music made of reactions


North Country Electronic Music Festival

I had a great weekend performing at the North Country Electronic Music Festival in Montpelier, VT.  The event was organized by Dennis Bathory-Kitsz, Anne Decker, and David Morneau, and was part of of the 24th annual South End ArtHop – so it was a very cool scene with people coming in and out of the club all day if they were intrigued by the sounds emanating from within.

I performed the new second movement of “Piano” with my collaborator (and fellow VCFA alum) Aaron Cecchini-Butler.

Our collaborations are usually constrained by distance and time, but this time it was REALLY constrained – to the point that we weren’t able to rehearse until the morning of the performance.  We had each written our parts individually without hearing the other’s contribution and, magically, they fit together almost immediately.  We made some minor tweaking (and a beat…and a sub-bass, because every beat needs a sub-bass…) but we were ready to go pretty quickly.


(few people know that my love of improv extends to performance furniture…)

We were interviewed by Kalvos and Damian (Dennis Bathory-Kitsz and David Ross Gunn, who, might I add, has excellent taste in pants hues).

the interview 147364805699677.jpeg

And we were hosted by Craig Pallet, a great composer who had also performed at the festival and who alsoincidentally takes amazing selfies:


Aaron and I debuted our new project, “Osaka Color Theory.”  Watch this space!


That Was a Pitchin’ Noise Show!

Recently, my composerly colleague Dennis Báthory-Kitsz linked to an article in which composer Eric Chasalow argues too many electroacoustic composers are missing the importance of pitch in their compositions. (“Pitch” meaning frequencies that we hear as notes.)

I can’t claim to be up on the latest trends in electroacoustic music, but I thought that this was an interesting argument to make, given the prominence of a recent movement to use electronics to identify the pitches inherent in sounds: spectralism is, broadly, the compositional practice of identifying the pitches/overtones/partials in various sounds and using them to inform the selection of notes for a composition. The classic example is Gérard Grisey’s “Partiels,” in which the orchestra “plays” the notes indicated in a sonogram analysis of a trombone’s low E.  The ensemble plays not just the low E, but all the other frequencies that the sonogram indicates are present when the trombone plays that one note.

I’ve had the opportunity to begin exploring the notes hidden in non-musical sounds by  starting in the same place as a spectral piece: taking recordings of not-instruments, figuring out the pitches those not-instruments make, and using those pitches to to inform the notes that acoustic instruments play.

I was able to begin this experiment via a Disquiet Junto assignment to make a piece using a recording of a refrigerator.  I figured out the pitches of my refrigerator’s thunks, rumbles and whirrs by ear:


After that, I wrote a melody for the accordion to go above the “notes” the refrigerator was “playing,” with the end result sounding something like:

For a different, very exciting project (that I will post more about soon!), I took a recording of a woodblock, and used Ableton’s Spectrum to figure out frequencies were in the woodblock’s sound, and then used those notes as the basis of a piano part.  The musical intervals between those frequencies (a triad of an augmented fourth and a half-step) became the seed for the whole piano part.

If you’re curious about doing this yourself, there are a number of ways to figure out the pitches of sounds that most people don’t think of as having pitches.  Here’s the ones I have used:

  • My ear
  • SPEAR (SPEAR can do a lot more than just deduce pitches, but I haven’t explored it deeply)
  • Ableton’s Spectrum plug-in maxresdefault
  • Ableton’s slice to MIDI function will remove any guesswork and judgment on your part and convert any audio into MIDI data.
  • Temporarily pitch-shifting a sample WAY up by octaves so that a pitch emerges, and then reverting it back to its original pitch (this is how some electronic producers tune drums)


A fun project would be to map 88 samples to a MIDI keyboard and link each sample to its closest pitch on the keyboard…

I updated my scores page – graphic and prose scores galore!

I updated my scores page with a lot of the graphic and prose scores I’ve done over the past several years.  Check it out!


My traditionally scored music will be up in the summer – check back then!

Music made from micro-loops: “Arrite”

The Disquiet Junto has been providing me with a much-needed creative outlet this school year (I have taken on extra duties in addition to my regular job and am swamped!) I was very happy with this week’s project, which was to take very short snippets of a non-rhythmic sound and turn them into rhythms for a piece.

In working with these short samples, the shifts in timbre and overtones began to grab my attention more than the rhythmic loops. When taking long recordings and turning them into short loops, the background “noise” of the recording becomes very much an important characteristic of the loop. When working with very short audio samples, background noise becomes more like a pitch.

My VCFA mentor Diane Moser once presented on R. Murray Schafer’s concept of “Soundscapes” and and how background noise is only background noise if we define it contrast to what we are paying attention to and expect to hear. (Obviously Cage’s piece 4′ 33″ draws on this principal also.)

Anyway, enough philosophizing – let’s play weird music!

And if you like this sort of thing, you may also enjoy my playlist of all my Disquiet tracks.


New Piano and Electronics Piece – 12

I just posted a piano + electronics that I wrote and performed with Aaron Butler at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Electronics Showcase, August 2015.

We wanted to write a piece that used lots of electronics (to make it suitable for the “Electronics Showcase” night, of course), and drew on several strains of contemporary music: contemporary classical, contemporary jazz, and contemporary beats.

We started with some piano chords Aaron had been working with, and made everything else in the piece evolve from that initial material. The fuzzy synth tones re-imagine the piano’s motive, sometimes via new voicings, sometimes by playing the original chord tones aleatorically to make unpredictable combinations.

The piano was recorded live at the performance. However, the electronics were almost inaudible on the live recording. To get a good mix, I brought the live piano recording into the Ableton set I performed from and “re-performed” the piece to get all the computer-generated material right from the source. That left me with a muddy piano recording and flawless synth-and-beat accompaniment. So I tried to make the roomy piano sound an asset, running it through a vinyl-record emulator and a phaser. To quote Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, “Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify.”


Murakami and the Solitude of Writing

[Murakami] likened the solitary act of writing to cooking one of his favourite foods, deep-fried oysters.

His wife can’t stand the dish, so he has no choice but to cook and eat them alone, he told the audience, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

“I am lonely, but they are delicious,” he added. “Like the relationship between solitude and freedom, it moves in an endless cycle. Picking out single words that are contained within me is also a solitary act so [writing novels] is similar to eating fried oysters by myself.”


Cool video art – CIVIC-TV x N.O.I.S.E.

Part of a very cool collaboration with CIVIC-TV. CIVIC requested tracks from 22 musicians, asking for a mixture of noise, ambient, and beats. He then made a visual mixtape linking all the tracks together using highly saturated footage that is simultaneously very abstract and very 80’s.

You can watch the whole video here:

My thing starts at about 28 minutes.

If you want the audio!
If you want a VHS tape!
If you want the YouTube!