Emerge

For String Quartet
September, 2018
Duration: ~8 minutes

Commissioned by the Detroit Composer’s Project.
Premiered at the Detroit Institute of Arts on September 9, 2018.
The performers were:
Eliot Heaton, Yuri Popowycz - violins
Jasper Zientek - viola
Kellen Degnan - cello


I’m publishing an extensive blog post about the construction of this piece, so stay tuned for that. I’ll link that here when it’s published.

“Inside the word emergency is emerge; from an emergency new things come forth.”- Rebecca Solnit

Logical Conclusions

For Double Bass and Max/MSP
June, 2018
Duration: ~10 mins

This piece takes audio from the composed and improvised material that the bassist generates and loops that audio, up to six times, changing the speed, pitch, and direction of the loop as the piece changes. The piece follows from small intervals that spin out of one central tone, and creates a web of sonic material from a relatively limited set of musical material.

I wrote this piece at the request of an incredible bassist, but no sooner than I finished it his bass split open and he was unable to practice it. So as of now, it languishes unplayed. I hope we have a chance to present it sometime in the near future. If you're interested in presenting it or performing it, please send me an email.

Accompanying Max/MSP patch available upon request.

Coda

for piano and cello
May 2018
Duration: ~5 minutes

I wrote this piece in a hurry, in the two weeks after I finished my master's program and its premiere. Although that's an uncharacteristically fast turnaround for me, the expedience of the project was actually incredibly rewarding. Even more rewarding was having it premiered by a world class cellist, Wei Yu.

I named this piece "Coda" because it seemed to be something of a post-script on my graduate school experience; a reflection on things I had learned, ways in which I had grown, mistakes I had made, and victories I had won.

Premiered on May 18, 2018 at Hunt Street Station (Detroit).

Numerology

For multi-reedist, multi-percussionist, pianist, and live electronics
Duration: ~35 minutes
May 2018

Numerology was premiered on May 4, 2018, at Shaver Recital Hall, on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit MI. The concert was presented by the Chamber Music Society of Detroit. The performers were:

Rafael Statin: soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, bass flute
Nicole Patrick: percussion, glockenspiel, vibraphone
Michael Malis: piano, toy piano

The recording from the premiere performance is not yet available, but will be made available as soon as possible.


Numbers are used mostly for quantitative purposes — as a way for people to measure their world. As objective signifiers, numbers can invoke a sense of stability or provide a guide for how to shape one’s environment. I’m not questioning that basic assumption. But as a composer, I’m less interested in quantitative properties and more interested in qualitative properties. How then, could a number — something so seemingly straightforward and objective — be measured qualitatively? Or more plainly, how does a number feel?

While making that determination might seem like a hopelessly subjective endeavor, this question is a relatable one for any musician. When musicians talk about the difference between time signatures, they often speak in terms of embodied pulse. We say that 4/4 “feels” one way, whereas 3/4 “feels” like something completely different. Any dancer knows these differences even more viscerally than any musician — imagine trying to waltz in 4/4. Indeed, it seems that the further away from our brains we get, the easier it is to feel that the difference between 4 and 3 is so much greater than 1 — in truth, they’re an entire universe apart from each other. This understanding is but one example of a qualitative measure of numbers. Within this realm, mathematics (the quantitative measure of numbers) ends and numerology (the qualitative measure of numbers) begins. Of course, numerological considerations can be highly subjective. And while that might make numerology shaky ground for scientific study, its inherent subjectivity makes it a fertile starting point for musical composition.

Each of the three movements of my piece, Numerology, takes some number as its conceptual starting point. These numbers, which I call “cardinal numbers,” are derived from an experimental approach to using playing cards as generative compositional material. This approach is purely speculative and fluid, changing and evolving as the music changes and evolves. Cards, and the numbers derived from those cards, are used as a starting point for the construction of musical parameters. At various points in the three movements, parameters directly influenced by playing cards include rhythm, pitch sets, form, improvisational structures, and electro-acoustic elements. Derived numbers are spun out horizontally into melodies, or stacked vertically into harmonies, creating a matrix of numerology that works to paint a sonic picture of the qualitative aspects of each cardinal number.

