Cold Air

Two years ago I completed my 31 Days project: 31 new pieces in just intonation in 31 days; one piece everyday from July 11–August 10, 2014. The process involved experimenting in different styles and exploring a new plethora of sounds. During the process of composing a piece every day, I found my perceptions of sound had changed and my experience of how I perceive and understand pitch had been fundamentally altered. Now, two years later I’ve had the opportunity to listen to many of the pieces again, and to reflect upon that process. As an homage to that month, I composed a new piece that is very much a product of the challenge I took on in 2014. Cold Air is a 31-limit piece for oboe with clarinet quartet (two clarinets and 2 bass bass clarinets). The audio is rendered using samples from NotePerformer and the Sibelius pitch bend function. Like many of my works for just intonation, the piece explores combinations of tones found in the harmonic series. (I recommend viewing either in full screen, or on YouTube.)

Greeley Square and Back Again

Today is World Listening Day 2016! And like in past years I’ve taken this day (or week) to post field recordings that I find around me in my locales. This year’s theme for WLD2016 is “Sounds Lost and Found” and is focused upon changes in in our soundscapes over long periods of time. Unfortunately I don’t have any long (e.g., years or decades) apart field recordings, but I was able to give two different views of the same route hours apart. The first portion of the recording is taken from 15:20–15:28 EDT, and the second portion was taken walking back the same route 22:25–22:33 EDT. The recordings show the difference in activity around the Herald Square subway station and Madison Square Garden in the afternoon and in the later evening on a Sunday.

Remembering Chris Allen

I met Chris Allen in January of 2003. I had just started the undergraduate program at San Diego State University’s School of Music & Dance and he was the pianist for Laurinda Nikkel’s vocal studio. Chris played piano for me in my lessons, at my juries, and for a few of the ensembles I performed with at SDSU. Chris was my first real intense experience of working one on one, consistently, to prepare and perform a piece of music with another person. I was so green at the time I didn’t even realize that I supposed to pay the pianist for playing at my lessons. I’m sure I still owe Chris some money for a few of those lessons and coaching sessions and juries.

chris

Christopher Allen (1957–2016), a joy of a human being and a wonderful musician.

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Misconceptions on Partch

On April 7 Paul Simon announced the release of his new album, Stranger to Stranger. Rolling Stone has called the album “genre-bending” and “experimental,” and other websites have used similar descriptors. Stranger to Stranger features collaborations and sounds that are new to Simon’s work: African and Peruvian instruments, synthesizers, gospel quartet, and beats by Italian DJ Clap! Clap! Most notable (for me at least) is Simon’s use of some of Harry Partch’s instruments on the album; the sounds of the Chromelodeon and the Cloud Chamber Bowls (see below) can be heard on the albums opening track, “Insomniac’s Lullaby.”

Harry Partch's Cloud Chamber Bowls (Photo by Steven N. Severinghaus)

Harry Partch’s Cloud Chamber Bowls (Photo by Steven N. Severinghaus)

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Sacred Favorites

Of all my experiences as a musician, the six years I spent as a Gentleman of the Choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral is perhaps the most formative of them all (possibly matched only by my experience as a barbershopper). I sang in hundreds of services, performing music that ranged from ancient chant to contemporary works that were composed by my fellow choristers. Some of the most memorable include Thomas Tallis’ Lamentations, Joseph Clokey’s Treasures in Heaven, and Poulenc’s O magnum mysterium. As Easter was last Sunday, I thought I might share some of the favorites I’ve sung over the years.

The final phrase from Amy Beach's "Peace I Leave with You"

The final phrase from Amy Beach’s “Peace I Leave with You”

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Shadows

Back in November 2015 Shadows (a short overture for orchestra) was premiered alongside several other new works for orchestra by Composers Collective (a New York area-based group of composers). Throughout Shadows I explore changing, yet static harmonies that shift around the different instruments and timbres of the orchestra. I especially enjoyed writing for a small orchestra within tight time constraints. Special thanks to Daniel Ott for keen insight into the technique of orchestration; Brent Dutton for providing a critical ear during the composition process; David Štech for his excellent conducting; Alicia Lieu, who more than anyone else deserves the credit for making this opportunity possible; and Siobahn Sung and my family for their unending support.

 

John Cage Wins Grammy Award

Amid the hubbub of the last week’s Grammy Awards, many of the winners get brushed aside and go unmentioned. Among my circles on social media this usually manifests with celebrations and laments of the Grammy Awards for classical music (pop and classical do not compete against each other at the Grammys). However, even among the people proclaiming victories or lamenting the lack of press for classical music, almost no one has mentioned that this year John Cage was awarded a Trustee Award by the Recording Academy. Continue reading

Hearing the Music

On the recent Lunar New Year I spent the afternoon catching a classic film for the first time, Dirty Dancing. Many of you are rightly showing disgust with me that I waited 29 years to finally see this movie, but sometimes, for one reason or another, a person just doesn’t see a particular movie or other show or song or whatever. The movie was fun and entertaining, and said many things about how people from the 1980s see the 1960s, and despite the blunt handling of class and gender issues, and Roger Ebert’s one-star reviewDirty Dancing has become an iconic film from the late 1980s.

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David Bowie (1947–2016)

The first time I remember hearing about David Bowie was from Kurt Cobain. Track 4 on Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York was Bowie’s “Man who Sold the World.” I’d never heard this song, nor of David Bowie, but I did enjoy it, and brought Bowie into my consciousness. (Many years later I recognized that a song my father had synched up as the music to a Seseme Street segment was “Space Oddity.”) A few years later a close friend of mine played “All the Madmen,” we listened to the track several times that afternoon while getting high. The themes of madness and conformity was especially evocative at that point in my life.

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Subway Drain

On the western end of the Manhattan-bound platform of the 21 Street – Queensbridge subway station in Long Island City, there’s a drain that always has the sound of water running. It’s surprisingly similar to the sound of a flowing creek or brook—but in a New York City subway station! Yesterday afternoon I happened to have my hand recorder with me, and I figured I should capture this beautiful and complex sound. Starting at about 45 seconds, you’ll here the Jamaica-bound F train arriving on the opposite track, stopping at the platform, and then rolling out of the station.

The sound was recorded at about 17:15 EDT on September 16, 2015.