Elliott Grabill

composer | educator

Tag: soul searching

When I Have Fears

for baritone voice and orchestra

When I have fears that I may cease to be
   Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
   Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
   Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
   Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
   That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
   Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

John Keats

When I Have Fears, ruminates on John Keats’ sonnet and the existential issues it presents. It features Keatsian imagery such as bird songs and slow, sarabande-like rhythms.

This recording features vocalist Rahzé Cheatham, with Nell Flanders conducting.  The orchestra is comprised of Peabody musicians.  The instrumentation is 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, a timpani, and strings.

Endurance

for flute, bass clarinet, violin, cello, and piano

Like a marathon runner, Endurance maintains the same, steady metronome marking throughout, though its gestures alternate between careful, steady movement, and unpredictable rage.  The syncopation of the opening notes provides a foreboding backbeat, returning throughout the piece in various registers and instruments. Like some of his other pieces, the music’s emotional content is inspired by grief and soul searching, alluding to what humanity must endure in today’s turbulent times.  The work draws from jazz and microtonality, among other influences. 

https://soundcloud.com/elliott-grabill/endurance

Escape

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.

 

Snowy Shore

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.

 

 

 

Katharos

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.

 

Kings Highway / Stillwell Ave, Brooklyn

for piano

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.

Pranayama

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.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Listen to a continuous playlist of all four movements here:

Un Jardin

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.

Listen below!

I.  Un Jardin

I. Un Jardin

II.  Ceres

II. Ceres

III.  Quasi Sostenuto

III. Quasi Sostenuto

© 2018 Elliott Grabill

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