April 22, 2013
After a year or so of writing smaller-scale instrumental and choral works for single events, I have returned to my opera-in-progress, Brother Brother. I am sharing excerpts from this work in June at the Industry’s First Take event in Los Angeles and have begun to plan for a premiere performance of the full piece sometime in the next year or so. Very exciting and also daunting. As I try to get my head back into the piece, I have been looking at some of the original images that inspired this project when I began it several years ago.
The top blueprint is for one of the Wright Brother’s kites that inspired their airplane design.
The below image is a early 1900 photograph of a house fire, which I associate with the fire in the Wright Brother’s workshop that features prominently in the third act of Brother Brother.
March 7, 2013
Often, as I am beginning to work on a new piece, I have to think about what it will look like before I begin to describe in musical notation what it will sound like. These are two examples of how I organize a work visually before I get started with the process of writing. They both come from a new piece I am working on for 30 percussionists, each with a pair of claves.
October 7, 2012
I am working on a new monodrama opera, called ‘The Collector’ for the upcoming Experiments in Opera ‘New Shorts’ event on February 9, 2013 at Issue Project Room. I am also slogging through a much larger piece, Brother Brother, so with ‘The Collector’ I have been enjoying the opportunity to create a complete world on a small scale without all of the incredible challenges of producing a huge piece.
‘The Collector’ is a modestly straightforward story about a man who rekindles his interest in collecting stamps and becomes obsessed with the relationships he builds through his stamp collection. For this piece, I wanted to write music that followed the natural phrasings of spoken speech, but also ask the musicians to match exactly the rhythms of the performer. As you see above, I have taken the full libretto and assigned rhythmic values to each phrase. Without proper bar lines or meters, these free rhythms should be able to capture the loose precision of my ideal spoken delivery.
With this kind of flexibility, I hope I can create a simulated tension that embodies the ‘collector’s’ mounting anxiety and isolation. Stay tuned for more details….
August 30, 2012
Does it come as a surprise to anyone who knows me or my work that I really like questions?
Do you think questions are evasive?
Why is it so hard to come up with a good question?
Which do you prefer, a question or an answer?
How can you tell the difference between the two?
What is the difference between a piece of art and an interview?
When is a question an answer?
June 13, 2012
Sometimes, in order to get to nothing, you have to trick yourself into thinking you are doing something. Happy Summer!
May 3, 2012
The Experiments in Opera Spring Series will be presented at Roulette in Brooklyn on May 10-11, 2012. The two-day event will pick up where the January 2012 inaugural concert left off, with full versions of Jason Cady’s Happiness is the Problem and Matt Welch’s Borges and the Other.
In addition, two of the choral excerpts from my own Brother Brother will be featured on Thursday May 10. I am excited to be working with singers Amanda Sidebottom, Patrick Fennig, Jonathon Hampton and Thomas McCargar.
Visit experimentsinopera.com for more information.
Visit roulette.org to buy tickets.
February 6, 2012
One of the pleasures of parenthood is the opportunity to play with toys again. And when the toys themselves are filled with memories of ones own childhood, the experience is both generative and reflective. This past holiday season, we got my son Leo a set of tinker toys, and though they are a little different from the set my brother and I had as kids, they are pretty much the same toys. Leo is a builder (blocks, legos, pillows, you name it) and we have already made a couple of significant tinker toy structures together. Its hard not to let my own enjoyment eclipse his, but hopefully my excitement at getting a chance to tinker is received with more than a sense of competition.
Not coincidentally, I have also recently itched a long-standing urge to learn how to play GO, something I have always thought of as a very adult kind of game (doesn’t everyone picture old, wizened people playing GO?). I picked up the rules of the game fairly easily, but am really struggling with my inability to think strategically. I have lost so many times to the computer that is my iPhone that I am just about to give up. I am frustrated that I can’t seem to find the pleasure in thinking through the strategy of the game.
I also downloaded an app that is a generation removed from the old tile puzzles that I am sure litter coffee tables at grandma’s house across the world. Where I have been frustrated with GO, I am completely engrossed in the never-ending puzzle combinations and more rewarding (and quicker to come by) victories.
I just assume everyone’s mind works a little differently and has settled into solving problems or answering questions through a series of calculated steps that are just right for that person. I know that I am more creative and productive when I have all the pieces of a puzzle laid out before me, when I can move them around, trying different combinations at will and quickly (and with little strategic organization) so that eventually, I will find the solution. But I can’t just imagine how things will look when I make a move, I have to try it. I have to see what it looks like and only then will I be able to process the information necessary to find the creative solution.
I am a tinkerer. Always was, always will be.
December 1, 2011
The Experiments in Opera collaborative has its inaugural festival at Le Poisson Rouge on January 16, 2012. My chamber opera-in-progress, Brother Brother, will be one of the featured works on this festival along with other excerpts from new works by Matthew Welch, Jason Cady and George Aperghis.
When Matt, Jason and I first got together to plan this project, we talked about how hard it was to work on large-scale operatic pieces knowing that the opportunities for full productions don’t come around often and that when they do they are really expensive. Despite these odds, our mutual interest in experimenting with the form of opera–of telling stories, molding music, shaping movement and images–outweighed our hesitancy and we decided that we couldn’t afford not to write the music that we wanted to! Instead of going at it alone, though, we theorized that it would benefit all of our works individually (and the community at large) if we could figure out how to share resources, ideas and stages.
The Inaugural Experiments In Opera Festival on January 16, 2012 is just the beginning of this process, but already it has proven revelatory. Instead of wondering when we will be asked to share our work, we know that we will be able to make the opportunities for ourselves to continue developing our experiments. And, since we have made the development of other operatic works a priority in our programming, our efforts will help support a larger community of artists working in the world of music, words and story.
This is by far the most exciting thing I have going on right now and I sense that it will have a great impact for years to come. Please join us on January 16, 2012 as we shape a dedicated community of artists and our experiments.
Visit experimentsinopera.com to learn more about the festival program and artists.
Support the Experiments in Opera Kickstarter Campaign
October 14, 2011
By way of a lucky encounter with my friend and fellow raconteur, Dave Ruder, I got invited to participate in an upcoming performance of Robert Ashley’s early opera “That Morning Thing,” which will play at The Kitchen from November 19-21 as part of Performa 2011.
I have long been an admirer of Ashley’s work and, being in the midst of work on my own opera, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn more about how Ashley works. His operas have the special feeling of arriving fully formed from a distant planet, where everyone speaks with a mellifluous tone and has detailed stories and observations about things you think you know about or at least have some memory of (even if this is completely fabricated).
As it happened, our rehearsals for the piece coincided with my purchase of a new camera (which I am enjoying immensely). I have been documenting the rehearsals ever so slightly for the production blog, but thought I would share this above photo as a reflection of my excitement for the production. The photo is a response to some of the directions for the male performers in Act 3 who are asked to sit in the ways that “men do when they are thinking.” Having rehearsed this 5 minute section several times, it was hard not to see more clearly that, while men may have their own way of looking while they are thinking, women also have some close-looking variations of their own. I don’t know whether this observation is due to an actual relationship between physical gesture, or perhaps a reflection of the ways that “sexed” behavior (and here I am using ‘sex’ in place of ‘gender‘ per Bob’s preference) has changed in the forty years since the piece’s premiere.
To find out more, you will need to come out to the performance at the Kitchen….