for stereo fixed media and narrator
“Snowy Shore” is a short, four movement electroaccoustic work featuring a narrator. In this work, I explore combining poetry with music. The text, which I wrote, describes the beach in the winter, culminating in a shamanistic journey through the icy ocean swell. The electronics intensify the experience of the poem’s narrative and imagery.
The music includes recordings of nautical buoys, wind, waves, synthesizer, toy recorder, piano, and Inuit throat singing. Additional techniques include panning, doppler, and frequency shifting to create microtones.
for one or two pianos
This piano piece is composed of twelve sections, which could be played as specified in the score, or in an order of the performer’s choosing. The piece may also be performed by two performers, each playing separate sections simultaneously, as seen in this video featuring Mila Roushakes and myself at the piano.
Katharos has six main themes spread out over twelve sections. Thus, one could view the piece as grouped into six pairs of sections– the first of each pair exposing the listener to the theme, and a corresponding section occurring later in the piece to further develop the motive. When performed with four hands, themes weave together and sometimes create new musical gestures when two parts overlap. The result is a vast assortment of weird, abstract fragments, sometimes unresolved, sometimes overdone, and often combined to create a dreamlike state.
I originally named this piece “SAVE Room,” the place in New York City public schools where students serve in school suspension to “think about what they’ve done.”
The score of Katharos may be viewed here.
for small mixed choir
I asked Nova Scotia poet Bauke Kamstra to write me a poem for this project for a couple reasons. I knew that Bauke could create a text more profound than I could ever imagine about the seasons. I also knew that since I was writing for chamber choir, I wanted a sound more intimate than most choral music. Bauke’s subtle, haiku-like poetry milks meaning from every word, and Making the Year offered me plenty of opportunities to make this text musically come to life.
I explored a multitude of musical settings, styles, and textures before deciding on the sketches that would become the piece. The themes of growth and decay in the poem compelled me to compose music that sometimes flows from key to key, while at other times remaining harmonically static. The sections are further differentiated with tiny tempo changes, subtle enough to the listener as the a small shift in the wind’s current or the water’s flow. I also vary the meter. Sometimes flowing and regular, the last page has several measures in 5/4 time to add emphasis and pause to the words.
This work has yet to be performed. Click below to hear a demo recording featuring me singing tenor and bass, and Jillian Delos Reyes singing soprano and alto. The score can be viewed here.
As the filtered end
of the year comes closer
the sky grey
the rain wetter than other water
then the land
after a brief moment of brilliance
becoming grey too
and a little brown
the colors leaching out
preparing the long night
and the white
a clean slate
on which to paint
a new year.
I have composed several pieces “about” specific places, using sounds from these environments as a means to evoke the experiences, both aural and emotional, that one might have there. In Kings Highway / Stillwell Ave., I string together a series of gestures to create a musical autobiography of my one year living in New York City. I derived these gestures from sounds of the city and my apartment. Since I didn’t have an audio recorder, I “painted” them onto paper and made them playable on the piano instead. Like Van Gogh, who altered the realism of his paintings and added elements to express his own thoughts and feelings about his landscapes, my alteration from musique concrete to piano allowed me to stamp my own emotions onto my soundscape.
The audio comes from my introduction of an earlier version of the work to the audience. In addition to adding the audio element, I worked with Vin Grabill created a film version of Kings Highway using photographs I took of New York– in addition to the footage of me performing the piece at the Church of the Holy City in Washington, DC. The film was selected for the Rosebud Film Festival in 2012.
for stereo fixed media
“Crnogorska” was featured at the Savamala Soundwalk in Belgrade, sponsored by improvE and Belgrade Sound Map.
A soundwalk is a different way of experiencing music. On 15. August, 2014, participants downloaded “Crnogorska” to their phones and listened to the piece while taking a soundwalk around the Savamala neighborhood of Belgrade.
I was assigned a section of the route which included Crnogorska St. The piece only employs sound samples from my route. The improvE collective gave me 4′ 34″ of sound, about the amount of time it takes to walk the route. I was asked to compose a soundscape of the exact same length, so that the work’s duration would last the same amount of time it would take listeners to walk the route.
