Milwaukee, WI). Premiere May 25, 2013. Recording coming soon.
Spin-Off (2013) 8′
electric guitar, flute, violin, piano.
Commissioned by Musical Chairs Chamber Ensemble (Staten Island, NY). Premiere April 27, 2013. Recording coming soon.
One-way Trip (2011-12) 25′
clarinet, horn, piano, 2 violins, viola, cello, and bass.
Commissioned by the American Academy in Rome. Live premiere recording by the Berlin Philharmonic Scharoun Ensemble.
Aside from these purely musical interests, this piece is loosely autobiographical in that the composing of it came in the wake of an exciting but tumultuous summer in 2011. I was eagerly and frantically preparing to move from New Jersey (where I had spent the past 4 years as a graduate student) to Rome; this excitement, however, was tempered by my regret with having to say “goodbye” to my friends knowing that we would never again live in the same place. Meanwhile, my landlord/housemate contracted an alarmingly contagious illness that eventually killed her, shocking me and adding a new cast of people and events to my last month in New Jersey than I would never have imagined.
Though One-Way Trip is not specifically about those things, it does capture the sheer variety of those experiences, and the ineffable way in which they all became related to each other. The piece has a sense of development in which all ideas influence one another, pushing and tugging each other in unexpected directions, resulting in moments of humor, disquiet, disorientation, raucousness, and calm. In spite of each musical thread having these moments of entanglement with the others, however, they are all ultimately on their own one-way trips.
Short Winds (2010) 7′
versions for wind quintet and saxophone quartet.
I. Wiggle Room 3′
II. Lick Machine 3′
Commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival. Recorded by the Aspen Wind Quintet (Francesco Camuglia, Claire Brazeau, James Shields, Darrel Hale, Michael Oswald). Additional performances by Quintet of the Americas, Darmstadt Staatsorchester, Madera Wind Quintet, CLAW, and students of the Yale School of Music. Sax Quartet version performed by Apeiron Sax Quartet and QUADRAtomic Sax Quartet.
These two movements are from Short Winds, a series of short pieces for wind quintet. Wiggle Room displays the strong urge to leave itself with some of its namesake, and to avoid having to commit to any one particular musical idea. This happens both in the playful way it weaves between suggesting different stylistic interpretations of its own material, and in its form: it begins slithering and amorphous, with the instruments all occupying a place of common timbral ground, before coalescing into a capricious and mischievous lilt, and finally, petering out just as mysteriously as it began.
In the very energetic Lick Machine, each instrument starts with its own bluesy riff, or “lick”, and develops and alters it as the piece progresses. As this happens, evolving grooves emerge as each instrument’s riffs are combined in different ways with those of the other instruments, ultimately leading to a frenetic and dizzying rave at the end of the piece. This is not an entirely smooth process, however; like an old, hobbling machine, the music occasionally hits a snag, goes off the rails in a surprising direction, and must be stopped and started again to get back on course.
Hypnic Twitches (2010) 9:00
for string quartet
commissioned by New York Youth Symphony First Music Commission. Additional performances by Perlman Summer Music Program.
Velvet Hammer (2009) 6:30
for flute, clarinet, electric guitar, piano, acoustic bass
WINNER of a 2011 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award
Nominee for the 2011 GAUDEAMUS Prize
commissioned by NOW Ensemble. Additional performances by Crash Ensemble, Ensemble Klang, Alter Ego, and Left Coast Ensemble.
CLICK HERE FOR THE ALBUM VERSION
An insistent and throbbing pulse underlies a musical texture in which everything is informed by and expands upon the timbre and effects of the electric guitar, creating a sort of super-electric guitar in the process. Whether the guitar is using a delicate and shimmering delay or taking it “up to 11” with delirious shredding, the other instruments all find their own ways to amplify each effect and make them their own; simulating interference, delays, distortion, and more, in the process.
More personally, I wanted to use Velvet Hammer as an experiment in combining my favorite aspects of rock and classical music in as genuine a way as I could. From rock, I borrow its visceral and extreme sound world, both in the way the electric guitar is used and in the use of extreme registers and extended techniques in the acoustic instruments. From classical, I use its sense of form – unlike the predictable and undramatic shapes most rock songs take, I opt for something that is dynamic, unpredictable, and infused with a sense of tension and trajectory from beginning to end.
