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A labrys is a double headed battle axe, which was widely used as a symbol of female divinity in ancient Greek and Minoan cultures. Combining archaic modal melody, polymetric repetition, and a highly detailed interplay between synthesizer and bassoon, the work encompasses hypnotic, volatile, lyrical, and luminous states.
“Matter is spirit moving slowly enough to be seen.” – Teilhard de Chardin
The word “Sacrament” describes a holy ritual in the Christian Church, that is regarded as an outward and visible sign of divine grace. I have chosen the title in reference to the sacramental concept of an object or ritual which creates a bridge between two worlds, or threshold crossing. The initial inspiration for this piece is heard at the beginning – a fast arpeggiating riff in A minor, punctuated by silence, which repeats continuously with variations. Over the course of the work, the music explores contrasts between speed and stillness, primal pulse and fluid motion, spaciousness and overload.
The three movements of “Lightmass” evoke living architectures and urban spaces – outward manifestations of inner experience, a living building as a divine body. The first movement can be equated with a gothic cathedral (St. John the Divine, NYC), with music evoking an organ, ecstatic plainchant, stained glass windows, and many different kinds of shimmering light. The contrasting second movement evokes imposing modern and art deco architecture, ancient pyramids, aerodynamic curves, the metallic steel of skyscrapers, and the contemplative awe of expansive urban landscapes. The third movement is transformational, and begins with chant-like sounds evoking playful dancing light, and the heaviness of stone. Following this introduction, a repetitive and ritualistic chant-like passage is gradually transformed into a much more fluid sense of time, where different types of musical material co-exist with one another. A confluence of green spaces, deep breathing, the inner radiance of hard matter, shimmering light, and subterranean depths. At the premiere, the composer John Adams praised the work’s “stentorian gestures”.
Sanctuary marked a new direction in my work, in that it more fully embraces the riff-oriented repetition present in my solo electronic and metal music, combined with my roots in modernist, spectralist, and minimalist approaches to modern classical composition. Sanctuary is a word derived from the latin Sanctuarium, literally meaning a “container” for holy things (sancta or sancti). Over time the meaning was extended to include places of safety, where one was safe from arrest due to the laws of the church. Architecturally, it can refer to a specific place around an altar in a Christian church, an intermediary or threshold space inhabited by divine presence, namely where the eucharist or divine body is received. Anthropologist Marcio Goldman, in his writing on the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble, distinguishes between cosmological systems (i.e. mappings of divine and human worlds, virtual and real worlds) and the actions the cosmology allows practitioners to produce. That learning a religion like Candomble, “cannot mean passive apprehension but rather an experience that modifies all of the elements involved in that process – the matter being ‘transmitted’ and ‘assimilated’, but also the agents or subjects who…are engaged in an ongoing transformational process.” In this work, I seek to explore the idea of a sanctuary as a space to enable action, and spiritual practice as a technology for transforming the self and the senses. The musicians of TAK engage in sonic actions, transformational processes, and negotiations with virtuality. The sensory elements present in this work; sound and light relationships, acoustic and electronic sound, stark rhythms and ecstatic gestures, may suggest ways of navigating threshold spaces, cultivating sanctuaries of interdependency, connectedness, and power.
“Anima” for three cellos, was written as a response to “Sumna” a work of mine for solo viola da gamba. These form part of a group of works inspired by ancient vocal traditions of the east and west, in particular the vocal styles of Hildegard von Bingen, Sephardic music of Medieval Spain, and Tibetan Buddhist chant. The trio uses a melodic fragment from Sumna as its basis, a kind of “lamento motif”of a descending melodic figure, expressing sadness or grief. The “lamento motif” has a long history in Western music, dating back to the “Lamento di Tristano” of the 13th century, all the way through works by Purcell, Monteverdi, and Bach. Envisioning the trio as a kind of ecstatic consort music, I arranged the lamento motif using a heterophonic texture, where each instrument plays simultaneous variations on the same melody. This is contrasted by more the more primal sound of the introduction, a kind of chanting pattern that evokes both meditative breathing and the low bass voices of Tibetan Buddhist ritual. The title is a latin word which has various meanings, including a current of air, wind, air, breath, the vital principle, life, and soul.
One of my few works for solo instrument without electronics, Sumna was composed in summer of 2015, for my longtime collaborator Kivie Cahn-Lipman. The word Sumna means “prayer” or “hymn” in Sanskrit, and the music features echoes of Hildegard of Bingen, heavy metal riffing, and the gamba works of Marin Marais. Sumna is dedicated to Fred Lerdahl.
Originally planned in 2010, I composed this piece to commemorate my residency at The Stone in August 2015, and was honored when the great Stephen Gosling agreed to premiere the work. Composed in three movements, it takes influence from the “Black Mass” of Scriabin, Franz Liszt’s “Transcendental Etude No. 12”, the unheralded masterwork “Piano Sonata No. 2” by Sergei Protopopov, and Messiaen’s “Livre d’Orgue”, all filtered through black metal, analog synths, and electronic noise. A celebration of mercurial and expansive energies.
i. 11’ (after Hildegard of Bingen, orchestra)
ii. 6’ (orchestra)
iii. 9’ (orchestra with electronics)
II. organ and electronics
III. organ and electronics
V. organ and electronics
A concerto for flute and electronic music.
Latin lux, lucis (light) + form, “light-form”
Lucifer “light-bearer”, “the morning star”
Seeking illumination through transgression of boundaries.
Trembling Time II was written for members of Talea Ensemble in September of 2009, the occasion being a European concert tour in which we collaborated and shared billing with Iancu Dumitrescu and Ana-Maria Avram’s Hyperion Ensemble. The title itself comes from a quote by Horatiu Radulescu in which he describes a feeling experienced when observing the slow movement of clouds. Although this image may suggest a work of gradually changing drone music, the music itself is brimming with mercurial energy. Along with my two string quartets written in 2004-06, it is highly representative of my writing for strings, and explores approaches innovated by Scelsi, Dumitrescu, Avram, and Radulescu through my own particular sensibility, combining my roots in metal and noise with the mystical and perceptual poetics of Romanian spectral music.
The title “Psalterion” a is a greek word for stringed instrument or harp. The word psalm is derived from this root, and originally meant “a song sung to a harp.” Imagining the quartet as a kind of bowed harp, I used a small zither to design the special tuning of the 16 strings, a chord rooted on the cello’s low B flat. To make the open strings “sing”, the second violin and viola are also slightly detuned, creating “beating” effects when played with corresponding strings on the other instruments. Before composing the piece, I created a collage-text, which I used as guide when imagining the sounds and planning the overall structure. It featured the well known vision of Ezekiel’s “wheel within a wheel” from the Hebrew Bible, descriptions of angels and cosmological realms from the Urantia Book, and personal accounts of near-death experiences. The piece was commissioned by the Museum of Biblical Art for the Allsar Quartet, and is dedicated to my mentor and friend Maryanne Amacher (1938 – 2009).
(Mivos Quartet live 2017)
Moonblood was composed in fall of 2004, the first major work I completed after moving to NYC. It was created in several stages – firstly as an electronic music piece (using recordings of electric guitar, voice, and strings), then as a work for string quartet and electronics, where the score was written by freely interpreting the electronic track. After hearing Mivos Quartet rehearse the piece without electronics in 2012, it became a work for string quartet alone. When first hearing this piece, listeners might notice how pitched and inharmonic sounds are continuously fluctuating, creating a “shimmering sound.” This reflects the influence of composers such as Scelsi, Dumitrescu, and Saariaho, alongside my time spent exploring Fred Frith-style free improvisation on electric guitar and electronics. The style and form of Moonblood builds on earlier works from my student days at Oberlin Conservatory, such as ii.23 (2002), and 2.20 (2003). I would condense collections of extended (1 hour or more) drone works into shorter pieces with distinct sections, using abstractly narrative structures inspired by comparative mythology and black metal. Broadly speaking, the form consists of an introductory section (rooted in fluctuating inharmonic sounds), and first climax (featuring sustained harmonies and rhythmic density), a section of repose, and a final ecstatic climax.