Here's the first page of sketches for next year's song cycle - already having a blast writing it!
Having recently wrapped work on Eyes Shut. Door Open. (and having found the experience artistically challenging and quite a lot of fun), I'm pleased to announce that I've joined the creative team for Flat Earth Theatre's production of D.W. Gregory's Radium Girls.
Here's the synopsis from the Flat Earth website:
Corporate greed turns devastating in RADIUM GIRLS, inspired by the true story of the factory workers of the U.S. Radium Corporation. Once considered a miracle cure and scientific marvel, by the 1920s the radium used in painting luminous watch dials has triggered potentially fatal health problems for Grace Fryer and other dial painters. As their health deteriorates, the laborers demand compensation from the company insistent on sweeping their ordeal under the rug, and Grace must battle the ruthless corporation even while radiation poisoning destroys her body and life.
I'm very much looking forward to working on this, and I'll be sure to post updates down the road a bit. The show opens on September 4, at the Charlestown Working Theater, and it runs through September 19.
Eyes Shut. Door Open. is a fantastic new play by Cassie Seinuk that'll make its world premiere in early August at the Inner Sanctum Studios (Roxbury). It's being produced by Wax Wings, and it features some truly remarkable talent. Here's the official blurb:
Eyes Shut. Door Open. is a modern Cain and Abel story set in the SoHo art scene of New York City Turner Street's bold paintings of eyes are the hottest thing to hit the SoHo art scene - they've even captured the attention of the elusive Johanna, who may have more than just art on her mind. But when his one-eyed, pill-popping, younger brother appears, Turner must face the disturbing truth of his success, and the haunting family secrets shut behind doors, as one man's trauma is another man's muse, and facing it could mean losing everything.
Written by Cassie M. Seinuk, Eyes Shut. Door Open features Melissa DeJesus as Johanna, Michael Underhill as Palmer and Victor Shopov as Turner. With Christopher Randolph as our director, we're heading into the dark, surreal hauntings of Turner Street. Brought to life in the Inner Sanctum studios in Roxbury, Wax Wings is delving deep into this dark play with by housing it right in an actual art gallery!
I've been having a great time designing the soundscapes and music for this thing. I don't want to give away the plot, so I'll just say that the abstract, disembodied nature of certain sections of the play allowed me to freely pursue an experimental, playful, grotesque sort of an aesthetic that I might not otherwise have let myself explore.
I decided early on that I was going to base a great deal of the material on unorthodox percussion instruments. Here are some of my key players:
I tried to map things out clearly on paper before moving into the DAW. There are lots of cues and digitally altered lines of dialog throughout the score, so everything had to line up and come across as organically uncluttered as possible.
I made liberal use of SPEAR, as I often do (that program open on the iMac below). It's an unbelievably well made, useful program. Analyzing and manipulating the spectral data of these unique instruments was a blast, and I'm hoping that that sense of playful experimentation will come through to the audience (even though the resultant soundworld is, admittedly, freaking terrifying).
To give you a little preview, here's a brief excerpt featuring some of those instruments (and killer voiceover work by Michael Underhill). The text is copyright Cassie Seinuk.
Hope to see you there in August! You can purchase tickets here, and I'd highly recommend doing so. It won't be one to miss.
Happy to share the news that I've been selected as a recipient of the Saint Botolph Club Foundation's Emerging Artist Award in Music for 2015!
The award - which consists of a generous grant, some publicity, and inclusion in a showcase later this year - goes to a handful of artists in music, literature, and visual arts each year.
I'm deeply honored to be included in those ranks, and to put this money to use in the composition of my next large project: Machine Language for Beginners.
Much, much more on that to come. :)
I'll admit it: I'm sometimes a little too enthusiastic. I can't count the number of times I've said something (a hamburger, a graphic novel, a laptop, a zoo) has "changed my life." I think I really do mean it in the moment; over time, though, most of these "a ha!" experiences fade away into a sea of little influences and inspirations gurgling somewhere, unperturbed, in my subconscious.
There have been four events in my life, though, that have altered the courses of things in ways so deep and immutable that I know, unequivocally, that I've left a "before" and entered an "after." They are:
- When I fell in love with my wife.
- When our son was born.
- When I first heard Ravel's string quartet.
- When I read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.
This particular announcement, I'm happy to say, concerns #4.
My dear friend Joelle Kross (who just happens to be a very talented soprano) approached me last year about collaborating on a recital piece - a song cycle, with piano accompaniment, to be performed in Chicago during 2016. Ms. Kross is a fantastically emotive singer, and she possesses an expressive, fluid coloratura. She's basically a composer's dream. So I said "yes," immediately; finding a suitable text, though, proved to take considerably longer.
