New Track on “No Atmosphere. Silent Abyss.”

I have a track on this new noise music compilation, “No Atmosphere. Silent Abyss.” The assignment was to build a track using samples from NASA’s recently released trove of space sounds! (thus the title – get it???)

I approached mine as if I were Steve Reich using phasing with software samplers instead of tape loops. If you like this sort of thing, check out the whole compilation – I think it’s really strong and a good listen.

The Analyst, movement III

Wow, have I not updated this since October? Busy busy – lots going on in my brain and musically, I guess not so much time to document it on the old bloggy-blog.  I can at least take the time to share this – since “score selfies” are all the rage at my music composition MFA program (Vermont College of Fine Arts), here’s the cover page to my most recent opus, movement iii of The Analyst.


the analyst cover page


Movements I and II were already performed (awesomely) at the last residency by Ken Thompson, Gregg August, John Benthal and Fung Chern Hwei:

…it tells the story of a financial analyst who rides the wave of the subprime mortgage boom to great profits – until it all goes bust and he loses everything.

This final movement will be performed in February. It’s for a quartet of speaking singers who play the roles of angels and argue about whether or not the analyst should be let into heaven. I’m looking forward to it – I’ve always loved pieces that use a the voice in unconventional ways (Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, Stockhausen’s Stimmung) and this was a lot of fun to work on.

Onward and upward!

Listen to Fantasia XNY, my new piece for fixed media

This weekend saw the debut of my new piece, Fantasia XNY, courtesy of the Spokane New Music Ensemble’s “New Music in Old Homes” concert series:



The program was very clever – organizer Shawn Tolley paired three Baroque pieces, performed by oboist Linnea Wentworth, with contemporary electronic “responses,” all performed in a historic 1906 home. I’ve adored Baroque composition practices since I first studied  them in undergrad, and that fascination has carried through to my electronic music, including my most recent album, Infrared Leviathan.


So of course I jumped at the chance to compose a response to Telemann’s Fantasia No. 7 in D Major:

If you’re in the Spokane, WA area, check out the next concert: the Spokane New Music Ensemble will be hosting “Songs for Winter” on Sunday December 21st at 7:00 pm. Shawn Tolley is a prince of a guy and a very creative composer and organizer. Check out their website for more info:

Buddha, Stockhausen. Stockhausen, Buddha.

My faculty mentor at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Diane Moser, takes an approach to composition that she describes as holistic, and I would describe as having a very strong philosophical component. As part of my studies, she recommended I subscribe to’s “Daily Dharma” newsletter. Today’s newsletter reminded me of Stockhausen’s Music from the Seven Days:
“The Buddha intuited some type of evolutionary process that creates our bodies, and his essential point is that they are neither formed nor owned by us. We now have evidence that our bodies arise from the forces and elements that make up the entire universe, through a complex chain of interdependent events. Internalizing this understanding can help liberate us from the powerful sense of ownership and attachment we have to the body.”
-Wes Nisker, “Evolution’s Body”
Compare this to Stockhausen’s beautiful prose score:
Play a vibration in the rhythm of your body
Play a vibration in the rhythm of your heart
Play a vibration in the rhythm of your breathing
Play a vibration in the rhythm of your thinking
Play a vibration in the rhythm of your intuition
Play a vibration in the rhythm of enlightenment
Play a vibration in the rhythm of the universe

Mix these vibrations freely

Leave enough silence between them



David Lynch on Creativity

Via the excellent web site, here’s an excerpt of an interview with David Lynch on creativity, and how a whole creative work arrives a piece at a time.

“I like to think of it as, in the other room, the puzzle is all-together, but they keep flipping in just one piece at a time.”

In my humble opinion, this seems to imply that the your final creative product is predetermined and you need to just piece it together to form the predestined whole.

I’m not sure I buy that – I think we get a collection of beautifully colored Lego pieces.  It’s up to us to make them fit together.

Listen to me on IFAR Musique Concrète The Sound Objects compilation

This was a pleasant surprise – one of my tracks is included on the latest compilation from the indefatigably productive IFAR Compilation machine, IFAR Musique Concrète The Sound Objects compilation.

The assignment was to create a tribute to the spirit of John Cage (however you may interpret that) using primarily found sounds.  They specifically requested “not just John Cage samples over a synth drone,” which I respect immensely 🙂

The process was fun – I decided to create a piece that utilized all of the directions John Cage has sent me, rather than emulating his techniques (how does that quote go?  “Do not seek to emulate the masters; instead, seek what they sought.”)  You can read more about my process in a short essay on the compilation’s website, but long story short I made a tone row and ssstttrreeetttccchhheeedd the sound of each note until it was a drone, determining the length using various calulcations derived from the golden mean.  Then I overlaid that with a field recording of the traffic in my neighborhood (which Cage might refer to as a reading of 4′ 33″).

