for clarinet and live electronics
“Darl” is named after the character from William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” A well spoken, soul searching character, Darl’s frustration over the way his family copes with his deceased mother leads him on a downward spiral, culminating with his confinement in a state mental institution. The piece features high pitched, jarring, accented sections indicative of his turmoil, coupled with a transcendental ending built off an electronic looping structure that spectrally shimmers with the aid of several flangers. In addition, the patch uses pitch shifting, noise, delay and ring modulation; the clarinet writing features microtones and trills that utilize alternate fingering.
for bassoon quartet (three bassoons, one contrabassoon)
Escape was written in December 2015 and January 2016. It was the 2016 recipient of the Dark in the Song Prize, was performed by the Dark in the Song bassoon collective in July of 2016. Publication of the work by TrevCo-Varner is expected in the near future.
for trumpet and bassoon
EP is a set of three duets for trumpet and bassoon, with a final movement Daddy for bassoon alone. This piece has been performed twice; I played the trumpet, and Melissa Birkhold on the bassoon. Its second performance took place at Highlandtown Elementary School in inner city Baltimore.
for B flat clarinet and live electronics
Pluto is a thirty-five minute long chamber work for clarinet and live electronics. It has five movements:
II. Cosmic Rant
III. Planet Heart
IV. The Sun’s Quiet Heat
Work on this piece began in July, 2015, around the time of NASA’s Pluto flyby. By the end of the year, I had a performable draft. After winning third prize in Peabody’s Prix d’Eté, the final movement Gravity was programmed in the Peabody Thursday Noon Concert Series, with Melissa Lander on clarinet. The third movement, Planet Heart, was premiered in August 2016 by Michele Jacot at the Toronto International Electro-acoustic Symposium, and performed again by Chase Mitchusson at NSEME in March 2017. Clarinetist Shawn Earle also performed Gravity at the 2016 University of Virginia Technosonics Festival.
In February 2017 I teamed up with Andrew Im to perform the piece in its entirety. We did so at the Centre Street Performance Studio in Baltimore. We performed it again in at the Music City Festival in Orange, NJ, and perform it in Rutland, VT on August 13.
The piece is expansive both in length and in texture, with long undulating loops and delay that continue the clarinet’s sound like a piano’s sustain pedal. Noise and ring modulation provide contrast to the smoothness of the clarinet. The electronics allow for loud sections, harmonies, and sounds lower than the clarinet can play– all derived from a clarinet.
Below are recordings of Serenity, Planet Heart, and Gravity.
for stereo fixed media, with optional multimedia
This piece started out as music for a dance piece called Sapa, which was choreographed by Danielle Greene Madrid and performed at Temple University in 2011. The music later set to video by my father, who titled the film After the Storms.
for four Bb clarinets, bass clarinet, and contrabass
In this tiny, three movement sextet, the players work to create a blended sound which, in turn produces braided, long arced phrases.
“Nivāhayati,” for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass.
“Nivāhayati” is a collage of notes, fragments, gestures, and phrases. Its structure explores buildup, growth, and decay, imitating both human form and nature.
The word “nivāhayati” is taken from Sanskrit and means “set to motion.” The piece is probably my most complex instrumental work, with ten solo parts interacting with one another. The work attempts to capture the experience of time as I interpret it, highlighting its dualities: activity versus pause; history versus present; linearity versus cycle; and cause versus effect.
The also piece focuses on my interest in human dynamics. While writing it, I sometimes pictured a party scene in which the musicians converse with one another, sometimes arguing, sometimes finishing each other’s sentences. I imitate vocal inflections using glissandi and blue notes. With the range of timbres available, I investigate the personalities of each instrument and imagine how, if each were a person, they would interact with one another.
I wrote this piece between August and November, 2014. The score can be viewed at issuu.com/elliottgrabill. If you are an ensemble interested in performing this work, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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.