Sunday, August 19, 2012

New year + really teaching

UF is starting its fall semester this Wednesday. Odd to start on a Wednesday, but I suppose it balances out the 2-day week at Thanksgiving (aka T-give). Anyway, I've had quite a busy summer and am ready to get back into school mode.

This year I'm finally, fully in charge of a class. I did teach an online class last summer, taught theory labs and co-taught the freshman technology class last school year, but this year I am teaching Intro to Music Technology on my own, and I'm very excited for it.

I've spent quite a bit of time planning it, and you can see my syllabus, etc. here. This class is required of all undergrad music majors, and from what I can tell is a fairly common course in most schools. Every teacher emphasizes different things, and I guess what I'm emphasizing is 'everything.'

Syllabi I have read (just from rudimentary Google searches) tend to spend a lot of time on notation programs and MIDI sequencing. I am doing both, but not spending tons of time on either. I am also basing my grades on student projects, so if a student gets really into MIDI sequencing, good for them! But I feel it's more important to throw out more concepts and tools.

I am also using this as an opportunity to fill what I perceive are some gaps in the undergraduate curriculum. Specifically, I am hoping to guide my students to some understanding of entrepreneurship and self-promotion in our field, as well as a general sense of media culture/theory. I want them to be able to drum up gigs, but more importantly, be able to advocate for our artform.

I am going to be teaching out of Douglas Rushkoff's great little book Program or Be Programmed. It's short and touches on a lot of media theory; not much depth, but it will be a good catalyst for discussion, I'm sure.

We're also going to listen to a fair amount of music, mainly rock but also some electroacoustic, in order to gain an understanding of different effects and production techniques. I'm also hopeful that this kind of listening will train these young ears to listen to compositions in multiple dimensions (not just for melody and harmony) in order to achieve better balance when playing in ensembles, better sense of stylistic differentiation, etc. etc. etc.

It may be a totally crazy plan, but I think it will be fun and interesting!

Monday, July 23, 2012

reflections on the soundSCAPE festival

A week ago today, I left Maccagno, Italy, where I had participated in the soundSCAPE Festival, an intensive festival for composers and performers. After a few days in Milan, then Atlanta, I'm finally home in Gainesville (FL), with some time to relax and reflect.

First of all, I cannot recommend this festival enough for emerging composers and "new music" performers. We had a packed schedule of great events, and the camaraderie that developed was awesome. I didn't know quite what to expect before I went, as I think I found only one blog from a participant's perspective, so hopefully this will reach a few prospective participants for 2013 and beyond (feel free to drop me a line with any questions).

The basic schedule of my days: wake up around 630, have some coffee and then some cardio workout run by guest guitarist Robert Bekkers (we did some leg-killing military drills the first day and a lot of people gave up on this...I took a few days to recover, then had some fun one-on-one boxing training a few times). A quick shower, and off to the composition colloquium at 8am.

The colloquium featured 2-3 of the participant composers each day, who had 30 minutes to present some music, followed by 15-30 minutes of discussion. Most participants played 2 pieces in their entirety, though a few us (me included) presented excerpts from several pieces to show a better view of our work. Composition coordinator Brian Hulse led the discussions about the works, which were great - leaning towards the philosophical and away from the mundane "how did you pick your notes" discussions so often found in these situations. The presentations/discussions really helped everyone get a sense of each others' approach and aesthetic, and it was a very warm and supportive environment with an eclectic mix of styles.

I usually had 1030-230 free, and much of this was spent back at "the Casa" eating a brunch and chatting with folks. The Casa Emmaus is a religious retreat, and we lived dorm-style with around 8 people in each 2-bedroom 'apartment' with a shared bathroom. So it was sort of a summer camp with a lot of wine, if that helps you picture things :).

A few times during the 1030-230 block I had rehearsals of my piece, Tearmunn for horn and vibraphone. These went great - the second and third were coached by faculty performers Lisa Cella and Aiyun Huang, who both had great ideas and suggestions.

At 230 each day was the improv workshop, led by Tom Rosenkranz. We began by playing Zorn's Cobra before moving on to looser structures. This was a lot of fun, and a good opportunity to get some performing in. One day we walked to a spot part of the way up the mountain with a nice view of the lake to perform. On the next-to-last day of the fest we had a 30-minute performance of a few short 'provs' in the Auditorium, followed by a sweet 45-minute performance of John Cage's Songbooks.

The afternoon, 315-600 block was a little different each day. There were several presentations by the faculty (Brian Hulse, Marcella Pavia, Josh Levine) and guest artists Sela Roder and Lei Liang. Also squeezed into this time were individual lessons from the faculty for the participant composers. We met at the local cafe and gelateria for these, which were both chill and informative.

Most nights we had two concerts, one at 6pm and another at 9pm. In between was dinner, which sometimes I made at the Casa but sometimes were at some of the local restaurants. The most popular of these were the takeaway "Pizza 2000" and the sit-down "Lake Pizza" (Pizza 2000 is the actual name, but we could never remember the name of the second one, hence the affectionate nickname. It had a great view of Lago Maggiore). The evening concerts were a mix of premieres by the composers, contemporary works chosen by the performers, and concerts by the faculty and guest artists.

Following the late concert I sometimes had to crash but sometimes joined in on the late night wine hangouts. Some people have more energy than me and did this every night! I was the second-oldest participant (31), so go figure... ;)

There are of course more specific stories and fun things to tell, but I hope this gives a glimpse into this excellent, well-run, friendly festival. I highly, highly recommend attending!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

on being prolific

Just read this interesting article in the Chicago Tribune. The subject of prolificacy haunts me a little - I strive to be prolific, yet feel sometimes that 'real' artists take their time. I guess they are just expected to do so, to dip into culture with something profound, then dip out again, as the writer says.

The article discusses Steven Soderbergh, whom I like but frankly have not seen any of his films in the past nearly 10 years (last I saw was his Solaris remake). But I do admire his pace, and his attitude that the article highlights. Many of these films are experimental, are often quite different from each other, and aren't consistently successful - and he is okay with this.

I generally compose 5-6 pieces a year. 2 per semester, or thereabouts. Sometimes more. In some ways I worry that I'm not spending enough time, making them 'profound' enough. But at the same time I have come to realize that I like pieces that have simple, well-developed concepts. I like pieces on the shorter side, in general. But there is a hidden pressure, from teachers, from 'the field,' that each piece have such nebulous qualities as 'weight' and 'scope.'

To which I have jokingly asked to my composer friends: "why does every piece have to be every piece?"

By that I don't mean "why do they all have to sound the same?" What I mean is, why are the first suggestions from teachers or colleagues in seminar or masterclass settings always concerning what one could/should add to the piece? Why not subtract?

Why should you add key clicks to your flute solo? So people know it's contemporary?

Why should you arrange this for concert band? Is brass quintet really not enough volume?

Why should you add more movements? Sure, the piece is 'only' four minutes long, but will it have that much better chance of being programmed if it has 3 more 4-minute movements tacked onto the end?

So all I'm saying is that what I am trying to do is make a bunch of little pieces with clear ideas of their own, that can go out and represent what I was interested in at a certain point of time. I'm not interested in (or perhaps even capable of) creating grandiose emotional 'life-changing' expressions.

Why does every piece have to be like Mahler (who really did want every piece to be every piece)? I'd really rather be like Webern - each piece is a little crystal, and you don't really understand them until you've collected a few in your memory.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Anxiety of ignorance

3 blog entries in a week...I must have something to say, or 'free time.'

Might as well start collecting thoughts here about my impending dissertation...

I've been thinking a lot about instruments as fetish objects - where people "need" particular models (like the Fender Stratocaster, but also from certain years or countries of manufacture), but also how general categories and aesthetics are fetishized, such as circuit-bent toys.

