Pyrrhic Victory

For solo percussion
January 2019
Composed for Peyton Miller
Premiere coming in September of 2019 — stay tuned!

Program notes:

A pyrrhic victory is a victory that is so hard fought that the victor loses more than they gain. I'm struck by how often many people (myself included) make the calculation that the price of a victory is worth the spoils of the victory.

This piece strives to own this tragic disposition, building impossibilities into its structure and 􏰀nding solutions for seemingly reckless choices. It begins in the ether: abstract, cool, and detached. From that primordial sludge, the piece builds to a frenzy of activity, ramping up to a rate that is clearly unsustainable. It ends by slowly breaking back down into a wash of environmental ambiance. This might, indeed, be a model for the ticking clock humankind's existence on this planet. But it might be a metaphor for something much smaller too; perhaps it’s an individual maturing over time, generously allowing themselves the luxury of personal growth.

The ultimate pyrrhic victory facing our society at this moment is climate change. We’re carelessly wasteful, sacrifcing the longevity of our environment for short term convenience. We make the calculation that plastic packaging, or oil for cars, or enabling corporate greed, is more important than living in a world that could actually support our existence. At what point do we understand that the cost of these choices is the actual air we breathe?

All pyrrhic victories do not have to be in vain. To quote the revolutionary thinker Grace Lee Boggs, “these are the times to grow our souls.” If we open our ears and hearts and listen to history, we can grow and create unimaginable solutions to challenging problems. This is hard work, urgent work, and work that can’t be done by anybody but us.

I hope that this piece inspires the performer and the listener to think clearly about the costs associated with our transactional way of engaging our world. As we move forward into the second decade of the 21st century, we have the unique opportunity to make our world anew.

- Michael Malis, February 2019

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.


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!

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.

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: