String Quartet no. 2 – “The Void”

This piece was inspired by the 36th koan listed in Nyogen Senzaki’s collection of 100 Zen Koans, The Iron Flute. 1It reads:

36. Where to Meet After Death

Tao-wu paid a visit to his sick brother monk, Yun-yen. “Where can I see you again, if you die and leave only your corpse here?” asked the visitor. “I will meet you in the place where nothing is born and nothing dies,” answered the sick monk. Tao-wu was not satisfied with the answer and said, “What you should say is that there is no place in which nothing is born and nothing dies, and that we need not see each other at all.”

When I first read this koan I was immediately fascinated with the concept of “the place where nothing is born and nothing dies.” I believe it boils down to a single word: the void. However contradictory to Yun-yen’s statement it may be, Tao-wu’s insistence that there is no such place also suggests a certain idea of something void. Simply put, the phrase is what brought about the initial inspiration regardless of philosophical interpretation.

As a result the concept of the void is entertained throughout the piece by the sustaining of single harmonies for long periods of time. At times, particularly during the middle of the piece, this sustenance is masked by a higher level of rhythmic activity and timbral transformation. Silence is also used as a means of illustrating a sense of the void. In light of this conceptualization it is my sincerest hope that listeners might enter a reflective, even meditative state of mind by experiencing the piece.

1Senzaki, Nyogen, The Iron Flute: 100 Zen Koans Tuttle Publishing. 2000.

For detailed information about the scordatura tuning used in the piece see the document hosted at this link.

Performers

Micah Vogel, Sabrina Boggs – Violin

Krista Swenson – Viola

Malcolm King – Cello

Distances

Distances for Trumpet Octet is a piece which entertains concepts of distances in various musical ways. Throughout the piece the listener will notice spatial changes within the ensemble, so that parts which compliment one another are sometimes heard close together, and at other times from across the ensemble. Spatial considerations are used to enhance rhythmic figures broken up among the 8 players. Another obvious distance is found in the pitch immaterial of the piece. Distances played a large role in the formation and crafting of the piece itself. For example, when I first began, I charted out all of the possible valve combinations on the trumpet from E4 to C6, numbering them 1-53 (making Eb4 to F#3 0 to -9). I then applied 5 recursive sets of integers to my chart of valve combinations, giving me 5 individual series of notes with specific valve combinations. I assigned one set to each trumpet (set 1 to trumpet 1/5, set 2 to trumpet 2/6 etc.) and leaving set 5 for use among all 8 trumpets. This informed my writing in terms of voicing, and disbursement of alternative fingerings throughout the ensemble – one instance of this is the very beginning of the piece. Ultimately, this is a “trumpetey” piece, which plays off of the tradition of trumpets being used to call across great distances; signaling victory or defeat, a call for help or a dire warning. For many throughout history, who fought in the countless wars of a time long past, the sound of the trumpet foreshadowed whether they were to live or to die. So if this piece seems at times dissonant – perhaps uncomfortably so, ask yourself one question: was it a beautiful sound which brought down the walls of Jericho?

All parts performed by Professor Leonard Ott, Lecturer in Trumpet at University of the Pacific
Recorded in the Owen Hall Recording Studio
Produced by Kevin Swenson
Engineered by Chris Sacha

String Quartet no. 1

This String Quartet is made up of three movements with the two outer movements serving as mirrored poles and a contrasting second movement in the middle. The piece is very free but the first and third movements are comprised (almost) entirely of a repetitive intervallic pattern which is cut up and manipulated in many ways, so as to make it mostly unrecognizable. In the second movement, the darkness of the outer movements subsides, giving way to a droning foundation and singing melody. Tremendous gratitude belongs to the literary work of William S. Burroughs, whose revolutionary cut up method in part inspired the techniques that I employed throughout the piece in developing my interval fragments.

Performers: Micah Vogel, Emily Criss – Violin

Krista Swenson – Viola

Laura Robb Martin – Cello

 

 

Premiered 5-1-18

 

Winston Smith Enters Room 101

Winston Smith Enters Room 101 is a piece inspired by George Orwell’s 1984. All of the spoken portions of the piece are lines borrowed from the novel. The intention of the music is to characterize the state of mind of Winston Smith, the book’s protagonist, when he is tortured and dehumanized in Room 101a place within the Ministry of Love where dissidents are faced with “the worst thing in the world” in order recondition them to accept their totalitarian reality and to love Big Brother.

Premiered 12-6-17

Andrew Cardwell, Tyler Golding, Vincent Lei- Percussion

With the Shapes

With the Shapes is a sort of compound piece made up of two entirely different settings of the same text by Michael McClure – Song (I work with the Shape).The first setting, for female voice (alto) and piano treats the poem with mystery and ambiguity. The second setting, for male voice (bass/baritone) and guitar, is a bit brighter and more energetic.

Premiered 12-6-17

Mvt I

Malvika Sriram – Voice

David Dryfoos – Piano

Mvt II

Kevin Iwai – Voice

Scott Nelson – Guitar

Shall the Circle Survive?

Shall the Circle Survive? for double saxophone quartet is told from the perspective of an unknown narrator, whose voice is heard in the piece from the various members of the ensemble. Having just lost a loved one, their (the narrator’s) jumbled thoughts of mourning are heard at the very beginning. These thoughts are interrupted throughout  the piece by longer musical passages as the narrator’s mind becomes intoxicated by  pleasant memories of the one they mourn. Yet their mind always returns to the somber contemplation heard at the beginning.

Much of the piece is based on the folk hymn Will the Circle be Unbroken. All of the spoken portions of this piece are adapted from the lyrics of the Carter Family recording of the song from 1927.

Premiered 12-6-17

Shelbey Evans, Zach Grenig – Soprano Saxophone

Mitchell Beck, Matthew Loya – Alto Saxophone

Chris Sacha, Emmanuel Fernandes – Tenor Saxophone

Beau Haygood, Eric Espinoza – Baritone Saxophone