I took a seminar on postmodern music in the spring, and recently read Simon Reynolds's Retromania, both of which brought out some other important thoughts.

First of all, the idea of retromania (revivals of particular cultural aesthetics) is interesting from a generational point of view. My generation (I'm 31 so I'm either a tail-end Xer or an early Millenial) grew up in a postmodern millieu, where all cultures, styles, etc. are constantly and instantly accessible. I sense a tension from the artists of preceding generations, who lived through all these stylistic changes and seek more 'newness' (a modernist trait) and my own generation, to whom all these styles already existed and therefore have yet to become cliche.

Think of analog synthesizers, for example. From what I can sense from electroacoustic concerts and conferences is that these 'old-school' timbres are scorned in a been-there-done-that way. But for a generation who has heard only some of the literature, who has yet to endure twenty years of SEAMUS conferences, these timbres might still be fresh.

It seems like quite a burden for young artists to catch up on everything that had been done before (this is often a prerequisite for doing something new, after all). There is simply too much on which to catch up! Culture and technology advanced so rapidly in the 20th century; it could be assessed if you lived through it, but it's difficult to assimilate it all for someone to whom it is all history.

I read a short article this week about younger people asking "Who is Rodney King?" on Twitter, and I began to think about my own lackluster history education (even in a middle-to-upper-middle class school system). Due to curriculum changes, I learned about the Fertile Crescent three years in a row. I never learned about ancient China, Ethiopia, etc. European history was not required. US History emphasized the Civil War and WWII, and ended around the Civil Rights movement. My formal education barely mentioned that anything happened in the past now 50 years, yet as an informed citizen I'm expected to have a working knowledge of that time period.

The same applies to the arts. Thinking about postmodern classical music (what an oxymoron), it assumes a knowledge of the entirety of the classical repertory, as well as knowledge of pop styles throughout the 20th century and music of non-European cultures. As an exercise, I made this collage. There are 30 pieces used, and I think that it 'expects' a knowledge of various music, from Mahler to Varese to Dave Brubeck to Ravi Shankar.


I recently (finally) watched Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which is a very postmodern pastiche of styles. And it made me wonder how much the knowledge of those styles is important to the appreciation of the film. Does the viewer need to see The Dirty Dozen first? Seargeant York? What about the Leone spaghetti westerns? Listen to the Best of David Bowie? Is a knowledge of the references, homages, anachronisms, etc. essential to the viewing or does it deepen it? I'm sure this has been written on at length before...

Besides the references, is it essential to see all of Tarantino's films to have an understanding of his latest? Perhaps. Seeing a trailer for Django Unchained, I think you need to understand his aesthetic to see why a late-1800s period film has James Brown on the soundtrack.

That got me thinking, too, about the 'need' to have a knowledge of 'everything.' I am frequently hesitant to declare myself a fan of anything that I don't have near-complete knowledge of. For example, I watched Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method last night. I have seen the majority of his films, but not all, so can I truly call myself a fan? What if someone tries to test me on the few I don't know?

Can I call myself a hip-hop fan? I 'only' own about 20 hip-hop CDs. I remember not knowing this 'smooth jazz' artist Praful and my dad said I wasn't a big jazz fan. I guess a jazz history class and over 30 CDs don't count.

Well this was quite rambly, but I feel better!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

First circuit bent toy

I've been wanting to try circuit bending for awhile, and finally had some time to do so. I bought this and 2 other toys from Goodwill for about 3 or 4 bucks a piece. In the meantime I've invested in a bunch of components for doing such crazy things.

This is a keyboard of sorts, and had 2 settings - one that played songs and one that let you play. I poked around a bit to find some interesting sounds. Not as off-the-wall as some circuit-bending jobs, but still pretty fun. I left in a few moments of the normal functioning of the keyboard for comparison. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New videos

I thought I had posted these here already, but guess not...

