Premiere Echoes of Light for solo percussion.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011 8pm
St. Peter’s Church (619 Lexington and 54th St.)
$10 suggested donation
MATA Interval 4.3 Amped/Electrified
Nouveau Classical Project will be performing the New York premiere of Ananta for toy piano and cello.
Thursday, March 10, 2011 8pm
Issue Project Room (232 3rd St. Brooklyn, NY)
$10/$8 for members
Music for Percussion, Electronics, and Video
Performance of Echoes of Light, part of the Random Access Music Secret Series
Saturday March 12, 2011 8pm
The Secret Theater (44-02 23rd St. Long Island City)
Proper Glue Duo and Phyllis Chen
Premiere of In Dark Masses, Slowly Rising for percussion duo and toy piano
Thursday March 24, 2011 9pm
Barbes (376 9th St and 6th Ave.)
Commissions concert by Melanie Sehman
Performance of Echoes of Light on Melanie’s Commissions tour this spring.
Tuesday March 22, 2011 8pm
I agree with the idea of composers writing the music they truly want to hear regardless of who accepts it. The problem now is, and has always been, authenticity. In the academy, that is more apparent because how can one be truly authentic when writing such esoteric music? Today, many genres are mixed together in a single piece and creates many layers that can serve as distractions from a personal voice. Not to pick on New Amsterdam Records because I like the idea of mixing many different influences, but some of the albums still need work. The compositional technique is there and strong, but the feeling is lost and many times feels and sounds stale. Conversely, Matt Marks’s The Little Death Vol. 1 is music for crazy people, but each track is successful in revealing the composer’s intent. It is a very fine, subjective line when innovations in new music start to catch on because the composers are still experimenting with ways to successfully write. It will be exciting to see the developments in successful genre blending. Regardless of opinion, successfully challenging the notion of style such as New Amsterdam has done, should be encouraging for all composers no matter what style.
I would also like to add that no matter how the end sound was produced, the sound should stand alone. Program notes are useful for interested parties, but should not be necessary for the listening experience. After all, isn’t the reason we write music because the idea is better communicated through a medium absent from everyday language? We live in a society that embraces a “more is better” sentiment and incorporating that into our music as composers is irresponsible. Understandably, we are all products of our environment, but isn’t an awakened consciousness and the ability to think outside of our surroundings the beauty of being human and the magic of expression?
I recently had the honor of composing a piece for the Newspaper Blackout Poetry concert on December 6th. The concert was unique for me as well as ACM. For me, it was the first time to work closely with a poet and the first time for me to travel to a premiere. For ACM, it was the first time the program featured member composers exclusively.
Compositionally, it was the first time in a while that I used a key signature to compose. Deriving pitch material from spectrally analyzing the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl, I arrived at a key signature present in the under tones of the bowl’s fundamental. One aspect I wanted to capture was the role of the voices and piano, such as having the piano help the singers in more chromatic sections while still sounding musical. Overlapping gestures in the voices and piano helped to fulfill this idea and help develop the musical ideas before bringing in the text.
While setting the text, I worked closely with Austin Kleon through email to manipulate the words in order to help establish the musical nature, which in turn helped to convey the tone or mood I perceived from the poetry. I think he will agree once he hears the piece that the music amplifies the impression the words have on the reader.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to travel to Chicago from New York for the premiere. Traveling is generally exciting, but traveling for a world premiere of your work goes beyond excitement. It was a relaxing stay as everything related to the music was taken care of by Seth and ACM. I met up with Seth one night for a drink and had a good time before having one final rehearsal the next day. While in rehearsal, I received excellent feedback from the singers about their favorite parts in the piece and things of that nature. In performance, I could tell that all three of them had a connection with the piece because their performance was a sensitive, convicted interpretation.
To top off an excellent premiere, the concert was reviewed favorably in Chicago Classical Review.
Overall, the experience from writing the piece with freedom to try new things to hearing it performed with excellence to meeting other member composers in ACM was an unforgettable one. I hope to be involved in more concerts like this in the future.
In addition to the professionalism when dealing with unexpected challenges, the performances in every song were of the highest caliber. The singers gave each piece their full attention and commitment, which was most certainly conveyed to the audience that night. This level of excellence was noticed by the Chicago Classical Review, which is one of the biggest names in the classical scene.
Music critic Wynne Delacoma speaks very highly of the performance in general as well as getting into some brief specifics with certain pieces. I had the fortune of being one of the pieces given individual attention and here is an excerpt of comments made about my piece:
…Manchester’s On Top of Wheat Silos, the three singers’ voices blended with the touching fragility and clarity of medieval chant.
It was an honor to be featured along side so many strong works and to interact with excellent performers. It was a humbling experience as well and I have only gratitude to Seth Boustead and ACM for being so committed to promoting the music of living composers. The full article can be read here.
New Amsterdam Records is enjoying many releases this year and seems to be creating a certain style or brand. Many of the releases I’ve heard this year feature composers that combine both classical and rock/pop elements. Penelope is no exception, but is the most convincing attempt from the label so far. Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider writes this song cycle for alto voice, a chamber string orchestra, drum set, and electric guitar among other things. One limitation all of these records have so far is a loss of rock music feeling. More clearly, a lot of these albums add drum set or other rock instruments but often it comes off as stale and too Dream Theater for my tastes. That is where Penelope differs.