Then, a few months back, I stumbled upon an incredible poetry project called Erasing Infinite. The poet, Jenni Baker, has spent the last couple of years creating "erasure poetry" from every single page (and trust me, there are a lot of pages) of Infinite Jest. It was a beautiful idea; what was even more remarkable was the execution. The poems - some of which whittle an entire page's contents into three or four words - are breathtaking. Some are laugh-out-loud funny; many are heart-wrenching.
I immediately emailed Ms. Baker about a possible collaboration, and she was just as excited about the idea as I was.
So now I get the chance to write a piece for an amazing soprano (who also happens to be a great friend), in a new city (I've never had anything premiered in Chicago), on stunning poetry that distills and explodes and refracts the words of my favorite book.
You know what? I think this just might change my life.
Realizing that a) we could use the additional income and b) we might as well put our skills to use towards said additional income, my wife, Micah, and I have started a new business. It's called Blue Lizard Productions, and it's media company specializing in wedding videography and musical scoring.
Check out the site! We're hoping to have the business up and running by the spring.
The C7Prize ("Choirs, Conductors, and Composers Collaborating on a Choral Composition Competition") is a very cool new competition: it links composers, conductors, and performers throughout the adjudication process, and increases the exposure of a diverse array of new choral works.
As a "Recommended Work," My Dearest Friend will be performed at least once this year, and will be shopped around (by the fine folks running the competition) to various conductors and choirs.
The piece, which was composed for the wedding of two very good friends of mine back in 2011, has long been one of my favorites. I'm glad it's getting some increased exposure, and can't wait to see what some new performers bring to it (it's only been performed once, publicly).
2015 is shaping up to be a pretty good year, if these past few weeks are any indication.
My recent horn-trio miniature, The Hedgehog's Dilemma, has been chosen as one of the winners of the Red Hedgehog Trio's inaugural Call for Scores! The premiere will be on February 15, 2015, at the Whitney Center for the Arts in Pittsfield, MA, as part of the 10x10 Upstreet Festival. Looking forward to hearing them tackle this thorny little guy!
Here's a sneak peak at what to expect:
For the past decade or so, I've used a series of Moleskine Art Plus Music Notebooks to map out ideas: motivic materials, rhythmic schema, notes to myself, sketches (musical and otherwise), etc. They've become an integral part of my creative process, but they've also served as creative waypoints; I flip through them every few years to see how I've developed, where life's taken me, that sort of thing.
Now that I've crammed the last bit of material into one (a sixteenth-note G sharp on a bass clarinet, for those of you keeping score at home), I figured I'd flip through this puppy and highlight some especially memorable moments from the past couple of years.
The Birmingham New Music Festival was a success, and I'm a little in awe of just how much the organizers were able to pull together. It was a pleasure to be a part of it, and the players did a great job with abstractEXTRACTION. The piece got a nice little mention in a review from AL.com, too.
And it was great getting to poke around Alabama for the first time! We had a nice mini-vacation, and Jude got to celebrate his first birthday (!!!) at the Birmingham Zoo.
Announcements on upcoming pieces coming shortly, so be on the lookout!
I've always found formatting the final score to be a bit daunting. With a piece as long as this one is, it's just about impossible to catch everything---and sometimes, when you do correct an error (collisions, auto-spacing disasters, etc.), it somehow sets off a chain reaction thirty or forty pages away. Notation software is a tremendous asset, but self-publishing means you're not just accountable for the music; you're accountable for the professionalism of the final, physical product as well.
It's pretty damn enjoyable when it goes well, and just about the worst part of writing music when it doesn't. I've checked and re-checked this whole beast a few times, though, so I'm hoping it came alright.
Anyway, here are a few shots of the finished product!
I finally finished The Tower last week. For a multiplicity of reasons, it was the most difficult piece I've written to date, but I think it's going to have been worth the effort come June 3rd.
After getting through the toughest section of the whole thing, I posted a little call-to-arms to Facebook, in the hopes that someday, when I'm in a similar predicament, I can go back and read this and fight my way back out of it.
Anyway, here it is:
That feeling you get when, after four eighteen-hour days of composing alone, in a cabin, missing your family, laying awake in creaky twin bed each night, unable to sleep because you’re convinced that this piece just isn’t working, that its form doesn’t make sense, its ideas are tired, its utterances trite and overcomplicated, that you’re going to have to call the ensemble in New York and the playwright in Boston and tell them that you tried as hard as you possibly could, but you just couldn’t figure it out, you couldn’t pull it together in time, and then you wake up on the last morning of your retreat and everything has crystallized, everything makes sense, everything was worth it all along, and now, having gotten to this point, the music flows as freely as water down the side of a mountain in spring?
