Mountain Piques was written for the Pique Collective, a Baltimore-based new music ensemble. Split into four movements, this work uses electronics to create four nature-inspired scenes. It was performed in October 2018 at the Black Cherry Puppet Theatre, who created and choreographed visuals to accompany the piece.
This piece uses SuperCollider to produce the electronic part. A member of the quartet operates a laptop which activates prerecorded audio samples. They use their laptop keyboard trackpad to change the pitch and volume of the samples. This allowing them to, like an acoustic instrument, interact with ensemble and interpret it a little differently for each performance. Graphic notation describes how the electronic musician should perform on the laptop.
Two melodies played in counterpoint by a performer moving a computer cursor in different directions
The ensemble writing is intricate and tightly woven, and takes a neoclassical approach to form. I tried to give equal importance to rhythm, melody, sound, harmony, and gesture. Though many parts sound tonal, the work was too chromatic for me to set to a specific key. Much of the piece’s complexity is derived from heavy ornamentation. The most rhythmic movement, Bursting at the Brim, features a twelve-tone polyrhythm juxtaposed with a tonal theme played by the guitar.
The piece’s entirety can be listened to here:
I feel a certain closeness to the music when I’m putting pencil to paper. I carry around my sketches wherever I go, and use highlighters and colored pencils to cross out passages I don’t like and write new ones over it.
When I witnessed composers like Michael Hersch and Kirk Nurock present performers with handwritten scores, I also noticed a collaborative rapport. It was almost like they were delivering something very personalized to a good friend.
Normally I use Finale to engrave my final product– especially if I don’t know the musicians’ preferences. But once in a while I’ll find a musician like Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, who embraces handwritten music.
About half of this piece was written on a train from New Orleans to Baltimore. I also wrote part of Lake Pontchartrain on this ride.
for string sextet (two violins, two violas, two cellos)
Water is emotion, and every body of water I visit makes me feel a different way. Lake Pontchartrain is a shallow estuary in Louisiana just wide enough that one cannot see the other side. To get to New Orleans, one must travel across its waters on a freeway or train elevated just above the surface. On a cloudy, rainy day, the gray waters of Lake Pontchartrain evokes feelings of sadness, serenity, intimacy, and longing. The piece begins and ends like the lake’s gentle, unending waves: instruments play long single notes at different times, creating a chord progression that sways between dissonant clusters and tonal harmonies. The quiet middle sections are inspired by nature: wind rustling, birds chirping, and stillness. It features sparse triadic gestures, microtones, and cellos bowing on the bridge.