I really wrestled with the idea of having a “peak” in the piece.  I wanted it to stay true to a very broad definition of music, but I also wanted it to be a satisfying listen.  I ended up using a very subtle change in the timbre, which adds a “climax” only in the sense of variety.  I think it works.

Anyway, go check out the whole compilation – it’s a really nice collection of very interesting tracks.  (And you’ll notice each track on the compilation is 4′ 33″…)



First track of my new album Infrared Leviathan: “Springsteen-Influenced 3-Song Cassette Demo”

Let’s get weird! Here’s the first track of my new noise/improv/electronics album Infrared Leviathan: “Springsteen-Influenced 3-Song Cassette Demo”

The song gets its title from one of the source materials for the noise – I grabbed a handful of interesting-looking cassettes from New Haven’s favorite “Pay What You Can” book-store/cultural event center, Never-Ending Books. I came home and ran blasts of the tape through a delay pedal, ring modulator, etc etc, along with some other weird sounds (radio static, Korg Monotron bleeps and bloops, etc.) and then did some editing of the improv to prioritize the parts I liked and arrange it into a more satisfying composition.

What you get is the periodic resurgence of a very earnest “heyya” that could be about the struggle of the working man against big business or about how the singer is planning on calling his girl that night — all placed over a sound-bed of outer space noises and very impersonal fizzes and fuzzes.

I think this track really embodied the sense of organization and structure I wanted to get with this album – I love noise music and free improv, but I also love a brilliantly constructed classical piece. I wanted to have recognizable elements pop up again and again but in new places, hopefully making this sound like real music that just happens to be from another dimension.

Nick Di Maria’s Master’s Thesis on Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi

A notice that my bandmate and brohammer Nick Di Maria  just shared his Master’s thesis on the criminally overlooked Mwandishi-era Herbie Hancock recordings.


It’s a nice mix of musical analysis and behind-the-scenes business dealings (and tragically clueless execs who didn’t “get it”.)

I got into the Mwandishi stuff when a college bandmate recommended I check out Hancock’s “Fat Albert Rotunda” because it was really funky.  I got the Warner Bros. double-CD with Fat Albert Rotunda on one side (I made my hippy jam band lift the chord progression for Wiggle Waggle:

And 4 Mwandishi-era tracks on the other:


(that bass clarinet riff is still killer)

I kind of dug it but it was a little too weird for me at the time – there was NO chance of playing tunes like this at the time in my actual life.

But, many years later, I’m pretty sure we played Ostinato in Nick Di Maria’s Kitchen Sink project.



Anyway, go read up about Mwandishi! And dig some afro-future funky space jazz.

How Xenakis Worked

Xenakis, man.
I love reading about how other composers worked – there’s always something useful to glean for you own practices, and there’s always something reassuring in seeing that, for pretty much everyone, the successful completion of a creative endeavor boils down to a lot of time, effort, and trial and error.

Recently Michael Collins hipped me to Iannis Xenakis’ book Formalized Music, in which Xenakis describes many aspects of his approach to and philosophy of composing.

Among other things (including a whole lot of math talk), Xenakis describes his process for composing, which I share here along with my own explanations of what these terms mean:

  1. Initial conceptions: – “Intuitions” and ideas
  2. Definition of the sonic entities: – figure out the sounds you’re working with (orchestra? wind ensemble? no-input mixer?)
  3. Definition of the transformations: – “macro-composition” – in other words, big ideas, structure, logical framework, and order in which these things will happen
  4. Microcomposition – choice and detailed “fixing” of the relationships of these elements (basically macro composition but on a finer scale)
  5. Sequential programming of 3 and 4 – figuring out the schema and any patterns of the work in its entirety
  6. Implementation of calculations, verifications…and modifications – what you and I would call the demo/reading session and then making revisions based on what we heard
  7. Final symbolic result: – Finalizing the score
  8. Sonic realization: – Debut performance!As his book indicates (and as you may sense from this list), Xenakis was a very structured, analytical thinker. However, I think this process, terminology notwithstanding, could apply to a lot of creators in a lot of of fields.

    (if you’re interested in the book, I’m not sure it’s public domain, but you know, Google…)