New, shorter and tighter version of fluid dynamics: 

New video Simoom, with sound based on the backing track of a piece of the same name for quarter-tone alto flute and tape. The video has some contrast and color adjustments but otherwise has no editing and was achieved practically.

I have footage for two other videos that I hope to put sound to in the near future.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Looking back

In keeping with last month's blog entry, I have a few thoughts about looking back on my compositions. I am uploading some tracks to SoundCloud right now. I had several up there, including a track from Late Frost and Full Circle, but I decided to take them down as they exist on my Bandcamp page. I decided to use my SoundCloud page primarily for my acoustic music, which I have not collected into albums like I have with some of my electroacoustic music.

I decided to upload one piece per year that I've been composing seriously, so this stretches back to 2004. I've written a lot of music (about 40 pieces) in that time, so obviously some is hit-or-miss, even within the same piece. Still, it's instructive for me to look back, and I hope that it will make for an interesting overview for others.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Thoughts on Mirror Universes, etc.

Next Wednesday, April 25, 2012, Chamber Cartel is premiering the complete Mirror Universes by yours truly. Parts 2 and 6 have been performed by DMC Duo and Terminus Ensemble, respectively (the same performers are playing those parts again under the guise of Chamber Cartel - shhh!). I'm excited to witness the entire cycle, which will be presented as a continuous experience, with each movement overlapping slightly. Also on the program is Why Patterns? by one of my favorite composers, Morton Feldman.

Mirror Universes is a series of six duets for percussion and melodic instrument. In each, the duo reads from the same score, which consists of short ideas scattered over two pages. The players proceed independently, so each idea will end up being played twice. The musical ideas attempt to highlight similarities between these dissimilar instruments. The instrumentation is as follows:

Mirror Universes 1 for viola and vibraphone
Mirror Universes 2 for clarinet and multi-percussion
Mirror Universes 3 for trombone and vibraphone
Mirror Universes 4 for saxophone and multipercussion
Mirror Universes 5 for guitar and multipercussion
Mirror Universes 6 for vibraphone and multipercussion

I wrote the first piece quickly for a now-disbanded duo, and wrote the second one for DMC Duo. After discussing it with Caleb Herron, I had the idea to write a few more. It's interesting to me that the remaining four were somewhat of a side project (written quickly during my first semester at UF), but represent a turning-point in my work that I was not aware of at the time.

Since I began composing 'for real' in 2004, I've gone through some rather distinct stages. The first featured an atonal pitch language and a concern with formal design (notably my exploration of poetic forms in Three Haiku and Tanka). The second stage, begun while studying in Belfast and continued while living in New Jersey, focused on indeterminacy in performance (good examples include Five Pieces for Laptop Quartet and Searching for Coincidences). I think the best way to characterize my current (third) stage is that I am focusing on simplicity and the materiality of instruments. I don't have recordings of these pieces to share yet, unfortunately!

The past two years I have been thinking very hard about what I value in music, which is primarily timbre, harmony, and the theatre of performance. So the Mirror Universes series ends up serving as a fascinating crossroads piece for me when I review my own work. In each of these pieces, the score directs players to mimic either the sounds or the method of playing the other instrument. In #1, the viola and vibraphone read the same score, but play a 9th apart, since the viola reads in alto clef and the vibraphone in treble. In #2, the clarinet plays multiphonics to emulate the inharmonic partials of gongs. In #3, the vibraphone plays short glissandi to reflect one of the most characteristic attributes of the trombone. There are many more examples (and surely many that I neglected to include in the scores themselves!).

In recent pieces I have continued this exploration of similarity/dissimilarity between instruments. Etude in Metal, written last spring, is a multipercussion solo in which the glockenspiel plays a central role, playing equal-tempered chords based upon the partials of a variety of gongs. Each gesture is connected to the last in some way. Interiors, written last fall, is for flute and guitar, based entirely on the harmonic series of the low E and D strings of the guitar. It explores harmonics on each instrument, particularly harmonics that are somewhat out of tune with others. Bascule, written this semester for marimba and cajón, attempts to bring the two players together not only by using instruments made of wood, but also by using slap mallets on the marimba to evoke the slapping of the cajón, and having the cajón's timbral contour mimic the pitch contour of the marimba.

