Brother Brother is my new opera/theater work about brotherhood of all kinds, and featuring the untold story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, will receive a premiere production at the Abrons Arts Center on May 2 & 3, 2014.
I have been working on Brother Brother for almost four years, sharing excerpts along the way and building the artistic relationships with ensembles and singers that have helped the piece to grow in unusual and interesting ways. As the creative team works together over the next three months to prepare the production, we are asking for your support in one big final push to help get this production off the ground and into the air!
for four vibraphonists and SSA choir (2012)
I first encountered the music of Bascom Lamar Lunsford on the Smithsonian Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music. I was blown away by the power of his vocal phrasing and banjo picking. There is something mysterious about his music that can’t be put into words—it’s simple and straightforward, yet elusive. The Light Come Down is my homage to Mr. Lunsford and the rarity of his inspiration. It is also a tribute to the musicians of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, who shine wherever they go.
The Light Come Down is inspired by shape note singing and should be sung using a bright and nasally sound. The first half of the piece is meant to have a hymn-like quality while the second half of the piece is highly rhythmic and energetic.
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?
Last week, close to fifty New Yorkers downloaded the GROUP app for their iPhone and came out to the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate Make Music New York and the River to River Festival. Here is just a sampling of the word on the street.
This Spring, LockStep Records released “Science is Only a Sometimes Friend,” a magnum opus for eight glockenspiels and organ. See below for early reviews and then buy the record, which is available as a CD or a download.
With the end of the year fast approaching, here come the “Best Of” lists. With them also comes the sense that so much of what inspired me this year, was not new this year at all. Instead, for whatever reason, there were a number of things that I encountered this year for the first time, even though they have been around for many years (or, in the case of one of these items, 200 years). I recognize the risk of seeming very uncool by acknowledging that it has taken me this long to come upon some of these items (see item 2 below), but am mostly glad that I finally did. Here are my top ten favorite encounters of the 2010 (in order of when I encountered them):
10. The Interrogative Mood by Padget Powell. This novel (?) is written completely in questions. A conceptual coup, yes, but also a riveting read. When I finished it, I had to go back read all of Mr. Powell’s other works just to figure out how he got to this place. I will let you know when I figure it out.
9. The Nose by Dmitri Shostakovich and Directed by William Kentridge. This little seen opera is a thrilling adaptation of Gogol’s short story by the same name. The music was mostly interesting (can’t say I am a huge Shostakovich fan), but the staging was revelatory. Kentridge made tremendous use of the Met Opera’s resources and created an inspired drawing book of political history.
8. I Am Love by Luca Guadagnino with music by John Adams. Speaking of opera, this film was as emotionally manipulative as the best Verdi. But, in terms of a tonal palatte (visually, symbolically, musically and emotionally), this luscious film was completely engrossing. I think I held my breath for hours afterwards.
7. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I put off Mr. Foster Wallace’s ouevre when most of my peers read him in the late 90’s, but last year felt it was time to dig in. The essays and short works were enough to convince me to try my hand at this monster of a novel, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent four months of my life than engrossed in this lively, inspiring and devastating portrait of the human condition.
6. Seventh Symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven; performed by the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. I enjoy Beethoven as much as any casual enthusiast, but until this captivating performance at Carnegie Hall’s opening night, I am not sure I can say that I have actually heard his music. Now I know that, in the right hands, this music shimmers and trembles with as much power as anything out there. Period.
5. Selective Memory by Brian Rogers at the Chocolate Factory Theater. If you haven’t been to this small “white-box” theater in Long Island City, go! It is the definition of dedication to risky, engaging work. As he has done with his previous work with live video, Brian Rogers asks that you embrace the images “on-stage”, both real and reproduced, with a thoughtful and playful sensibility. With this piece, the payoff was enormous, and I left feeling both on my own and a part of something bigger than myself.
4. Naldjorlak by Elian Radigue at Issue Project Room. This is music that takes before it gives, but over the long run (this performance was long and made time feel slower than normal) it changed my fundamental relationship to the world (pretty big stuff, right?).
3. Too Hot to Handel at Carnegie Hall. Granted, this was a performance I helped to produce, but it was also an awesome display of enthusiasm and skill by 200 high school singers who stole the show with their energy and dedication.
2. Tonight’s the Night by Neil Young. I am not sure how this record slipped through my cracks, but I am so glad I know it now! A sensitive-angry meditation on the frailty of life, this is a complete record from start to finish and even though it is clearly rocking, it also transcends genre with its immediacy.
