All my sounds, including notated works, some improvisations, and other sound design or theatrical projects. 

Expand the title for recordings and program notes.

Scores are on their way—if you want a perusal copy, contact me: j.may.2394 [at] live [dot] com.

Touch Currents

You can stream and download Touch Currents, my album of voice + electronics improvisations, over on Bandcamp!

Large Ensemble

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Zaira and Irene takes its name from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which Calvino imagines fictitious exchanges between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan about the fantastic cities Polo has encountered in his travels. The imagery and philosophy of these two cities completely captivated me. What would an iterative, self–reliant space like Zaira sound like? How would the distance and intangibility of Irene affect sonic ideas? What if, as Calvino suggests, Zaira and Irene were one and the same—could I imagine the plain over which travelers view this one city? The piece, however, is not necessarily an attempt to “accurately” depict these cities. Instead, I let Calvino’s vivid descriptors of distance, time, and relationship guide my material, so that the piece cycles through different combinations of a core set of noises, textures, and spatial relationships.

Written for the 2018 Huang Commission with the University of Louisville Orchestra.

Text by Mickey Osthimer

In the spring of 2017, I approached friend and writer Mickey Osthimer about collaborating on text for a song cycle. I was concerned about questions of identity, especially in America—why and how do certain ideologies lay “claim” to American values? Are protesters less representative of our values than police or government? More? Why do we ignore certain sub–communities, uphold others, and mourn or empathize with them accordingly?

What emerged from our discussions was a series of poems and prose selections about community, identity, memory, and trauma. Some of the text deals with childhood and nostalgia, while we culled other excerpts from previous essays Mickey had written for a literature blog. In total, they depict a portrait of how we build identity in childhood, and how that identity splinters in the face of violence—specifically, gun violence. It offers, I hope, a glimpse into the mental and physical anguish of losing friends and family to such circumstances. It is a memorial to Americans—especially people of color, Native, queer/gender non–conforming, and mentally disabled citizens—who are disproportionally affected by gun violence, and a tribute to friends of Mickey and myself who are victims.

When the Ground Shakes was completed for my Master’s thesis from the University of Louisville.

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Restititution:Deformation was an early exploration of a set of aesthetic interests that I had never really explored – space, repetition, and toying with listener anticipation. Another was a momentary fascination with the chaotic, jangly sonorities the lap steel guitar and jaw harp. The piece quickly took on a bouncing quality, being tossed from event to event, never entirely certain where or how it would land.

The physics of bouncing is incredibly complicated, dealing with states of energy and types of matter and whatnot. Two aspects of bouncing especially interest me in regard to this piece: coefficients of restitution, and deformation. The coefficient of restitution is a ratio that indicates energy difference before and after two objects collide – bouncy balls return lower and lower each bounce because there is a loss of energy when they hit the ground. Deformation is the phenomenon where, when the center of mass of an object is at its lowest (when the bouncy ball is on the ground, about to spring back), the shape of the object “squishes” down and literally de-forms, however briefly.

Bouncing in Restitution:Deformation is less the light-hearted lilting of Romanticism, and more a matter of energy and distortion.

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Gravitational lensing is the phenomenon by which the gravitational pull of a massive interstellar object “bends” the light traveling around it (similar to how large eyeglasses use more mass to more strongly redirect and refocus light into the pupils). This is often associated with black holes, the gravitational pull of which is so strong that it can produce the strange visual delusion of seeing one star in two different places—the direct line between us and the star, and the line “bent” around the black hole and redirected towards our telescopes. However, alongside the reality of energy hurtling toward a single, abrupt end, is the vast surrounding of space. Lensing balances those two qualities.

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Waves is an early attempt at texture-based writing, my addition to the repertoire of bubbling, water-based chamber music. Undulations fade in and out of a static texture, eventually cresting and breaking. You know—like waves.

This was written for my friends at The College of Wooster, and I am deeply grateful for their committment to making undergrad composition recitals happen year in and year out.

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Tírdhreach was my earliest attempt at composing for a large ensemble. Its name is the Irish word for “landscapes,” which I felt categorized the disparate sections of this short piece. It wears its influences on its sleeve—an undergrad obsessed with Stravinsky, Debussy, and Corigliano—and was an important first step.

This was written for my friends at The College of Wooster, and I am deeply grateful for their commitment to making undergrad composition recitals happen year in and year out. 

Small Ensemble

This piece was inspired by the foundational work of Bernie Krause in acoustic ecology. Acoustic ecology is the study of sound in nature, often with practical applications. In his TedTalk, Krause gives illustrative examples of how visual analysis of an ecosystem or habitat can often misdiagnose a natural problem; recordings of a bird population, for instance, more reliably indicate wildlife health than simply looking for visual signs of birdlife.

What is fundamentally at stake in acoustic ecology is an acknowledgement of the important role sound plays in the natural world and, more concerningly, how foreign manipulation of an environment (sonic or otherwise), soundscape, and ecosystem health intertwine.

Because this field deals itself with sound, there are a number of ways it can be represented in a musical piece. However, what was important to me about this is how sonically interactive and responsive nature is, especially in comparison to our human tendency to focus on visual information. We may take it for granted, but the rhythmic, melodic, timbral, and textural interplay of the sounds of a park are extraordinarily intricate by any musical standards.

anthrophony thus asks performers to bring themselves into this sonically interactive space by improvising the piece, going so far as choosing what instruments they use. I provide graphics, some notation, and occasional text in order to suggest a soundworld—the performers must then interact with and listen to one another to generate the piece. Further, there are a number of sonic cues that directly mirror the kind of aural information exchange measured by Krause in his work. While not attempting to directly mimic nature, the performers generate a meditative, complex soundscape that reflects the way that sound exists and interacts in our world.

anthrophony was commissioned by Adam Groh for the Western Carolina University Percussion Studio.

The Sculpture series is a set of “compositional etudes” for myself. Whenever a writing opportunity aligns with a particular stylistic idea I want to explore, I do so here. However, what began as an interest in different composing aesthetics has, over time, taken on some of the philosophical ideas I’m thinking through as a creator and musician. sculpture vii takes on the heady task of incorporating my interest in improvisation, alternative notation, and performer freedom.

I began this piece by recording myself performing a free extended vocal improvisation, then transcribing the results to whatever degree of accuracy I could. I then orchestrated this loose transcription to the instrumentation of the ensemble, maintaining the sense of gestural freedom with a combination of free and fixed notation styles. However, this was not an exercise in accurate transcription or ear-training; beginning with improv was an attempt to change my process for material generation and letting go my need to control everything in my works, which produced a totally different set of ideas than I would normally develop. Even further, the format of sculpture vii suggests that there is no “correct” interpretation, instead demanding that each ensemble bring their own identity to it—a relationship that, as a composer, now excites me more than simply expecting groups to play the same thing every time. The result is a timbrally complex and temporally fluid score that brings together a number of my sonic and social interests.

sculpture vii was commissioned by Laura Nygren and TROMPO.

The Sculpture series is a collection of “compositional etudes” that allow me to explore new sonic worlds and ideas through small chamber works. Sculpture VI, written for a reading session with JACK Quartet at New Music On the Point, had two main aesthetic goals: the creation of very tactile yet amorphous textures, and the purposeful reconsideration of how I use harmony in my work. Heightened rhythmic complexity creates a kaleidoscoping sense of stillness, which masks an otherwise straightforward harmonic progression, all shaded in with hints of overtones and noise. The piece is not about something—which, of course, means it can be about anything. For me, it’s about color and memory.

Radio Silence reacts to the 2017–2018 resurgence of Turana Burke’s #MeToo movement and the saturation of apology letters that entered the public sphere. Amidst the evolution of the movement, these letters took on a homogenous, insincere quality that did little to make amends. Radio Silence incorporates text by friend, musician, and writer Mickey Osthimer in response to the movement, as well as muttered material culled from excerpts of various apologies. The piece then uses textural and timbral modifications to exaggerate the “social noise” these letters created as they continued to accumulate, and further criticizes the manipulation of power inherent in the culture of sexual abuse.

The Sculpture series is a collection of “compositional etudes” that allow me to explore new sounds and ideas through small chamber works. Sculpture V, which is also my first string quartet, was incredibly exciting because of the immense sonic possibilities of string instruments. The piece explores noise-based performance techniques such as bowing different parts of the instruments or multiphonic production, and gave me an opportunity to apply compositional procedures beyond the scope of familiar elements like melody, harmony, or rhythm.

Written for Aion String Quartet.

My first interactions with music were almost exclusively non-classical. I grew up listening to loud, screamy bands who loosely fall under the punk/alternative rock categories. I spent a lot of time playing guitar, going to concerts, and collecting records from my favorite artists. I still find something incredibly satisfying about the sonic experience of that music: the stereo field of a vinyl record; the crackling energy from microphones, amplifiers, and distortion/feedback; how your listening experience can change depending on if your turntable needle skips or if the vocalist jumps into the crowd for the last song. Even after years of academic training, these are the musical qualities that most viscerally affect me, qualities that I’ve been slowly trying to incorporate into my composition. LP explores ideas of stereo field, of distortion, of acoustic phenomena, of “heaviness,” and the agonizing frustration of a skipping record player.

In/Out is inspired by the opening moments of The Beatles’ “Within You Without You” from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, incorporating soundscapes produced by the Indian instruments on the track and the opening melodic material. For much of this work the two instruments play in a gestural counterpoint, constantly trading focus until briefly joining together near the end. As such, the title both references the original song name and characterizes the relationship of this short duet.

This piece was written for Beo String Quartet as part of the Charlotte New Music Festival 2017.

I began writing the Sculpture works because I was very self-conscious about whether my compositions actually reflected my musical interests. This series was initially a way to purposefully explore the writing styles of specific composers or “schools” that I found intriguing—each piece was for a different chamber group, and each piece was focused on one specific aesthetic.

Sculpture IV is not quite the same as the first three. I was fortunate enough to write a lot of music in between III and IV, and my writing style began to take on more of an individual voice. Sculpture IV is thus the culmination of my interests over a six-month period of writing. Since I tend to respond to introspection with sarcasm, there is a level of irony in these four miniatures (a form that can be sarcastic in and of itself) that gave me even more freedom to take my interests to extremes.

Sculpture IV was written for Charlotte New Music Festival 2017 and Out of Bounds Ensemble.

 

Text by Zitkála-Šá

The history of the United States has been unfortunately marred by numerous clashes—physical and political—with Native American communities. In 2016 another such conflict developed at Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota, where members and allies of the Great Sioux Nation protested construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline, designed to carry nearly half-a-million barrels of crude oil, was planned to run through Sioux land including through sacred religious sites and in close proximity to Standing Rock’s main water sources, the Missouri River and Lake Oahe. Protests erupted over the situation, and were met consistently with aggressive reaction on part of the construction companies and government forces. This was an unfortunate reflection on the relationship between U.S. power structures and indigenous peoples, a relationship embroiled in contentions as old as European colonists have been on this continent.

This piece reflects and comments on these conflicts. The text is from American Indian Stories by Zitkála-Šá, a Sioux Native American musician and author. The collection, published in 1921, contains a series of original short stories that beautifully display the vibrant culture of the Great Sioux Nation, and I thought it appropriate to use these Sioux texts as a foundation for a piece inspired by Standing Rock. I chose two short excerpts—one about the fictional character Blue-Star Woman, one an excerpt from Zitkála-Šá’s closing essay—to stand as contrasting commentaries. The first excerpt introduces Blue-Star Woman and her “name” which, as is explained, holds a unique sense of agency in Native American cultures, while the second excerpt is a scathing condemnation of the exploitation of Native American resources. The title Mni Wiconi means “Water is Life” in the Lakota language, simultaneously referencing the situation at Standing Rock and the broader philosophical considerations of the text.

Unfortunately, the vehemence with which Zitkála-Šá wrote describes a situation that has not seemed to change in almost a century. Her multi-dimensional themes of agency, power, oppression, and reclamation all influenced my writing process, and though the piece was initially inspired by events at Standing Rock I hope my work speaks to a larger societal issue at hand. I do not and cannot speak on behalf of the Sioux people, and would never want listeners to confuse my interpretation of events and text as representing the opinions of oppressed peoples. I do, however, hope that my music provokes some action or concern on their behalf.

To learn more about the Standing Rock, the Great Sioux Nation, and DAPL, please visit:

http://standingrock.org/

http://standwithstandingrock.net/history/

http://sacredstonecamp.org/

Text by Dora Sigerson Shorter

In 1916, a group of Irish men (and women) began a rebellion that came to be known as the “Easter Rising.” It was a multi-day, bloody affair that ultimately resulted in the death of many and—for the moment—no further indepence from the rule of England. However, the Easter Rising is widely accepted as one, if not the, lynchpin that set into play following years of rebellion against the Crown, which ultimately resulted in Ireland’s independence.

Ireland has historically maintained an incredibly rich literary culture—figures such as James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and Seamus Heaney dominate the English-language canon. Unsurprisingly the effects of the 1916 rebellion were etched into poems and novels by nearly anybody alive at the time or alive since—among them, a poet named Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866 – 1918). Shorter was profoundly affected by the events of the Easter Rising and, by all accounts, passed away from the heartbreak and strain of the war. Her poem “Sixteen Dead Men” (which shares its title with a poem on the same subject by Yeats) was published posthumously, and pays homage to the leaders of the Easter Rising who were executed for their involvement in the event.

I’m deeply invested in Irish history and culture. My grandparents were from Ireland, and I’ve been fortunate enough to study there. I wanted to somehow bring that investment into my compositional output, and this poem presented the perfect opportunity. However, rather than set every line, I have only given those lines spoken by the poem’s narrator to the vocalist; the words of the “dead men” are rhythmically articulated by the English horn and bassoon, but otherwise go unspoken (perhaps similar to the suggested poetic scene).

The Sculpture series is a collection of “compositional etudes” that allow me to explore new sounds and ideas through small chamber works. When I started writing this third installment, Bon Iver’s 22, A Million had recently been released and I was listening to “creeks,” a track that made heavy use of auto-tune and vocoding techniques. I loved this texture of a “lead” melody being cushioned in a harmonic texture, and wanted to translate that to a chamber ensemble setting.

The Sculpture series is a collection of “compositional etudes” that allow me to explore new sounds and ideas through small chamber works. This work in particular was inspired by Nico Muhly’s work, particularly his orchestra piece Control, which shifts from churning minimalist rhythms to tight blasts of homophony in a remarkably effective way.

The Sculpture series is a collection of “compositional etudes” that allow me to explore new sounds and ideas through small chamber works. This first installation in the “series” was my first composition assignment in my master’s program; take an ensemble of instruments you aren’t comfortable writing for, and learn to write for them. Simultaneously, I recognized that I was listening to a lot of music that I loved but never bothered exploring compositionally—in particular, spectral and microtonal music à la Georg Friedrich Haas.

Vocal (solo)

Radio Silence reacts to the 2017–2018 resurgence of Turana Burke’s #MeToo movement and the saturation of apology letters that entered the public sphere. Amidst the evolution of the movement, these letters took on a homogenous, insincere quality that did little to make amends. Radio Silence incorporates text by friend, musician, and writer Mickey Osthimer in response to the movement, as well as muttered material culled from excerpts of various apologies. The piece then uses textural and timbral modifications to exaggerate the “social noise” these letters created as they continued to accumulate, and further criticizes the manipulation of power inherent in the culture of sexual abuse.

Text by Mickey Osthimer

In the spring of 2017, I approached friend and writer Mickey Osthimer about collaborating on text for a song cycle. I was concerned about questions of identity, especially in America—why and how do certain ideologies lay “claim” to American values? Are protesters less representative of our values than police or government? More? Why do we ignore certain sub–communities, uphold others, and mourn or empathize with them accordingly?

What emerged from our discussions was a series of poems and prose selections about community, identity, memory, and trauma. Some of the text deals with childhood and nostalgia, while we culled other excerpts from previous essays Mickey had written for a literature blog. In total, they depict a portrait of how we build identity in childhood, and how that identity splinters in the face of violence—specifically, gun violence. It offers, I hope, a glimpse into the mental and physical anguish of losing friends and family to such circumstances. It is a memorial to Americans—especially people of color, Native, queer/gender non–conforming, and mentally disabled citizens—who are disproportionally affected by gun violence, and a tribute to friends of Mickey and myself who are victims.

When the Ground Shakes was completed for my Master’s thesis from the University of Louisville.

Text by H.D.

Flowers for Eurydice is a short, dramatic work for unaccompanied soprano. The text comes from the final segment of H.D.’s “Eurydice” poem, which tells the story of Orpheus’s failure to lead Eurydice from the underworld from Eurydice’s perspective. Over the course of the poem, she goes from mourning the life she could have had to asserting her own agency in determining her life; this piece captures her last defiant statements.

Written for Catherine Jaicks.

Text by James Joyce.

I’ve long been interested in the work of James Joyce and his experimentations with textual significance; literally, the ability of words to signify. Why exactly does language work? How do certain combinations of specific symbols communicate things outside of themselves? What if, somehow, that stopped happening? In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man he makes some observations about language through the character Stephen Dedalus, including a passage where Joyce describes the odd sensation of words losing whatever significance they supposedly hold. This is a familiar experience for most people; for instance, what happens when you repeat a word so many times it “doesn’t sound like a word anymore.”

In Ulysses, Joyce makes actual linguistic manipulations to achieve this disassociation of text and meaning. In this passage from “Sirens”, people at a bar listen to the sound of a seashell, while Leopold Bloom watches from an adjoining room. Inserted into this scene is the word “Tap.” – unprepared, unaddressed, just there. Andreas Fischer refers to this insertion as an “erratic block of language” for its disruption of textual cohesion and significance within the passage—so Joyce attempts to reenact this linguistic quandry in his own use of text.

This idea really captivates me, and is easily extendable to how we construct and rely on musical tropes and cues. For this piece I spliced together the two passages to create a strange, semi-coherent hybrid text. The music is correspondingly erratic, quickly shifting between lyrical themes and absurd, rhythmic statements. On the whole, I hope to pull at our expectations for sensibility in text, music, and the combination of both.

Written for Dylon Crain and Jamie Monck.

Text by Zitkála-Šá

The history of the United States has been unfortunately marred by numerous clashes—physical and political—with Native American communities. In 2016 another such conflict developed at Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota, where members and allies of the Great Sioux Nation protested construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline, designed to carry nearly half-a-million barrels of crude oil, was planned to run through Sioux land including through sacred religious sites and in close proximity to Standing Rock’s main water sources, the Missouri River and Lake Oahe. Protests erupted over the situation, and were met consistently with aggressive reaction on part of the construction companies and government forces. This was an unfortunate reflection on the relationship between U.S. power structures and indigenous peoples, a relationship embroiled in contentions as old as European colonists have been on this continent.

This piece reflects and comments on these conflicts. The text is from American Indian Stories by Zitkála-Šá, a Sioux Native American musician and author. The collection, published in 1921, contains a series of original short stories that beautifully display the vibrant culture of the Great Sioux Nation, and I thought it appropriate to use these Sioux texts as a foundation for a piece inspired by Standing Rock. I chose two short excerpts—one about the fictional character Blue-Star Woman, one an excerpt from Zitkála-Šá’s closing essay—to stand as contrasting commentaries. The first excerpt introduces Blue-Star Woman and her “name” which, as is explained, holds a unique sense of agency in Native American cultures, while the second excerpt is a scathing condemnation of the exploitation of Native American resources. The title Mni Wiconi means “Water is Life” in the Lakota language, simultaneously referencing the situation at Standing Rock and the broader philosophical considerations of the text.

Unfortunately, the vehemence with which Zitkála-Šá wrote describes a situation that has not seemed to change in almost a century. Her multi-dimensional themes of agency, power, oppression, and reclamation all influenced my writing process, and though the piece was initially inspired by events at Standing Rock I hope my work speaks to a larger societal issue at hand. I do not and cannot speak on behalf of the Sioux people, and would never want listeners to confuse my interpretation of events and text as representing the opinions of oppressed peoples. I do, however, hope that my music provokes some action or concern on their behalf.

To learn more about the Standing Rock, the Great Sioux Nation, and DAPL, please visit:

http://standingrock.org/

http://standwithstandingrock.net/history/

http://sacredstonecamp.org/

Text by Dora Sigerson Shorter

In 1916, a group of Irish men (and women) began a rebellion that came to be known as the “Easter Rising.” It was a multi-day, bloody affair that ultimately resulted in the death of many and—for the moment—no further indepence from the rule of England. However, the Easter Rising is widely accepted as one, if not the, lynchpin that set into play following years of rebellion against the Crown, which ultimately resulted in Ireland’s independence.

Ireland has historically maintained an incredibly rich literary culture—figures such as James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, and Seamus Heaney dominate the English-language canon. Unsurprisingly the effects of the 1916 rebellion were etched into poems and novels by nearly anybody alive at the time or alive since—among them, a poet named Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866 – 1918). Shorter was profoundly affected by the events of the Easter Rising and, by all accounts, passed away from the heartbreak and strain of the war. Her poem “Sixteen Dead Men” (which shares its title with a poem on the same subject by Yeats) was published posthumously, and pays homage to the leaders of the Easter Rising who were executed for their involvement in the event.

I’m deeply invested in Irish history and culture. My grandparents were from Ireland, and I’ve been fortunate enough to study there. I wanted to somehow bring that investment into my compositional output, and this poem presented the perfect opportunity. However, rather than set every line, I have only given those lines spoken by the poem’s narrator to the vocalist; the words of the “dead men” are rhythmically articulated by the English horn and bassoon, but otherwise go unspoken (perhaps similar to the suggested poetic scene).

Text by H.D.

Sea Gods was my first attempt at solo voice writing, and my first introduction to a poet who’s since become my go-to source for texts. I was interested in water imagery and modernist poet’s approach to portraying the world, and wanted to overtly reflect the poetic sentiment in the music. The result was this three-movement piece that pulled from many musical influences at the time, especially George Crumb and John Adams.

Written for Abby Shupe

Vocal (ensemble)

Text by H.D.

street after street alike takes as its text the end of H.D.’s “Cities,” which itself is the final poem of her early collection Sea Garden. The collection generally contains stark, reverential poems about nature, mortality, and gods—this final text creates an interesting contrast, bemoaning the development of the industrial city without losing a sense of devotion to an ideal. The set text itself is separated by use of italics and a section line in the original text, and thus reads as a kind of self-reflection, an optimistic hope not just for the future but for the present situation (no matter how dire it may seem). The music dwells largely on meditative, insistent fragments that move through various combinations throughout the piece, never settling. These ideas were influenced both by the material development of Renaissance Church music, as well as the repetitive looping structures found in contemporary ambient and drone music.

Winner of the 2019 Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition for the Cork Choral Festival; premiered by Chamber Choir Ireland and Paul Hillier.

Text by H.D.

This piece was first performed as co-winner of the San Francisco Choral Artists’ 2016 New Voices Project, the aim of which was “to consider women’s roles through history, and share the vibrant voices of women past and present through their poems, letters, lullabies, laments, and proclamations.”

Hilda Doolittle (1886 – 1961) was an early modernist American poet working in Europe. With the support of Ezra Pound, she emerged as a leader of the Imagist movement whose work was characterized by clear, direct, frill-less language. Despite her stature, she had to grapple with prevailing gender norms of a slowly fading Victorian era, which manifested in both her work and her life (her pseudonym, ironically, was Pound’s label – not necessarily done of her choosing).

In this first section of “The Garden” H.D. redefines the rose image. Usually associated with feminine beauty or frailty, H.D.’s rose is firm and vibrant. Not only does it possess incomparable strength—it’s more resilient than a tree—it is unassailable, since the narrator cannot “stir” to reach it. This firmness of the text guided my setting of it; dense harmonies and abrupt, focused dynamic shifts reflect the directness of the poem.

Text by James Joyce

This piece marked the end of my undergraduate studies, which included an English thesis on Joyce’s work. It is, essentially, a love letter to my choir, to my grandmother, to an author whose work I came to respect immensely—composed simply because I think this paragraph is among the most beautiful in all of literature.

“A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

Winner of the Wooster Chorus 2016 Student Composer Contest.

Text by Rabindranath Tagore

i. Silent Steps

ii. Little of Me (solo soprano with choir)

iii. Death

In Passing uses three poems by Rabindranath Tagore to create a narrative on dying. What struck me through all these poems was the calm hopefulness with which Tagore characterized death, ranging from hushed eagerness to overt welcome. Little of Me, written for friend and soprano Lauren Vanden Broeck, is especially poignant, a love poem of sorts that I was excited to set for Lauren.

Solo (no electronics)

[revision in progress]

particulates explores two different textures of a prepared vibraphone. The first is a motoric, insistent assemblage of taps and whispers, the second a sparse, noisy texture of ambience and drones. While the two halves, which I call “grains”, sound very different, I think of them as two different magnifications of the same thing. Noise, randomness, activity, etc. all have such distinct sonic associations, when in actuality their qualities are so similar. Repetitive taps at low volume may appear energetic and frenetic, but are also the rapid vibrations of a noisy cymbal slowed down immensely. 

particulates was commissioned by and composed for Derek Frank.

Text by H.D.

Flowers for Eurydice is a short, dramatic work for unaccompanied soprano. The text comes from the final segment of H.D.’s “Eurydice” poem, which tells the story of Orpheus’s failure to lead Eurydice from the underworld from Eurydice’s perspective. Over the course of the poem, she goes from mourning the life she could have had to asserting her own agency in determining her life; this piece captures her last defiant statements.

Written for Catherine Jaicks.

Redacted is about information control.

Written for Renate Rohlfing (longleash).

Fixed Media/Electro-Acoustic

What Lies Inside is a stop-motion animation of a circus troupe’s act gone horribly awry. The accompanying soundtrack follows the characters through their trials, flashing from the ringleader to and from the faltering acts of the circus. This piece, ironically, is entirely built of material from the first piece I ever composed once I began my degrees at The College of Wooster, a piano piece called Carnival Sounds that rightfully never saw the light of day as a solo piano work but whose temperament (and total lack of form) worked perfectly for the soundscape of this video.

This piece was created for Luna Fête 2019 and displayed on Gallier Hall in downtown New Orleans for the full duration of the festival. Video created by students of Southeastern Louisiana University, directed by Cristina Molina.

A still from the performance of Goblin Market.

 

Goblin Market is a 30-minute devised theatrical work based on the eponymous poem by Christina Rossetti. This physical theatre piece explores the trauma of sexual violence and the possibility for reclaiming autonomy and agency in sexuality—especially as a woman. 

This marked my first foray into sound design and large-scale projects created entirely on a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). The sound sources are primarily sourced from field recordings taken around Cork, Ireland, in the winter of 2019, as well as voice recordings of the poem read by the five incredible students who devised and performed in the production.

Devised by Sinéad Dunne, Issey Fenton, Aideen Fox, Rosa Mäkelä, and Georgia Sludds

Iveragh is a short tape piece based on field recordings taken during a trip through the Iveragh Peninsula, Co. Kerry, Ireland. It blends ambient droning electronics with glimpses of environmental recordings, blending two soundscapes I find very similar in their consistency and affect.

Precipice was my first-ever electronic piece. It is entirely built with FM synthesis and was one of my earliest explorations in composing without overt rhythmic procedure guiding passage of time.

The included video features choreography and performance by Emily Baird and Emi Donato.

Partial Entropy is a short piece for solo clarinet and responsive max/MSP patch, controlled by an operator. The two sections of this piece explore melodic interaction with synthesized drones based on the overtone series and heavy distortion, the clarinest moving between passages of control to frenetic bursts of energy.

Experimental/Improvisation

This piece uses an aural score to guide any number of free improvisers in performance. An aural score is like a fixed media piece, but meant to be used as an impetus for accompanying improvisation rather than stand alone—more like a graphic score than a tape track. In Nohoval, the tape part consists entirely of recordings taken from Nohoval Cove, Co. Cork, Ireland, processed to invoke a static, ambient soundscape. The included recording features improvisation by Glen Whitehead.

lullaby, for is an experimental improvisation environment requiring a natural water source, a hydrophone, a small speaker, and trash from the water source. The performer creates a noise-based feedback loop between the hydrophone and speaker mediated by the water and—if the performer so chooses—whatever polluting trash they add. The aim is to concretize the interference of humans (and our trash) on the natural environment, through a sonic context that historically is considered similarly unclean.

NYC Noise Commission, 1930 is a theatrical, semi–composed work for solo voice and electronics. It incorporates a series of vocal technique explorations, from basic timbral shifting to more extreme sonic manipulation, and is written in an open format that demands a high level of improvisation. The work itself is about efforts in the early 20th century to codify and address human–made noise from cities.

The piece includes a max/MSP patch, which manipulates sampled recordings taken by the New York City noise commission, creating bells, distortion, and static from these original examples of “human noise.” The performer’s voice also interacts with these samples, directly connecting the performer and actual sounds of human noise described by the text.

I was interested in the idea that city noise is just another soundscape with which we engage rather than something to necessarily avoid or alleviate. As the piece moves from innocuous examples (“miniature golf… hoists…”) to a final monologuing social commentary, it creates a collage of how humans interact with and understand themselves within the developing industrial 20th century.

This piece was the culmination of an intensive study in expanded vocality for theatre taken under Yvon Bonenfant at University College Cork. This class had an enormous impact on my thoughts regarding vocal performance, improvisation, and art making.

The expanded instrument system is an idea largely written about (by this name) by Pauline Oliveros, referring to an electronic system that manipulates and extends the performance ramifications of an instrument. My EIS was developed to augment my free vocal improvisations.

This piece is a loosely improvised ambient piece for solo pianist and max/MSP patch. It asks the performer to “play” a star chart scroll, and the patch responsively adjusts reverberation and tuning based on the player’s decisions. Its title comes from this excerpt of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics.

“…we contemplated the stars beyond the Moon, big as pieces of fruit, made of light, ripened on the curved branches of the sky, and everything exceeded my most luminous hopes, and yet, and yet, it was, instead, exile.

I thought only of the Earth. It was the Earth that caused each of us to be that someone he was rather than someone else; up there, wrested from the Earth, it was as if I were no longer that I, nor she that She for me.”

A screenshot of the max/MSP patch for “Alignment”.

Alignment is an improvised piece for any number of performers using the Possibility Boxes, developed by Jeff Weeter and the Cork Audio Visual Ensemble. In this piece, the performers use the box controls like an etch-a-sketch to interact with the graphic scores. Parameters of their “etching” manipulate acoustic properties, like pitch, noise, and modulation.

I try to stay active as an improviser, and every so often have the foresight to snatch a recording of what I’m up to. You can find some of those in this playlist.