Last, the most important (and difficult) thing I wanted to do was to try channel rock music’s directness and accessibility. This is difficult because, in some ways, that directness and accessibility is antithetical to concert music which is complex, abstract and demanding of the listener (and I like all of those things). There is something very appealing to me about rock music’s unbridled and unrestrained sense of expression, though – whatever it is trying to express, it just goes for it; sometimes guilelessly, but generally with less of the artifice and sometimes crippling self-awareness that can accompany those of us who write more formalized music. As a concert music composer who grew up playing blues before Beethoven, I have always felt the competing pull of these two musical worlds and value systems, and a desire to reconcile them in a way that preserves what I love about each without diluting either. While I go back and forth on how possible I think that is, Velvet Hammer represents my most earnest attempt at it to date.
Scale 9 (2009) 6′
for clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion
also available are sextet (fl, cl, vln, vcl, pno, perc) and septet (fl, cl, vln, vla, vcl, pno, perc) versions
Recorded by TRANSIT for their debut EP, TRANSIT.
Commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival. Performances by Argento Ensemble, Alter Ego, TRANSIT, Psappha Ensemble, What’s Next? Ensemble, BGSU Contemporary Players, and the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble.
After having spent the better part of half a year studying intensively for major exams while working on my doctorate, I found myself wonderfully energized and ecstatic with my new abundance of free time once they were over. This piece was started while I was still in the midst of that euphoric, manic delight of having a huge weight lifted from my shoulders; and its energy, rapid rate of change and capriciousness are very apparent. Scale 9 is the scale used to measure mania in the DSM-IV, a manual widely used by psychologists which provides diagnostic criteria for mental conditions.
Fighting Words (2010) 14′
for soprano, cl/b. cl, vln, vcl, elec gtr, piano, perc, drum kit
Commissioned and recorded by Newspeak. Additional performances by What’s Next? Ensemble.
Fighting Words uses excerpts from various American presidents’ speeches on war and fashions them into a sort of vague, archetypal speech of its own. Eventually, I imagine the piece covering the gamut of emotions and wartime issues; but due to the its short nature, it right now focuses primarily on the aggressive, “call to arms,” action-taking aspect of war speeches. In terms of content, it is not about any specific issues; my goal was not to present what my views are, but rather to earnestly set what I think are compelling and evocative bits of text from presidents — both contemporary and old, liberal and conservative, revered and reviled – in order to create a provoking and perhaps, for some, troubling experience. Music is a powerful and emotionally manipulative medium; there may be parts of the piece in which listeners find themselves feeling conflicted and uneasy as they hear rousing or poignant music which viscerally and emotionally affects them paired with text they find unsettling. This conflict is desirable.
“People, listen to me:
Frankly, definitely, it’s here.
Danger against which we must prepare.
We did not ask for this challenge,
but we accept it.
Liberty or death.
We must be the great arsenal of democracy!
We must prepare.
We know well we can’t escape.
We must prepare for danger.
We all know we can’t escape danger,
or the fear of danger,
by crawling into bed
and pulling the covers over our heads.
Let’s not blind ourselves.
Evil forces which have crushed so many others
are already within our own gates.
Your government is every day
ferreting them out.
They seek to cause internal strife.
These trouble-breeders have but one purpose:
it is to divide our people,
to destroy our unity.
What can the world hope for
if no turning’s found from this dread road?
That’s not a way of life.
In the long history of the world,
only a few have been granted the role
of defending freedom…
we welcome it.
This is a war for us all!
This war is against us all!
When they try to intimidate us?!
We will not be!
They will hear from all of us!
Let us begin.”
Little Green Pop (2008) 10′
for sop. sax, ten. sax, tbn, elec. gtr, pno, perc, sound engineer
WINNER of a 2009 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award
written for and recorded by Ensemble Klang. Additional performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Present Music.