1. “Gaucho” by Steely Dan. The song more than the record, I heard this on a car radio late at night in the company of a good friend and suddenly felt appalled at the sound of every record I have ever heard before. Yes, the lyrics are bizarro and macho (like a lot of the Steely Dan I know), but the groove is completely mesmerizing, the saxophone solo spot on and the sound!! (did I mention how great the record sounds?)
Happy New Year!
“Creeks” (Broken Research) is Memorize the Sky’s third full-length record and first studio effort since 2006’s “Memorize the Sky” on 482 Music which was hailed as “an allusive, relentlessly surprising disc” (WIRE). “In Former Times” (Clean Feed, 2008) documents the band’s performance at the Ulrichsberg Kaleidaphon in the summer of 2007 and was praised as “consistently rewarding, accumulating microscopic evolutions of sound” (signal to noise).
“Creeks” was recorded in Brooklyn, NY during the winter of 2008, and documents the trio continuing to explore their unique blend of textural improvisation and drone-based song forms. This time, the ensemble extends their instrumentation to include electronic manipulation of sounds as well as a farther range of the woodwind and percussion families. These experimentations led to a recording colored by dense percussion textures and ghostly flute ruminations; splintering bells and melodic echo chambers.
For more details about the upcoming record-release tour, visit:
I was asked last year to quickly come up with a piece to share with a large mingling audience at a fundraiser event some friends were hosting. Having been working on some new texts for other projects, I thought I would experiment with the use of language appropriated from advertising. Advertisements play a convenient and poignant role in a lot of contemporary art (Cornell, Warhol, Prince among others), and the mystique of the advertising zeitgeist contributes to the popularity of Mad Men, which I have just started watching.
This proposed piece (it was never actually performed–due to a sick kid–mine) was to take snippets of written advertisements, or in some cases implied meanings from ads, and attach them to a single jingle bell on a bracelet-sized piece of yarn. Each attendee at the fundraiser would wear their jingle around with them for the evening, along with a single example of modern ad-speak. Here is a partial list of texts I might have used:
connect to your inner self
consider this ride
need a lawyer?
how about more school?
in case of a fire
take care of your feet
beware of bugs
travel back in time
it will be fun
new shoes better
witness a fight
I have been spending most of the summer so far wading through David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” I am, at turns, overcome by the enormity of this book, its spellbinding intimacy and also maddened by DFW’s distractible and obsessive imagination. The sections of the book that I struggle most with are his satires of political history. They seem so blatantly devoid of any genuine character or frankness that I find them intriguing only because they are annoying.
This morning, though, I read one of these political satire sections and had quite a different experience. The section in question was a transcript of an absurdist puppet show from a film detailing the fictional transition in the US to “subsidized” time (I wish I could do a better job here, but bear with me). On the matter of a (again) fictionalized budget gap, the book’s government officials (Tine and Gentle in the following quote) point out a common political predicament:
TINE: Outflows required, inflows restricted, balance demanded.
GENTLE: The classic executive-branch Cerberus-horned dilemma. The thorn in the Achilles’ tendon of the democratic process.
Hmmph, I thought. What a particularly pointed insight on democracy here in the middle of a book ostensibly about addiction, depression and obsession. Of course, DFW’s analysis (however absurd its context) is striking today because it is being played out every hour in the political discourse of whether we should be spending more money to support a broad progressive vision (and adding to the deficit) or if we should be cutting the deficit (even if it means ending financial benefits to the unemployed and risking stagnation).
Rather than weigh in on which of these perspectives I am partial to, I am more interested in thinking about the relevancy of narrative (satirical or not) to politics. Writing in the mid-1990’s DFW was not referencing directly the political climate of 2010, but he was admittedly influenced by political reactions to previous moments of progressive expansion, notably during the FDR and JFK administrations of the 1930’s and 60’s respectively. Not to mention, these issues must have been in the aether during the Clinton years of “Infinite Jest’s” milieu.
But these historical cycles are not, by themselves, interesting enough to be elucidating. Instead, it took the handiwork of the fiction writer–the artist–to reveal, through his imaginary narrative, the absurd reduction of political perspectives. In this case, DFW’s narrative is a satire, but there are other examples (Picasso’s Guernica sticks out to me) of frank and literal representations that, while of their own time, are also timeless. Guernica is politically ambiguous as it is both a warning and a reflection of violence. Narrative gestures are remarkable for this reason–whether or not an artist intends it, his representations contain the stories (political or otherwise) of a wide history and future.