Traditional American Music
My background as a musician begins with Traditional American music. Old time music, blues, country and swing are more deeply part of me and my music than any classical genre. The works which are closest to my heart often draw on this. In the following pieces I aim to go beyond evoking the sounds of these styles and focus on connecting with what in means and how it feels to create and perform traditional music.
Suite for Solo Cello was written for Alison Rowe in 2015 and 2016. Its structure closely mirrors the iconic Bach suites, but in place of each Baroque dance is a fiddle tune in the style of a different type of rural American dance music. These tunes are original works by the composer, but are deeply rooted in traditional fiddling. Each movement explores a different fiddle style, ranging from western swing in the “Rag” to straight ahead bluegrass in “Breakdown”. Along with fiddling the cellist evokes the banjo, mandolin and upright bass both individually and collectively. This requires the performer to draw upon an understanding of the feel, styles and sounds of the rich tradition of American music making.
Sonata for Horn, Cello and Banjo is built on my arrangements of three traditional gospel songs, all of which I learned from my grandfather. The first two songs are by know composers: John Whitfield Vaughn and William S. Pitts, respectively. That said, both of them have been adapted and integrated into the traditional American repertoire, to the point that they have certainly become folk songs. For this piece I am drawing on the aural tradition of singing and playing them, rather than referencing any notated version. The composer of “The Old Country Church” is not know, though it is likely the most widely performed of these songs. I have arranged these songs for this unusual instrumentation, placed them in a concert hall setting, and structured the performance like a classical work not in an attempt to alter them to my tastes, but rather to change the way the are listened to.
This piece is a part of an ongoing project in which I draw upon my familial heritage of traditional American music making to teach performers highly personalized renditions of folk songs which highlight both the skills and passions of the performer and the beauty of the original melodies and poetry. I provide them with printed lyrics, but all of the musical material is transmitted entirely by ear during one on one sessions. While this is a labor and time intensive process, it allows for a great deal of interpretational freedom while remaining true to the aural tradition of this music.
Folk Duet No. 1 is the first of a series of scores which present a sort of Contemporary Traditional American Music performance practice. I have created a cellular score with a mix of notation and text instructions to encourage classical musicians to think about this music in an interactive, non-linear way. I feel this brings the performers much closer to the mindset of most tradition musicians.
Jazz and Improvised Music
Music has never existed without improvisation for me. Because of this I have been drawn to jazz for most of my life.
17 Images and a Tune is a piece conceived of to facilitate a meaningful interaction between jazz and classically trained musicians. This is accomplished through the use of a graphic score which guides the performers by indicating musical density, texture and motion without determining pitch, rhythm or instrumentation. The players move through 17 graphic cells, each carefully hand painted by the composer to include motif, thematic development and an overall arch to the piece. These cells are bookended by an Ornette Coleman-esque tune. The piece is structured like many free-jazz compositions, with a head in, a collective improvisation lead by a series of soloists and a recapitulation of the melody or head out.
17 Images and a Tune was commissioned by bassist Leon Dorsey in 2016.
Sketches is Five Colors is a guided improvisation for any numer of musicians, inspired by the modal compositions of Miles Davis and Bill Evans.
Fantasy for Buchla No. 1 is a short composition performed on (or by?) the Buchla Series 200 synthesizer. While I have used the Buchla to generate sounds for a number of pieces, this is the first time I have ever created a single patch which I felt successfully performed an entire piece of music. To accomplish this, I took advantage of the Buchla’s incredible combination of modules including multiple banks of sequencers, the aptly named “source of uncertainty”, voltage controlled frequency modulation and band-pass filtering, along with a nifty feature of the Buchla’s envelope generators which emits a pulse at the end of an envelope (thus triggering another event). I sculpted these elements into a carefully structured patch which at the press of a button performed a nearly four-minute piece of music with no exact repetition.
The Buchla was filmed performing the piece and recorded onto ¼ inch tape. As a final step I digitized and mixed the recording of the performance and added in some effects processing. What you are about to experience is that performance, with no additional material. Everything you hear was generated by the Buchla in real time.
I haven't created much purely electronic music, but I am starting to enjoy this medium as well.
Music For Performer and Electronics
16 Ideas is a guided interactive improvisation for bassist (or other instrumentalist) and a fixed media piece, specifically, my Electronic Composition No. 1.
Electronic Composition No. 1 is created entirely with sounds from analog synthesizers recorded onto magnetic tape. When used as a part of 16 Ideas, its seven moments (with the exception of the first and last) are not played in any particular order. This adds spontaneity to the interaction between a live performer and a piece of electronic music.
The instrumental part of 16 Ideas consists of 16 cells, which the performer freely moves through over the course of the piece. These cells include: fully notated material, pitch content, modal progressions, graphic notation, text instructions and various combinations of these elements. In effect, each cell simply provides parameters for the performer to interact with the electronic music within.
Electronic Composition No. 2
Other Concert Works
I have a few other works that don't fit into any of the previous categories, that I would like to share. These are mostly from a while ago, but I still value them.
My musical output explores a wide variety of styles and traditions. Just as I first learned to play music on several different instruments, I now create music which engages with many different ideas and approaches. Below you can find a number of my works, organized (somewhat arbitrarily) by the music which they most specifically draw upon.