piano

We've Got To Find A Way

We've Got To Find a Way
for tenor, electric piano, and fixed media
composed by Michael Malis
after "What's Going On" by Al Cleveland, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and Marvin Gaye

Denzel Donald, voice
Michael Malis, electric piano
Premiered at Sidewalk Festival, Detroit MI, 8/3/2019

A recomposition of Marvin Gaye’s seminal piece “What’s Going On,” “We’ve Got To Find A Way” expands on “What’s Going On” by featuring newly composed material for electric piano and voice. This newly composed material is interwoven with an electronic backing track that samples the original track extensively, bringing the recomposition into conversation with the poignancy of the original recording. The track consists of nearly 200 different samples, and is comprised almost entirely of samples from “What’s Going On.”

“What’s Going On” is a song that asks deep questions about peace, power, and utopia. Set in the civil unrest of the late 1960’s, Gaye gets straight to the heart of many of the issues that faced society at that time. In many ways, it’s staged as a lament for the ails of society (brother brother / there’s far too many of you dying.) But it also strikes a hopeful tone (you know we’ve got to find a way / to bring some loving here today.) This classic song transcends the times that it was written for and is extremely relevant to our current era of social and political unrest. Furthermore, “What’s Going On” has an extra layer of importance in Detroit, the city that birthed this masterpiece.

Almost 50 years later, it’s appropriate to ask: what, if anything, has changed? “We’ve Got To Find a Way” highlights that question, and gives audiences the opportunity to investigate this question themselves. Some of the recomposed elements of the piece are a radical departure from the original, allowing the audiences to meditate on what has changed. But by using samples from the original track, this piece stays tethered to the original, allowing the audience to meditate on what has stayed the same, for better or for worse.

Five Stations

For Piano, Tenor Saxophone, and String Quartet

Premiered by Balance, May 31 2019
presented by Detroit Chamber Winds and Strings
Michael Malis — piano
Marcus Elliot — tenor saxophone
Kimberly Kennedy — Violin
Jiamin Wang — Violin
James VanValkenburg — Viola
Jeremy Crosmer — Cello

Program Notes:

Recently in my life, I've made a series of very intense transitions in a relatively short period of time. As my habits have changed, so have my priorities. And as I continue to grow as a person, I realize that this process of constantly being in flux is nothing to be scared of; rather, the act of perpetually inventing and reinventing oneself is something to bravely welcome with open arms.

Upon refection, I've realized that the rhythm of these transitions is such that one extended period of time that feels whole, full, and universal cedes to another extended period of time that feels altogether different but no less whole, full, or universal. I've begun to think of these contrasting extended periods as "stations" -- resting points, places of reprieve, and the defining textures of my daily life. I've sought to transliterate this idea to a musical process in this composition.

This piece consists of five distinct "stations" -- extended sections have their own defining life-forces independent of each other. These stations share certain characteristics in terms of materials -- pitch sets, interval structures, and rhythmic orientations -- but much of that similarity is buried beneath the surface. These five stations are meant to contrast with each other, showcasing extended musical ideas that should feel whole and full in their own right.

I hope this piece inspires performers and audiences to reflect on the stations that their own lives have traversed through, as well as the stations of life yet to come.

-Michael Malis, May Day 2019

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!

Nourishment

For Soprano and Two Pianos
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.

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: