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Procession is a single movement work of about 18 minutes duration, written in June of 2023 during a residency at Avaloch Farm Music Institute. It is based on a sequence of 12 chords, which cycle over the course of seven sections as a continuously varied progression of melodic tracings, rhythmic patterns, and riffs. Notably, Procession is my first new chamber work since 2017, during which time I’ve developed my practice in live electronic music, among other pursuits. As such, I have returned to writing for acoustic instruments with a renewed focus on evoking states of continuous flow. The title references this stylistic direction by way of Christian theology, where it describes the emanation of the Holy Spirit.
A labrys is a double headed battle axe, which was widely used in ancient Minoan culture as a symbol of feminine divinity. This piece builds on the legacy of my works for solo performer with electronics, in particular The Soul Is the Arena, written for Joshua Rubin in 2010, and Luciform, written for Claire Chase in 2011. The opening section features an archaic modal melody that culminates with one of Rebekah’s techniques – a primal scream played on the bassoon’s high G. The detailed exchange that follows is based on polymetric repetition; Rebekah’s arpeggio-line enters every 4 beats, while the synthesizer “hits” enter every 7 beats. This displacement provides the framework for a larger scale unfolding of tersely interlaced gestures, which periodically converge in bursts of energy. Accompanied by shimmering, bass heavy electronics, Rebekah fluidly commands and extends the range of her instrument, encompassing hypnotic, lyrical, volatile, and luminous states.
Sacrament uses repetition and variation to explore connections between speed and resonance, spaciousness and overload, growth and decay. In the opening section, arpeggiating woodwinds summon a distorted synth line, leading to a series of riff-oriented sections that cycle back to a varied beginning, nine minutes later. As in many of my works, the performers in Sacrament are invited to strike a balance between fierce precision and transformational nuance. The flute creates virtuosic contrasts between rapid fire arpeggios and “distorted” breath tones, the clarinet evokes fluidity and color, while the marimba alternates between hypnotic riffs, stentorian pulses, and ecstatic gestures that dance on the threshold of syncopation and pointillism.
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”.
Mysterium was written for Claire Chase, Joshua Rubin, and Rebekah Heller, in celebration of a collaborative history dating back to 2006. As such, it is a synthesis of several styles I’ve explored since we began working together, thematically inspired by the evocation of supernatural phenomena and religious ritual (mysteries). These include archaic modal melody with florid ornamentation, the blending of analog synthesizers and acoustic instruments through overlapping fluctuations of pitch and noise, spectral transformations, and echoes of religious-themed modernism in the tradition of Klang-era Stockhausen. I chose the title in tribute to its myriad historical associations, which include the Eleusinian Mysteries, the liturgical chant O Magnum Mysterium, and C.G. Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis, a treatise on his extensive study of alchemy.
The rhythmic figure heard in the opening melody is derived from the “sat-nam” chant of kundalini yoga, which roughly translates to “truth is my name.” The long sustained tones on “nam” are ornamented with melodic flourishes inspired by Algerian gasba flute music, alongside the colorful noise of Ciat-Lonbarde and Moog synthesizers. Following this introduction, an incantatory bassoon solo emerges, summoning a primal feeling of longing. The full dynamism of the trio unfolds in response, balancing ethereal passages with tight unison gestures. The remainder of the piece carves pathways through a series of ritualistic vision states, and concludes with a transformation of the C spectrum, using graphic notation to guide performers in “sounding the beyond”.
Cantus is inspired by the metrically free style of plainchant, in particular the music of Hildegard of Bingen. The score is proportionally notated, and gives no indications regarding rhythm or tempo. Instead, the player is invited to devise their own phrasings, timing, and articulations. In the beginning of the work, short melodic motives alternate with tremolos and long sustained tones, which eventually give way to florid melismatic passages. When played with reverberation, ecstatic melodies create harmonic resonances, while expansive sustained tones serve as refrains, recalling the reciting tones heard in sacred vocal chant. The work climaxes with a paraphrase of Hildegard’s Nunc Aperuit Nobis Clausa Porta (Today A Closed Portal Opened For Us), an antiphon to the Virgin Mary. This gives way to a primordial evocation, resounding in the form of a low open G.
Mariel and I previously worked together during her tenure in Mivos Quartet, who have performed my piece Moonblood extensively since 2012. This collaboration began with her invitation to work together on a solo piece, and was recorded during the sessions for her album Cartography. Tuning the lowest string of her cello down to an incantatory G, we used my pre-recorded electronic loops as an aural score which Mariel interpreted by ear. The opening is a call and response between the extremes of the cello’s register, evoking a liturgical responsory. Over time, these transform from cavernous depths into a climactic and joyous frenzy of noise riffs. The title references The Irradiant Force of Sound, a 2003 talk given by the composer Iancu Dumitrescu, and describes the act of shining brightly. More specifically in the context of Dumitrescu’s thought, it refers to a sacramental revealing of the inner life of sound. It is dedicated to the great composer, conductor, and musicologist Ana-Maria Avram (1961-2017), a dear friend and fearless advocate for the advancement of spectral musics.
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 is a Greek word for string instrument or harp, from which the word psalm is derived. It originally referred to “a song sung to a harp”, from psallein “to pluck”. Inspired by the sustained electronic harmonies of Maryanne Amacher’s ‘VM3 From The Levi-Montaclini Variations’, I used an autoharp to design the tuning of the quartet’s sixteen open strings, a chord rooted on the cello’s low B-flat. The sonority features a slight detuning of the second violin and viola on the order of cents. When played in combination with corresponding strings of the same pitch, these fine differences produce a variety of “singing” or beating effects.
In response to this commission by the Museum of Biblical Art for their “Hearing the Sacred” series, I drew inspiration from the opening of the Book of Ezekiel, which vividly describes the prophet’s vision of four anthropomorphic angelic creatures, who, in consort with a mechanical wheel structure, are capable of unique forms of levitated motion. As such, the piece narrates a mystical experience, perceptually revealed through the resonance of open strings and their natural harmonics.
(Mivos Quartet live 2015)
Moonblood was the first major work I wrote after moving to NYC in 2004, and is rooted in techniques I had studied and developed during my prior four years as an undergraduate at Oberlin Conservatory, while also drawing from new experiences performing noise-based improvisation with electric guitar and electronics. It features several stylistic hallmarks that have remained central to my music in the years since, such as fluctuating timbres that give rise to an abundance of shimmering sounds, and the contrast between sections based on rhythmic pulse and “smooth time”.
My initial sketches for Moonblood were created in the late summer of 2004, using edited recordings of electric guitar, voice, and strings as source material for an electronic music track. I then wrote the instrumental parts by interpretively transcribing the electronics, as well as collaboratively improvising on top of the track in live settings. Following the Spring 2005 premiere by Allsar Quartet (the day of my 26th birthday), a first version for string quartet and electronics was performed extensively, including a fall 2008 European tour with iO Quartet and Hyperion Ensemble. Later in 2012, after experiencing Mivos Quartet rehearse the work without electronics, I recast it for string quartet alone, without making alterations to the original instrumental parts.
The form of Moonblood was used repeatedly in my works of this period, reflecting an affinity for mythological narratives of death and resurrection. Broadly speaking, it consists of an introductory section (rooted in inharmonic sounds), a first climax (rooted in pitch and rhythmic density), a section of repose, and a final ecstatic climax.