music made of reactions


Listen to me on Mouth 4 Rusty’s new album, “Must Take More Care”

My friend Matt and his musical partner Emma make beautifully exposed and heartfelt singer-songwriter music under the name Mouth 4 Rusty.

I’m lucky enough to perform on some of these releases, including their most recent album, “Must Take More Care.”

Check it out and if you like it buy it – they’re good people make making uncommonly sincere music!


Lou Harrison, Thrice Removed

I just got a copy of Soundings 9 via interlibrary loan to take another look at Gavin Bryars’ score for The Sinking of the Titanic.

Inside it I found this inscription:

A Happy Summer to Robert, from Lou and Bill

A Happy Summer to Robert, from Lou and Bill

On a hunch, I looked up Lou Harrison, and sure enough his partner’s name was William (Bill) Colvig.

The bookplate says it’s from the collection of Robert E. Brown, who is credited with, among other things, introducing Gamelan music to America.

Harrison was of course influenced and inspired by Gamelan music.




I’m touching a book Lou Harrison (probably) touched!

My daughter informed me I am “fangirl”ing.

Guilty as charged.

“Have a Vision and Cleave to It”

When I had just finished my schooling and was looking for a job, a friend put me in touch with an absurdly well-connected British biographer who, she assured me, would help me find the professional position of my dreams. I wrote and asked him whether we might meet, explaining that I would appreciate his advice on securing literary work and enclosing some of my early efforts. He duly invited me for tea. The advice I had in mind sounded like this: “You must call so-and-so at this number and say I suggested it and he will publish you and give you loads of money.” After giving me a cup of weak tea—no sandwiches, no pastry, not even sugar or milk—he said, “I have only one piece of advice for you. Have a vision and cleave to it.” We then discussed the weather for twenty minutes.

– Andrew Solomon


Prose Scores, Concise Elegance, and Ethan Hein’s Convergence/Divergence

I love a good prose score. I love how a few direct lines of text can unfold into a rich, varied piece.

My favorite is possibly La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #10:

“Draw a Straight Line and Follow it”

With this piece, Young trusts the performer to start with their own theme, musical motive, or gesture and then expand it in a linear fashion that makes sense to them. The audience is guaranteed a changing experience because whatever the performer deems to be the core concept of the piece will progress.

(Other prose scores have made appearances on this blog, including Jeffrey Agrell’s improvisation exercises and Stockhausen’s opus “Music from the Seven Days.”)

My OTHER favorite thing about good prose scores is how they can can reduce a complicated musical concept to just a few concise words.  Christian Wolff was a master of this; the instructions for rhythm in his piece “Stones”   (“for the most part discretely; sometime in rapid sequences”) guarantees the existence of two repeating (and therefore unifying) elements that will never sound exactly the same, due to the nature of the “instruments:”

Make sounds with stones, draw sounds out of stones, using a number of sizes and kinds (and colors); for the most part discretely; sometimes in rapid sequences. For the most part striking stones with stones, but also stones on other surfaces (inside the open head of a drum, for instance) or other than struck (bowed, for instance, or amplified). Do not break anything.
– Christian Wolff

There is a similar graceful efficiency in this week’s Disquiet Junto project, which tasked participants with creating a solo rendition of Ethan Hein’s piece Convergence/Divergence.

With Hein’s permission, here’s the full score:

* Each performer loads a short, shared sample. It should have a distinct attack and decay, for example a bell or gong. It can be pitched or unpitched, musical or unmusical.

* Each performer triggers the sample repeatedly, either as a steady loop or at any arbitrary time interval.

* After a few repetitions, each performer manipulates the sample as they see fit, via pitch shifting, time stretching, filtering, or other effects. Transformations should be gradual and clearly perceptible.

* Once the entire ensemble is playing altered versions of the sample, the performers begin to undo their manipulations, preferably in the reverse order that they were originally applied.

* When all performers have resumed playing back the original sample, the piece ends.

I love the efficiency of this piece because Hein guarantees the statement, development, and final restatement of a theme–which is pretty much a staple of common-era classical music and also jazz–in a just a few words.

I couldn’t help but imagine how a group performance would provide constant evolution and change, much like how a classical composer would move a theme through various accompaniments and tonal centers, or how jazz musicians play a song’s melody, improvise over the melody’s chords, and then restate the melody at the end of the tune.

And in fact, I didn’t have to just imagine it!  Hein has a blog post about the piece, including a recording of a performance, on New Music Box:

And you can hear my rendition here:

And you can hear other peoples’ versions here:

Playing a noise show tonight in Newark, DE

I’ll be revisiting my college days by playing at the “Final Fridays” noise show tonight in Newark, DE.

That's NEW-ark. NEWurk is in NJ. Huge difference.

That’s NEW-ark. NEWurk is in NJ. Huge difference.

I just got my (new!) setup all tweaked and ready to go; I am super super excited to have a rig that I can take out into the world and use to not just play my pieces but to actually interact with and construct stuff on the fly.  So very cool.  I’ll be doing reconstructed versions of three pieces off of my Infrared Leviathan album, making heavy use of Ableton’s Follow Actions and also doing my own interpretation of Ikue Mori’s setup as she described in the first Arcana book.

(I’ll explain my fake-Ikue setup in further detail in a subsequent blog post).

I’m billied as Robot Monster; R0B0T M0NST0R is supposed to be my name for manic pop and raggacore mashups, but I didn’t quite get those pieces together in time for the gig, so I’m doing some more sedate stuff (it’ll still be face-melting but there won’t be any beats).

Anyway, if you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!  The show starts at 9 and is being hosted by Rainbow Records.

The New Haven Independent reviews Apres-Garde Ensemble’s Show

The New Haven Independent reviewed our recent show at Neverending Books:

Apres-Garde in Action

At times, the three distinct spacial qualities of the instruments isolated them, allowing their different ideas to exist simultaneously without drowning the other out. But there were moments, particularly in “Individuation,” where the three players began using similar ideas, unifying the imaginary spaces from which each instrument was being broadcast, and making the small room bigger as a result.

They also had some insightful comments about Carte Noire (it helps when the reviewer is an improviser and composer also – you know they’ll “get it”)

This was tragically Ben Zucker‘s last show with us before he goes off to grad school to become even more awesome.

Our next show was a duo with just Trevor and I – it was an interesting challenge and change.

The next step is for us to find some more kindred spirits and expand the ensemble a bit. Or not? (DUN-DA-DUNN)

Evil teletubbies mashup because the internet thats why

I belong to a Facebook group where we post photos/screenshots of whatever we happen to be listening to at that moment.  It’s actually a lot of fun because it’s FULL of music nerds, and there’s always some funny and irreverent discussion.

Some cat named Tim Bender posted an old corporate promo record for a bacon-making machine. He included a link to the recording via the (always awesome) WFMU blog so we could hear it ourselves.

I’m a big fan of the sound of audio recordings that have been slowed-down, so I simply had to nab the audio track of children singing praises to their corporate overlord and slow it down by about 75%.

I had also recently seen someone who turned to the Teletubbies intro into a black and white David Lynchian nightmare, so it seemed a natural pairing.

I took a break from my grad-school work (rotational arrays!) and made this weird thing – enjoy!