Kitty Hawk (Brother’s Tears)

For two vibraphones, flute, soprano, and speaking voice, (2010)

“Kitty Hawk (Brother’s Tears)” is one of the first songs from an extended work for percussion, strings, choir and soloists that explores the mystery of brotherhood. The story, such as it is, follows two pairs of brothers–one historical (Orville and Wilbur Wright, as they seek to preserve and share their aircraft inventions) and one imaginary (These unnamed brothers are bound together by the death of their sick mother and seek to uncover the secrets she left unspoken).

Throughout the piece the soprano soloist recaps the story of the Wright Brothers, from their humble beginnings in West Dayton, Ohio, under the strict moral tuteledge a religiously zealous father, to their triumphant first flight on the dunes in Kitty Hawk. The Wright brothers were playful, scared, loving and industrious in each other’s company in a way that speaks to an organic closeness that allowed them to achieve remarkable success. While most stories of the Wright brothers end with their first successful flight, this story begins with that flight. For almost 3 years after their first flights, the brothers didn’t fly at all as they worked to protect their inventions, stave off skeptics and woo financial backing. This time was full of so much anxiety, doubt and tension that they almost didn’t receive recognition that we unquestioningly acknowledge.

At the same time, the imaginary brothers of our story are introduced by way of list of questions (ranging from the intimate to the absurd) asked of each other at the same time. These questions reveal a relationship full of mundane details and skewed morality. We don’t hear the answers to these questions during the piece, so there is an implicit sense that they are being asked not only of each other, but of the audience (and possibly the Wright Brothers) as well. Whereas the Wright Brothers are seen as almost mythical in their stature, our imaginary brothers are undeniably pedestrian, though their intimacy is striking and disarming.

(Al Cerulo and Joe Bergen – vibraphones; Megan Schubert – soprano; Aaron Siegel – speaker )

Kitty Hawk (Brother’s Tears)
[audio:Kitty Hawk.mp3]

There’s Always Mom

for two marimbas, vibraphone, glockenspiel, cello, violin and flute (2009)

When I first heard Laurie Anderson’s “O, Superman” I could hardly have been the intended audience. I was 12 years old and living in the kind of sheltered and homogenous suburbia that Ms. Anderson so sharply critiqued in both “O, Superman” and her epic “United States” touring show. I certainly had no real awareness of the kind of hip, downtown energies from which Ms. Anderson and her aesthetic emerged. And yet, the spare and haunting setting deeply affected me. Her deceptively soothing and controlled delivery infected my pre-teenage state and when she intoned “There’s Always Mom,” I did understand on some level that one could be loved too much.

I still enjoy listening to Ms. Anderson’s work and never really tire of her humor, regardless of the fact that it seems less potent in our irony-saturated world. But these days, when I hear her resigned slogan “There’s Always Mom,” I tend to think less of my agitated regard for authority than the cycles of memories, real or imagined, that grip my life and perhaps others, and that have the potential to paralyze us in a stasis that resembles both comfort and horror.

This work was commissioned by Iktus Percussion Quartet for their concert with the Cadillac Moon Ensemble. This performance was recorded at Saint Peter’s Church on Dec 5, 2009.

(Roy Campbell, Christopher Graham – marimba; Daniel Weinberg – vibraphone; Justin Wolf – glockenspiel; Evelyn Farny – cello; Roberta Michel – flute; Andie Springer – violin )

There’s Always Mom
[audio:theres always mom.mp3]

Science is Only A Sometimes Friend

for eight glockenspiels and organ (2009)

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Preparing the Past

for 4-hand piano, two vibraphones and two glockenspiels (2009)

I often have the experience of missing the present time as it is happening. I am certain that others must have this feeling, too. I think as we become more able to document every image and sound of our lives, the less likely we are to experience our lives in the present tense. I am not certain that this is a terrible thing. It’s much too complicated for me to say. And it’s also not necessarily something associated with the current developments in technology (though they certainly are significant). The very act of taking a photograph on film seems just as potent of a way to fix a moment in time and insure a slightly distorted view of the present as instantaneously the past. Preparing the Past, was inspired in part by the novelist W.G. Sebald’s book, “Austerlitz.” This novel includes nostalgic and mysterious photos that bring a second (or third or fourth) dimension to the narrative experience. With Preparing the Past, I am interested in exploring the narrative that emerges as a moment is recorded (mvt. 1), scrutinized (mvt. 2) and ultimately re-imagined (mvt. 3).

This version was recorded at Roulette on May 29, 2009.