As soon as I began writing what would become Little Green Pop, something about the sound-world of Ensemble Klang’s instrumentation screamed “Alien Pop Music” to me. I’m not sure why – I have never heard any of it, nor have I ever had any particular obsession with extra-terrestrials. Perhaps it had to do with the chirpy and elemental opening ideas I had jotted down, and the fact that I’d envisioned them nestled in a thick bed of reverb. Regardless of the reason, I could tell I was not going to be able to shake the imagery of little green men jamming from my head, so I decided to embrace it and see where it would take me.
Like most vernacular music, the core musical materials of Little Green Pop are quite simple, universal and accessible. This is particularly true of the pitch material used; like much of our own popular music, it is heavily reliant on scales, modes, and stepwise voice-leading. Where the piece becomes more foreign, however, is in its textures, modes of repetition and “groove”, and means of development. Along those parameters, it seems to adhere to rules and idioms that are not quite our own.
Though Stephen Hawking recently warned us that we should avoid attempting to contact aliens for fear they may want to take over earth for its natural resources, this is very good-natured music, and I am not too concerned about the guys responsible for it giving us a hard time.
Short Orbit (2009) 8′
for piccolo/alto flute, viola and harp
written for and recorded by Janus. Additional performances by Musical Chairs Chamber Ensemble.
String Quartet (2009) 14′
for string quartet
written for the Formalist Quartet
Hell-Bent (2006) 9′
for violin, cello and piano
WINNER of the 2008 Lee Ettelson Composers Award (Composers Inc.)
WINNER of a 2007 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award
recorded by the New Pacific Trio. Additional performances by New Millennium Ensemble.
On every level—from the tiny gesture that permeates the piece, to the large-scale structure—Hell-Bent is a series of intense crests, with each hurdle seeming larger and more daunting than the last.
Initially, I approached the piece from an abstract perspective, thinking it would be a fun compositional project to work with a musical idea that is incapable of being static, that is—like a black hole—always racing toward its own demise as it increases in energy and contracts towards singularity. It became clear fairly quickly, however, that the piece was much more autobiographical than it was about an abstract idea, and that my urge to write something with so much urgency and unease likely had something to do with my going through the frazzling and nerve-wracking process of applying to grad school at the same time. Finishing the piece well before I knew the outcome and could hope to write a happy ending, the music never resolves itself; instead, after a brief respite, it goes through one more large crest, and vanishes.
Bad Wiring (2006) 5′
for fl, cl/b. cl, (doubling bass), vln, pno, 2 perc.
Commissioned and recorded by the Norfolk Contemporary Ensemble
Clunker Concerto (2010-2011) 19′
for percussion quartet on junk car parts and chamber orchestra
Commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra.
Performed by Line C3 Percussion and the American Composers Orchestra. Additional performances by the Purchase Conservatory Orchestra (cond. by Ransom Wilson) and Contemporaneous Ensemble (cond. David Bloom).
Three minutes of excerpts are posted here (this is all that I am legally allowed to post). Please contact me/send an email if you’d like a perusal copy of the complete recording and I will be happy to send it to you.
When starting Clunker Concerto, my first impulse was to write a raucous, in-your-face piece in which a junk car is broken down into its constituent parts, creating an arsenal of new and abrasive junk percussion instruments. And while there is still plenty of that clangor in Clunker, as I began to explore the array of junk I’d acquired on my several trips to the local junkyard, it dawned on me that it might be more fruitful to not just use the junk as a means of adding extra grit to the orchestra, but to delve as deeply as possible into the subtleties of each junk instrument in order to see what sounds might be coaxed out of them, and how the orchestra could respond to and interact with those sounds.
