through composed

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

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

Head and Heart

For Cello Quartet
November, 2018
Duration: ~9 minutes

Commissioned by the Detroit Composer’s Project.
Premiered at the Third Place Concert Series in Ann Arbor, MI on December 16, 2018.

Premiered by the Hole in the Floor Quartet:

Kellen Degnan -- cello
Wesley Hornpetrie -- cello
Ben Rodgers -- cello
Hanna Rumora -- cello

In early September of this year, I discovered a cassette tape that I made, dated July 7, 2016 -- my birthday. I immediately put it in my tape player. Upon listening, I was struck by the recording. The recording, which was me improvising solo piano with electronics, lacked many things: high fidelity, musical structure, a sense of articulation. But the recording more than made up for that lacking in one crucial area: heart. I heard an arresting vitality; the potent and powerful electricity which we musicians constantly grasp for.

In the pursuit of more abstract and advanced musical concepts, it's easy to let this unquantifiable realm of musicianship -- musical heart -- go unattended. Head and Heart works to locate that sensibility at the center of its universe. This piece honors the part of myself that is my least articulate self, the self that I don't have words to describe, the self that I can't justify or defend or reason with, the self that I've run away from or tried to grow out of. In creating Head and Heart, I transcribed one section of that cassette tape recording and used those musical materials as a basis for the whole piece. That material finds a literal statement in the opening theme of the piece, and recurs throughout.

But I also applied analytical processes to extend that material -- using my head to extend the reach of my heart. After all, the initial recording that inspired this piece doesn’t exactly hold up; it’s messy, wild, and formless. Head and Heart uses that exciting kernel of energy as a starting point, but moves that energy into distant and far flung directions completely beyond the reach of the original material. The result is a synthesis of the two approaches; where the heart fails the head picks up, and where the head sputters the heart interjects.

I hope that this piece inspires a sense of true vulnerability; a graceful acceptance of those moments when our hearts can lead us to our authentic, inarticulate, honest selves. Additionally, I hope that it models a measured and thoughtful approach to living; an approach where we buttress our emotional cores with contentiousness and care. In this sense, head and heart can be are complimentary, interdependent, and mutually supportive.

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 published an extensive blog post about the construction of this piece. You can find that on my blog, Audio Ephemera.

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

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).

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!

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.