Ondes et Ombres
Songs of Love and Immolation
Komorebi is an untranslatable word in Japanese that describes the effect of sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees, creating shifting patterns of light and shadow. This composition is inspired by the sunlight streaming through the leaves of the trees in my backyard at different times of day and under various weather conditions.
Ondes et Ombres (2014) for violin, clarinet, and piano was commissioned by and dedicated to the Argot Trio and funded by a grant provided by the University of Southern Mississippi. I am honored to have been asked by that fine ensemble to compose a work for them. Ondes et Ombres was motivated by the very words of the title (that is to say, the title for this composition actually came to me before any music did). I was pondering how the French word for "waves" ("ondes") and the word for "shadows" ("ombres") sound remarkably alike when spoken aloud in that language, unlike their counterparts in English. Therefore, I decided to compose music that was a meditation on the multiple meanings of these two words. The play between motion and stasis was also at the forefront of my imagination while composing. The work opens with a game of pairs within the trio: first, violin and piano; then, violin and clarinet; and lastly, clarinet and piano. Once the characters have been introduced, various musical materials and time streams intersect and collide leading to a conclusion in which the music itself is absorbed in time and evaporates... The seascape paintings of Gerhard Richter, filled with waves and shadows, provided significant inspiration while composing this piece.
Longtime friend and artist extraordinaire, Anne Austin Pearce’s work shouts breath to me. From the lower end of the piece, lungs come to mind, slightly imbalanced to represent the registers of the flute and clarinet expanding at different speeds through swells of inhalation and exhalation. The pink line represents the triplet idea emerging and we will eventually get to the chromatic runs (blurring lines as you move to the top of the artwork) that will take us back to the meditative start, though switched with modified parts. The flute and clarinet have a wonderful ability to swap acoustical worlds which I hope to exploit. After a slow introduction intended to mimic the sound of breath, “Lion’s breath” gradually emerges and develops with more blurring between the instrumental timbres. Finally, a return to calmness and, eventually, shavasana. Pranayama (from yoga) where Prana refers to the universal life force and ayama means to regulate or lengthen.
Bloom is a piece for violoncello and live electronics that explores tension, using the metaphor of a blooming flower as the basis from which the musical material and form are derived. The work begins with a very simple melodic idea using natural harmonics. These harmonics are developed throughout the piece, eventually blurring the line between pitch and noise, meter and aleatory, and acoustic and electronic elements. The electronic element of the piece is realized using live input from the cello only. This relies on specific musical parameters (namely amplitude and frequency) to control how the input is processed. The piece concludes with a quasi-recapitulation of the opening, this time incorporating non-harmonic tones. This is the most mature statement of the original melodic idea in the piece, which signifies completion of the flowering process.
Songs of Love and Immolation - I was introduced to the work of Anne Sexton (1928 – 1974) by a best friend in high school. The first poem I read was “The Moss of His Skin.” That was it. I was hooked. I was in awe of the poem’s frank yet otherworldly imagery to create the suffocating effects of both loss and dependence. “Her Kind,” addresses the portrayal of the feminine archetypes in western society throughout history. However, the narrator of the poem remains unbowed, proud, and defiant in the face of patriarchal oppression. Sexton’s last poem, “Love Letter Written in a Burning Building” is in the form of a suicide note. The reader is transported into the letter writer’s surroundings as a surreal scene unfolds. The sharp juxtaposition of images and emotions in the poem reflect the final months of the poet’s tumultuous life. This work is composed in gratitude to the work and memory of Anne Sexton.
Treacherous Tepuy - Sometimes, titles inspire my compositions; other times, my compositions inspire titles, as in the case of this piece. While composing for the amazing ensemble yMusic, material developed so organically, but I had no program attached to it. Therefore, I based the title of this composition on a question: What feels both treacherous and thrilling to me? I used to never fear heights, but that all changed when I had a near-death fall on a hike year ago. Thus, my favorite views often require me to overcome one of my phobia. A tepuy (meaning “house of the gods”) refers to a mesa in South America that rises thousands of feet above a jungle. Although I have not (yet) ascended one, I imagine they share some similarities with the snowclad peaks I have. Fun yet fatal, there is nothing quite like the rollercoaster thrills of climbing big peaks. However, since this piece began without a title, I encourage you to listen with an open mind to whatever storyline you hear. The piece begins with snippets of what is to come, and then it hits the ground running on a treacherous journey to its thrilling ending. What lies behind? That does not matter—enjoy the top first!