I am a composer who writes instrumental, vocal, and electronic music, often combined with another medium like film or dance. As a composer, I am interested in sound, movement, gestures, and how the listener perceives them both concretely and emotionally. In much of my work, I take sounds from real life, sculpt them into new abstract musical objects, and string them into an aural narrative.
Below are short excerpts of three of my pieces: Pranayama, Kings Highway / Stillwell Ave., and Crnogorska. Click these links to watch these pieces in full.
Please click the link below to view my curriculum vitae.
for men’s chorus
Nantucket is set to the William Carlos Williams poem bearing the same name.
To view a score of this piece, click here.
This recording is a performance by the Washington Men’s Camerata from 2009 at the Kennedy Center in DC, conducted by Frank Albinder.
by William Carlos Williams
Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow
changed by white curtains –
Smell of cleanliness –
Sunshine of late afternoon –
On the glass tray
a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down, by which
a key is lying — And the
immaculate white bed
for stereo fixed media with optional video
Pranayama is an acousmatic work in four movements. The title derives from the Sanskrit word meaning “breathing in life.” Like Indian music, each movement centers around a single note with a swirling timbre (much like an tambura), and an abundance of tiny ornaments. Like much Western classical music, the piece is structured around four movements, each with its own expressive arc.
I created this work from about one hundred recordings of piano chords. Some of these samples I recorded by striking the keys; in other cases, I silently depressed some keys, struck others, and recorded the vibrations from the resulting harmonics. For each sample, I edited out the initial strike of the key, and faded in the rest of the track so that it sounded more like a stringed instrument than a piano. I sequenced and layered these tracks to create the piece. In certain sections, I added recordings of my own voice, as well as synthesizer pads. One might also hear the pedal, as well as other ambient sounds.
Beyond fading in and out, adjusting the gain, panning, and adding synthesizer pads, I used no additional software (i.e. SoundHack or Max) to write this piece. One only hears the raw recordings of the piano, synthesizer, and voice. Optional visuals may accompany this work created by my father, Vin Grabill, a video artist at UMBC.
So far, the work has been presented three times in its entirety in Washington, DC. The third movement was also featured at the 2011 International Computer Music Conference in Huddersfield, England. This piece is meant to be listened to in its entirety. However, if time is limited, the third movement can serve as an adequate representation of the full composition.
Listen to a continuous playlist of all four movements here:
for stereo fixed media with optional video
One question I ask myself when writing music is “would I listen to this?” I make it a habit to record everything I write or improvise. I leave it alone for a while, and then listen again. If it’s not engaging to me while I’m driving my car, getting dressed, or cooking dinner, I toss it for something that is. My first computer piece, Un Jardin also became the piece that for a while I listened to far more than any other of my compositions.
I actually composed Un Jardin while writing a choral piece. The piece wasn’t going anywhere, so I took a break and started playing with Garage Band on my computer. I recorded overtones from my piano. I edited out the initial strike of the piano key and faded in the sound. Then I laid the recordings on top of each other, staggering them to create (unlike a piano, and more like a violin) a continuous sound.
Editing the gain, pan, and laying multiple tracks on top of each other were the only ways in which I used technology to alter the recordings. The first movement, “Un Jardin,” begins with the soft sympathetic vibrations of the piano (caused by me striking open fifths) and reaches a warm climax with the fundamental vibrations of the lower piano strings. In the second movement, “Ceres”, I created a grinding vortex of sound with a subtle, pulsating rhythm, sometimes with chords emerging from the stew of over 44 simultaneous tracks. I took a similar though less radical approach with the third movement, “Quasi Sostenuto,” this time giving the piece more of a harmonic quality.
Though modern sounding, the structure of my three-movement piece takes influence from classical archetypal forms to lead the listener on a journey. The arch-like first movement invites the listener into a hypnotically pensive soundscape and is followed by a “scherzo” of sorts in the second movement; the piece ends with the third movement returning the listener into a sublime meditative state before fading into nothingness.
I. Un Jardin
I. Un Jardin
III. Quasi Sostenuto
III. Quasi Sostenuto