That feeling is why I do this.
We go through a lot, us composers. Virtually none of us make a living at it, but we get up early before work, we stay up late on the weekends, we struggle with the limitations of our intellect, our ears, our instruments, our patience. We put hours upon hours of work into producing minutes of music: music that’ll be heard once, twice, maybe three times if we’re lucky, meaning there’s a good chance no one will catch all of the subtlety and nuance we strive for. The majority of the American public doesn’t even know that “classical” composers are still around, and, of those who do, only a fraction will ever make it to a new-music concert.
But moments like this one, this morning? They remind me why I compose. I drove three hours into the deep Vermont wilderness with nothing but a vague outline and a couple of sketches, and I drive back to Boston today with twenty minutes of music that no one on this planet has ever heard, music brought kicking and screaming into existence, music which, now that it exists, exists forever.
On June 3rd, at the Davis Square Theater in Somerville, this piece will leave my head and enter the world. Come hear the premiere of The Tower, a one-act musical-theatrical experiment on a play by Kevin Kordis, starring (and directed by) my wife, Micah, and performed by loadbang, at the final concert of THE FIFTH FLOOR COLLECTIVE's fourth season.
It’s a tough road we trod, but, when it works, goddamn does it feel good.
And here are some pictures of the beast coming together:
Just wrapped up a very productive weekend working on The Tower, my new collaborative piece with playwright Kevin Kordis and actor/director/my lovely wife Micah Greene. The project is unlike anything I've done before, so there's been lots to figure out (especially w/r/t notation, interpreting stage directions musically, incorporating long blocks of monologues into the music, etc.). It's shaping up to be a fun one to work on.
I can't wait to hear loadbang ensemble premiere it! Be there on June 3 for "Asides," the final concert of the Fifth Floor Collective's fourth season, where this (and other new works worth experiencing) with be welcomed into the world.
There'll be much more on this in the coming months, but, for now, I'll just say that I can't wait to get working on this! The creative team is dynamite: it'll be performed by the loadbang ensemble (and a talented cast of live actors), composed to a libretto by playwright Kevin Kordis, and will be directed by (and starring) Micah Greene. It's an honor to work with such talent.
Program Note – JUICY: Spectral Studies for a Citrus Juicer (2013-14)
JUICY, a shimmering little piece for electronics, represents two things for me: an homage to a classic piece of postmodern design, and a chance to fully embrace the lifelong habit I’ve had of smacking steel things together and listening to the resultant sounds.
The “design” homage is to the Juicy Salif, an aluminum squid Philippe Starck created as a citrus juicer as part of his contract with the Italian housewares maker Alessi in the late-‘80s. Starck’s genius isn’t in improving functionality (the Salif is actually a pretty awful juicer). It’s in redefining the lens through which we observe the built environment around us. He turns things askew so that we examine them, discuss them, come together and laugh and think a bit. This has become the droll go-to for a generation of postmodernists, but in the twilight of the Reagan years it was something novel and important.
When I finally found a Juicy Salif on sale, I leapt at the opportunity. It arrived at our doorstep a few weeks later, a gleaming, angular cephalopod just begging to be struck against a hard surface.
Let me explain.
Since I was a child, I’ve been endlessly fascinated by the ringing overtones that erupt whenever certain objects collide. I could honestly sit alone in a room with a triangle and a steel beater and be perfectly content for hours. Maybe days. It’s this same appreciation for harmonic partials, I think, that attracted me to music in the first place. Striking a supported piece of metal is like shining a light into the acoustical darkness with which we surround ourselves—one perceives that fundamental, resonant frequency, but one also hears buzzing, beating tones stretching out ad infinitum. When I knocked one of the Juicy Salif’s legs with a fork, I immediately perceived an extremely strong G and C (-ish), but this quickly dissolved into a harmonic wash that spread out and surrounded me. I knew immediately that I’d have to find an excuse to write a piece using these sounds.
As an homage to Starck, I’ve turned off (or at least quieted down) the left side of my brain in composing JUICY. The only pre-compositional work I undertook was analyzing the various spectra of the Salif being struck with assorted implements. I tried to highlight the relationships of the constituent harmonics with one another, to amplify and diminish certain intervals, to magnify interesting aspects of the juicer’s timbre, to manipulate and transpose partials, etc. The resultant piece is nothing more than a chance to bathe in the refulgent complexity of a piece of aluminum being struck with all manner of household objects.
I hope you enjoy it.