(Emily Manzo and Anna Dagmar – piano, Joe Bergen and Chris Graham – Glockenspiels, Justin Wolf and Al Cerulo – vibraphones)

Movement 1 – There is a Way
[audio:Preparing_The_Past_There_Is_A_Way.mp3]

Movement 2 – Scrutiny
[audio:Preparing_The_Past_Scrutiny.mp3]

Our Reluctance is Overstated

for six timpanists (2009); for six glockenspiels (2009)

Of the many good reasons to write for percussion, one has always stuck out to me: percussionists can perform rudimentary materials continuously for long periods of time. The gestures of “Our Reluctance is Overstated,” are as straight forward as they get – single strokes and double strokes. And yet they can be combined to remarkable effect, belying their humble binary origins. Still this music is not without difficulty. It lies mostly in the willingness of the performers to persevere and also to hear beyond the clarity of their parts to something considerably less certain. This composition was originally written for six timpanists and was commissioned by the Shsk’h online record label (shskh.com).

The version below is a performance for six glockenspiels, which I arranged for the Mantra Percussion Ensemble.

[audio:Reluctance_Glockenspiels.mp3]

Book of Notions


for vibraphone and piano (2008 – 2009)

After the birth of my son in 2008 I took a break of sorts from my composing work, but found that (as is often the case for me) periods of intense change produce a desire to mark the moment creatively. Given the sudden retraction of any time to myself, I had to concede certain rituals that I had taken for granted in my prior life: my desk, a piano, quiet mornings with a cup of tea (the list could go on). When the reckoning was complete, I was left with a 50 min subway ride to my job, a pencil and staff paper. This was, for me, a new situation to fret over and reluctantly explore. During these harried and exhausted commutes I wrote the pieces that make up a part of the book of miniatures that I named after the smallest measure of thought I could think of – a notion. In some ways, these aren’t even actual thoughts, just intuitions that feel akin to rough pencil drawings normally cast away as soon as a finished portrait is complete. Yet these same drawings might later be reconsidered by a generous eye as bearing the hardly discernable gesture of a moment lost in a haze.

(Emily Manzo – piano, Aaron siegel – vibraphone)

Until Wonder Escapes

[audio:Until_Wonder_Escapes1.mp3]

Now Now Now

[audio:NOW NOW NOW.mp3]

Inclimates

[audio:inclimates.mp3]

Rhomboid Alibi Squared

[audio:rhomboid alibi squared.mp3]

Riddle

[audio:riddle.mp3]

To the Mailboat

[audio:to the mailboat.mp3]

The Swan Catchers

for string quartet and three voices (2008)

In January 2010, I staged a performance of excerpts from the “The Swan Catchers” using just two actors in the place of the three singers who appeared in the premiere version. In the production, the focus of the piece shifts onto the complex relationship between the text and the quartet music.

(Genevieve Hardison – Mother, Ryan McCarthy – Father, Andie Springer – violin, Caroline Shaw – violin, Erin Wight – viola, Evelyn Farny – cello)

Excerpts from The Swan Catchers

[audio:The Swan Catchers (Excerpt) mix.mp3]
The original production of The Swan Catchers was a collaboration between composer Aaron Siegel and visual artist/director Bryan Markovitz, and was premiered at the Chocolate Factory Theater in Long Island City, Queens over three evenings in the spring of 2008. The Swan Catchers combines Siegel’s forlorn yet anxious libretto for three voices – accompanied live by The Flux Quartet – with a dynamic visual environment created by Markovitz, Huong Ngo, Emcee CM, and Jeff Gray. The singers for this performance were Ryan Dahoney and Kate Soper.

1 – Can We Stare: Pt. 1

[audio:1 Can We Stare 1.mp3]

2 – It’s a Party

[audio:2 Its a party.mp3]

3 – Come Back to Me

[audio:3 Come Back to Me.mp3]

4 – Interlude 1

[audio:Interlude 1.mp3]

5 – Can We Stare: Pt. 2

[audio:5 Can We Stare 2.mp3]

6 – This Just In

[audio:6 This Just In.mp3]

7 – Better to Be Safe

[audio:7 Better to Be Safe.mp3]

8 – Interlude 2

[audio:8 Interlude 2.mp3]

9 – Another Place to Be

[audio:9 Another Place to Be.mp3]

10 – No Friend of Mine

[audio:10 No Friend of Mine.mp3]

11 – Can We Stare: Pt. 3

[audio:11 Can We Stare 3.mp3]

Under Such Cover

for vibraphone, cello and piano (2007)

(Emily Manzo – piano, Alex Waterman – cello, Aaron Siegel – vibraphone)

[audio:Under_Such_Cover.mp3]

No Friend of Mine

for cello and speaking voice (2007)

Stray

for cello and piano (2007)

(Emily Manzo – piano, Alex Waterman – cello)

[audio:Stray1.mp3]