So that's the kind of thing that is intriguing me right now in music. It seems that I change track every 3 years or so, so we'll see how my music looks in another 2 years-ish!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I want to circuit-bend

I picked up these toys at Goodwill for $10. I think they will be fun to bend (when I have time!). I need to make a large order for electronic parts - been skimming through Make: Electronics by Charles Platt and Handmade Electronic Music by Nicolas Collins - lots of cool ideas.

Working on a duo for marimba and cajón, which is coming along pretty quickly. Still editing my piano/fixed-media piece. Right now, just lots of ideas swimming around and not enough time to explore them!

As mentioned in my previous post, we had Jeri-Mae Astolfi (pianist) and James Mobberley (composer) as guests. Add Dan Asia to that list, as he was here last Monday. Later in the semester, Suk-Jun Kim, Zack Browning, and Paul Moravec. Not to mention 4 graduate recitals, 2 department concerts, and some other odds and ends. We are both lucky and crazy.

Friday, February 3, 2012


January at UF saw guest appearances by pianist Jeri-Mae Astolfi and composer James Mobberley. I enjoyed interacting with both, but as I was in charge of their visits, I have to say I'm glad they're over so I can relax!

Not that I'm relaxing overmuch. Terminus debuts in a month, and of course I have other projects to contend with. But hey, classes are good and I'm inching closer to figuring out my dissertation topic.

For anyone following my Twitter, you may have seen that I had a stray bat get into my apartment and I suffered a hard drive crash. The bat (who was cute but annoying) left without too much fuss (I just left a window open all night) and System76 swiftly replaced my hard drive.

That's about it for now. Certainly enjoying not doing tech work for UF for a little while. Maybe I'll write some music this weekend. There's a thought...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Year / New Band / new stuff

March 4, 2012 will see the debut of the new group I co-founded, Terminus Ensemble. The group, based in Atlanta, aims to perform and promote music by Atlanta natives and/or residents. We are all very excited about it!

A good friend of mine, Caleb Herron, started another contemporary ensemble in Atlanta called Chamber Cartel. They debuted on New Year's Day with a concert of Morton Feldman's Crippled Symmetry, which received a positive review in ArtsCriticATL.

So things are moving in the Atlanta "new music" / "contemporary classical" / "alt-classical" / "post-classical" scene. Hope the momentum keeps up!

On the Gainesville side of my life, lots going on there too. Check out this page on our department website - 13 events this semester! Going to be a whirlwind few months.

Although a changeover to a new year is pretty arbitrary, I have the sense of good things in the air. A lot of people are calling for this artistic momentum (as well as politically progressive momentum) and I won't be so naive to think that we'll see tremendous changes this year, but I'll be happy if people start to make new, positive habits.

To steal and repost a great quote from Kim Cascone that was going around facebook: "In 2012 we all need to turn the 'culture dial' to '11.' We need to support the arts more than ever right now - it's withering and folding back on itself like a plant without nutrients. So please do your part to put on concerts, go to concerts, check out new releases, buy releases, turn others onto interesting projects, go to museums, visit bookstores, go to see films, we need to start PAYING for culture instead of just letting the Internet provide it for free...and I'm NOT talking about *pop culture* (that already has lots of money thank you) but small, experimental, non-mainstream, independent, projects created by people who have imagination and vision and require funding in order to continue adding brain-stim into the world. Please remember that the arts require money and that artists need to eat just like you. Let's work to make 2012 a renaissance year. :)"

I also liked this article "A New Year's Resolution for 2012: Give Contemporary Classical Music a Chance."