The first movement, “Excess,” is a portrait of the cardinal number eleven. Eleven can often symbolize an over-exertion of energy, going one step further than the complete cycle of ten. As such, it either represents a new beginning or a definitive ending.1 “Excess” relies primarily on melodic invention, toying with a four-note motive that expands and contracts throughout the introductory section. The piano’s entrance marks the first statement of the full motive. As the piece develops, the texture becomes denser, almost excessively so. The piece culminates with an improvised saxophone solo in which the percussionist loops a groove that re-appropriates the horizontal rhythms of the introductory motive into a layered vertical structure. The movement ends with an extreme drop in energy, almost as if all the energy spent earlier was a false high, destined to run out.

The next movement, “Counterpoise,” is an exploration of the number six. Being made up of two equal parts of three, six is an exceptionally well-balanced number. It is a balance that can be tipped in either direction, toward either five or seven, both of which are indivisible. As such, six’s balance carries with it a sense of ambivalence.2 “Counterpoise,” then, is on the whole peaceful, but it is a tenuous peace that could be upset at any time. The slow opening is articulated primarily through delicate extended techniques, including vocalizations on the flute, plucking strings on the inside of the piano, and bowing the vibraphone and cymbals. It is enhanced by a bubbling electro-acoustic texture that ebbs and flows with the music. The texture is interrupted by a brief collective improvisation, in which the performers draw on playing cards as source material for their improvisational language. From there, a new texture emerges — much more stable, if still dissonant. Previous gestures that were articulated in unison are varied and re-articulated in canon. Another brief improvisation ensues, and a return to the opening texture ends the movement.

The final movement, “Totality in Motion,” deals with the number ten. Ten is often taken to mean the ending of a cycle — it is a return to oneness after the first nine digits, and also the sum of the first four digits (1+2+3+4). As it symbolizes both completion and a new beginning, it can be seen as a symbol of universal creation — totality in motion.3 “Totality in Motion” begins with a group improvisation, ecstatic and celebratory in character, anchored by a pulsating bass clarinet drone. As that draws to a close, a polyphonic texture emerges, with each instrument playing an equal part. That texture grows into an exploration of simple chordal harmonies, eventually evolving into a fast counterpoint between the piano’s right hand and the bass clarinet, which is doubled by the piano’s left hand. After a piano improvisation, the instruments come together for a climatic ending.

I see Numerology as “chamber music with a jazz attitude.” It is a difficult piece to perform, mostly because it requires performers to be equally adept in interpreting both notated and improvised music. While these approaches are by no means mutually exclusive, they have a vastly different feel —a qualitative difference. Both approaches are valid, and both can coexist. Numerology presents an opportunity to bridge the gap between these two seemingly disparate approaches.

 

1 Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, trans. John Buchanan-Brown (New York: Penguin Books, 1996), 348-349.

2 Ibid., 884-886.

3 Ibid., 981-982.

 

Double Double

For piano four hands
November 2017
Duration: ~5 minutes

Another one of my "playing card pieces"; pieces whose pitch, rhythmic, and structural materials are generated from spreads of playing cards. This piece was written at the behest of my great friend, Ling-Ju Lai, who has been pestering me to write a piece for her for years.

We premiered this in a collaborative concert that we did at The Baroque Room in St. Paul, Minnesota. We each played solo, played (and improvised on) a Bach Allemande four-hands, then came together at the end and played this piece. It was a wonderful experience, and I hope we get a chance to do it again soon.

Resound

for solo piano
November 2017
Duration: ~8 minutes

This is the first of my "playing card pieces;" pieces in which pitch, rhythmic, and form structures were derived from playing cards. All of these pieces were testing grounds for what would eventually become "Numerology."

I really love this piece, and I hope it has a life. It has yet to be performed, although a fantastic pianist has agreed to play it. Hopefully it will happen soon. If you're interested in playing it or presenting it, please contact me!

Balance

For piano and saxophones
August 2017

My compositional contributions to the album "Balance." This project is a collaborative project between myself and saxophonist Marcus Elliot, and together we very much shape each other's music. We've written and performed a lot of new music since this album, and this project continues to evolve and grow in new and exciting ways.