These songs pull off the chamber pop sound while keeping hold of the rock feeling in the drums and guitars. Probably the most successful composer that does this is Clint Mansell in The Fountain soudtrack, but Snider is a close second. The Lotus Eaters is the best example of Snider’s control both compositionally and emotionally. Snider’s string writing is quite stunning and Shara Worden’s voice clearly floats above these lush textures. The drums and guitar are not distracting, but add a nice element to the composite sound.
New Amsterdam should be proud to release their most convincing album that has equal footholds in the classical and pop worlds.
On Top of the Wheat Silos (poem by Austin Kleon), my latest piece for soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone voices, and piano has gone through many changes since the last post. This project had challenges in maintaining a personal voice and vision with balancing intuitive vocal writing. While addressing the idiomatic vocal writing in the individual parts as well as creating a rich ensemble sound, I decided to write…in a key signature? Yes, this piece is tonal, but not functional tonality as it modulates quite a bit. I have not written a tonal piece of art music in many years. Coming back to tonal writing after studying counterpoint and through writing atonal music allowed me to think and explore individual lines to make each part interesting.
On Top of the Wheat Silos combines spectral techniques to achieve an extended tonal sound, while keeping the vocal lines tonal. Extended tonality usually means the use of microtones or other non-equal tempered notes used to extend the note range of a piece. In this case, the piano acts to extend the tonality of the vocal lines by swiftly modulating from and back to the tonal center of the voices. This is not a random modulation, but derived from the spectral analysis of a bell.
The fundamental of the bell is C#4. Tones from the C# that make up the immediate sound are a chromatic scale up to A4. The harmonics, overtones, and undertones are what I used in this piece to establish and also extend the tonality. First, the undertones of the bell make up a G harmonic minor scale, therefore, the voices are generally in G minor. Accidentals, such as Ab, are used in the main melody, which refers to C minor, but sounds modal. Second, the harmonics and overtones were “tuned” to the closed equal tempered notes and are used in the piano to punctuate and color the piece. The piano will play with the pedal down for most of the piece to allow all of the waves to interact and shift, as they do in bells. Finally, the modulations are constructed around various harmonics of the C#, creating various major/minor shifts to give the piece momentum and emotional weight.
Providing this analysis is meant to give interested parties a glimpse into the compositional process. Aesthetically, the listener does not need the above explanation to enjoy the piece (hopefully!). I feel this piece is accessible to professional musicians and everyday music enthusiasts alike, which is appropriate as Accessible Contemporary Music is premiering it.
What David emphasizes in his other posts on New Music Box is true originality. True originality comes from fearlessly exploring all things that interest an artist, rather than camping out in a particular style. Style does not define a composer, the composer defines style. David is a great example of this from his gorgeous microtonal works to his toy piano improvisations, the entire gamut is David Smooke. He is a professor at Peabody and this is David. He is an example of originality because he knows himself and draws inspiration from every aspect of his life. Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of any artist? It seems with the new generation of composers one of the many things missing to create an honest, authentic statement is life experience. To paraphrase David, he says that if musicians do not live outside of music, what can they bring to music?
On both sides of new music whether it is traditional sounding orchestral music or complex chamber music, originality does not shine through the music. In the case of the traditional orchestral music, the majority of it sounds lazily thrown together for a crowd pleasing aesthetic. The polar opposite, the complex music, grabs at lengthy explanations and concepts that is not communicated through music. Neither case is more desirable as the music suffers no matter the aesthetic. The focus should be making one’s own way in the music industry through writing music with the goal of an artistic statement, rather than money, as the end result.
Originality is not easy. We have to balance what we learned from our teachers with our own vision and somehow sound like us. The constant flux between technique and aesthetic is a long road filled with strife, anxiety, and fear. Simultaneously, the journey is also filled with vast reward. The rewards may be few when compared to failures, but as long as we can draw from these personal and very real experiences, originality will take care of itself, and someone out there (performer, critic, fiscal sponsor) will seek you because of you.
Relating to my piece in a physical and metaphorical sense, the music does represent the process of V838 becoming a supergiant, but rather focuses on the actual light echo’s path in illuminating the gas and dust that surrounds it. Physically, the sound wave interaction between the percussion instruments will produce tones on the vibraphone without the player striking the vibraphone. Other physical interactions include the vibraphone waves producing the illusion of tuning the non-pitched instruments, such as the tam-tam and Tibetan cymbals.
Metaphorically, the piece is quite sparse, meaning to symbolize the vastness which contain such isolated phenomena. Another striking aspect about this image is the clear structure the illuminated gas and dust maintain. I tried to maintain a clear and logical structure to the piece in the context of its sparseness to allude to my own interpretation and impressions of the photographs.
In the context of the infinite, such events appear chaotic and formless, but when studied, reveal that nothing can escape the laws, or more loosely, ordered chaos of the universe.