Whether it is a tam-tam made of sheet metal whose pitch spectrum informs the orchestral harmonies played against it, or the acoustic beating of two closely-tuned car wheels mimicked by woodwind multiphonics, or even the inherent pitch abilities (or more aptly, limitations) of a bowed fender being used to determine the orchestra’s melody notes; I try to explore the nuances and capabilities of each junk instrument as carefully as I would were I writing for a violin, clarinet, or any other traditional instrument. The result is a rather “un-percussiony” percussion concerto – just as often as items are struck with mallets and hammers, they are bowed, scraped and massaged. (The bowed fender goes so far as to involve bowing with the right hand while fingering the fender like a fretboard with the left; this allows the bowed pitch to be adjusted by a semitone, which ultimately turns it into a fully chromatic instrument!) I was happy to discover that by using the idiosyncratic and often wonky natures of the junk instruments as a starting point, I was able to come up with musical ideas I would have never otherwise thought of. Much of these ideas focus on seeking out the common timbral ground between these unusual junk sounds and those of the orchestra, and finding ways to fuse those two sound worlds as deeply as possible. The other, more playful, side of the piece, is its desire to capture the rickety, hobbling nature of a junk car. The music sputters along through off-kilter grooves, has abrupt shifts in tempo akin to an old car haltingly changing gears, and features belligerent and uncouth orchestrations.
Though some of the junk used in Clunker Concerto is unlikely to catch on (few orchestras have access to psychedelically painted VW Bug hoods), most of what I have used is readily available in any junkyard. Furthermore, many of the junk instruments turned out to be surprisingly robust and versatile, which gives me hope that some of them will become more common additions to percussion ensembles and orchestral percussion sections in the future. Perhaps there is room for a bowed hubcap orchestra somewhere.
Out of Line (2008, rev. 2009) 9′
for chamber orchestra
commissioned by the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival;
revised for and recorded by the American Composers Orchestra
contact me for a perusal recording
Wind-up Etude (2012) 5′
for solo piano
commissioned by the Fisher Piano Competition. Recording coming in May 2013. Performances by the competitors of the Fisher Piano Competition.
Teaser (2010) 10′
for solo cello
commissioned by Mariel Roberts. Recording from Roberts’ premiere performance. Additional performances by Francesco Dillon, Christophe Matthias, and Richard Duven.
Whether in music, or story-telling, or dating, a good tease always seems to be about giving just enough of something to keep the one being teased – if not a bit ruffled and challenged – tantalized, and drawn into what the teaser is going to do next. Like that, this piece thrives on acknowledging the expectations it sets up and toying with them, and on continually reinterpreting its own ideas in mischievous and unexpected ways. The provocative and playful opening sets the tone for a piece in which music of extravagance, coquettishness, or naïvete, can quickly give way to that of plaintiveness, frenzy or derangement.
Though Teaser is not meant to be a theatrical piece, the performer is encouraged to physically communicate and exaggerate the large variety of affects and emotions inherent in the music.
Elastic Loops (2007) 8′
for solo piano
WINNER of a 2008 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award
WINNER of the Hawaii Institute of Contemporary Music Competition
commissioned by Ruby Cheng. Additional performances by Thomas Rosenkranz, Marco Marzocchi, and Sean Friar.
recorded by Sean Friar
Written as a parting gift for my undergraduate piano teacher, Elastic Loops is a fusion of our two very different styles of playing. My tendency has always been towards powerful and explosive gestures; my teacher, on the other hand, plays with a graceful fluidity and refined touch, which she valiantly tried to instill in me during our lessons. The result of this alchemy is a piece that requires both modes of playing, with the former often interrupting and sometimes derailing the latter.
The title, Elastic Loops, describes the primary way in which the piece develops: there are loops, or ostinati, that are gradually condensed, elongated, thinned out and cut short. Sometimes this happens subtly, with the result being a sense that one is listening to a repeating loop with minute variations between each repetition; at other times, the ostinati are changing in so many ways between each subsequent iteration that the music sounds as if it is continuously developing, rather than based on any sort of repeating figure.
Oboemobo (2010) 7′
for oboe and effects pedals
commissioned by Music Alive! at Bard College and Conservatory of Music for oboist Claire Brazeau
Burn-off (2012) 3′
for percussion quartet
commissioned by Line C3 Percussion
Recording coming soon.
Ruining Fusion (2008) 9′ (EXCERPT)
for percussion quartet
written for and recorded by So Percussion
Dawn Raid (2006) 9′
for eight percussionists
Commissioned by the University of Northern Iowa Percussion Ensemble
Boomdinger (2009) 9′
for laptop orchestra, video, and optional percussion
Collaboration with Cameron Britt.
written for and recorded by the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk), Matmos and So Percussion
You may also watch the video directly on YouTube.