Nourishment

For Soprano and Two Piano
Text by Carmen Malis King
May 2017
Duration: ~7 minutes

Carmen is one of my favorite poets in the world, and also happens to be my wife. I'm grateful to her for lending me these three pre-existing fragments for the sake of this piece. I wrote this piece while we were engaged, and I believe it brought me closer to her and we prepared for marriage.

This piece deals with cycles, and particularly deals with cycles that are two slow to perceive but are nonetheless present, embedding cycles on a structural level.

Recording performed by Caroline Quick (soprano), Wataru Niimori (piano), and Zi Ang Han (piano) in Milna, Croatia, July 2017.

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Just putting this out there: I would LOVE if someone commissioned me to arrange this for one piano and voice. Or maybe for piano, voice, and percussion? Perhaps as part of a larger song-cycle utilizing Carmen's poetry, or dealing directly or tangentially with these themes? Just putting that out into the universe so that maybe one day it will actually come true.

Etude No. 1

For improvising pianist and interactive score
February 2017
Duration: ~10 minutes

Etude No. 1 is a concert etude for an improvising pianist. By definition, an etude focuses on specific technical challenges. This etude keeps with that tradition by focusing on challenges related to improvisational technique. It takes as a starting point a relatively limited scope of material, and presents the pianist with several points of entry into that material. This particular etude uses a single pitch collection as its starting point, deriving all of its material from that one collection.

The score for this piece is triggered using Max. The score is split up into seven “scenes”. In all but one scene, the performer is required to manually advance from one scene to the next. One scene moves automatically to the next scene.

The score in the PDF reader below is a PDF version of the Max patch. If you'd like to purchase the Max patch or the PDF version of the score, contact me directly.

From Peace and Meaning

For Large Chamber Ensemble
November 2016
Duration: ~7 minutes

This piece takes its title from the two pieces that inspired its inception: Ornette Coleman’s Peace and Arthur Russell’s Tower of Meaning. I was also studying scores from Gil Evans’ arrangements on the Miles Davis album Birth of the Cool right around this time, so that was definitely an inspiration. The instrumentation is:

Flute
Clarinet
French Horn (2)
Violin
Viola
Cello
Bass
Tenor Saxophone (2)
Baritone Saxophone
Vibraphone
Percussion (Glockenspiel, Triangle, Concert Bass Drum)

This piece has never been performed, and I would absolutely love to have someone play it one day. If you’d like to play it, please contact me. I’d be happy to adapt it for you ensemble if you don’t have these exact forces. I think this piece could work for symphony band or chamber orchestra, so maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to arrange it.

People In The Home

For solo piano and delay pedal
November 2016
Duration: ~11 minutes

 

A meditation on the nature of composition, improvisation, and homes.

A month after moving into a new apartment with my then-fianceé Carmen, I turned randomly to a page in the I Ching. The hexagram listed was called "People in the Home". This became a mantra for thinking about spaces -- who occupies them, and what ghosts from previous occupants linger.

I think of this piece as a character study; it's meant to evoke a particular mood more than sound a particular way.

Brought to life masterfully by Sonya Belaya:

Lifted from the No of All Nothing

For jazz piano trio
July 2015

Music from my first album, "Lifted from the No of All Nothing." This album and this music is very near and dear to my heart, and felt like a capstone for an aesthetic perspective I had been exploring since at least 2011. This music evolved out of extensive rehearsal with the band, bassist Ben Rolston and Stephen Boegehold, and I can't imagine it sounding like it did without them.

Ask the Sun Rays

May 2011
For Jazz Ensemble

I wrote this piece at the very end of my undergrad. It’s for a large jazz ensemble. It’s never been performed, and I would love to have it performed one day! If you’re interested in having your ensemble play it, please let me know.

This piece takes its title from a lyric by the rapper Dudley Perkins: “There’s a message in my music / these is the last days / do I need to prove it? / just ask the sun rays” from the Georgia Anne Muldrow track “To the Stage” from her album King’s Ballad.