This page contains writings, interviews and lectures on composition, aesthetics, and computer music technology

Orchestrating the Chimera: Musical Hybrids, Technology and the Development of a "Maximalist" Musical Style

This article describes the "maximalist" approach I take in my musical composition. This approach embraces heterogeneity and allows for complex systems of juxtapositions and collisions, in which all outside influences are viewed as potential raw material. I focus here on the notion of hybridization, in which two or more sharply-defined and highly-contrasting aspects of experience are combined to produce something that is both alien and strangely familiar. Recent technological advances have allowed hybridization to extend into the realms of the synthesis of sound itself, the ensemble relationship between musical lines and the connection between performer and instrument.

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Notes on Birds and Musical Style

The visual arts would be greatly impoverished without birds and all that birds represent. Music, except for a few notable exceptions, has left bird song a largely untapped resource. I have been watching and studying birds for twenty years, nearly as long as I have been composing. During that time, I have been repeatedly drawn to the avian world as a source of musical inspiration.

This brief essay chronicles some of my shuttlings between the domains of music and nature, and looks closely at examples from three different genres: instrumental music, vocal music, and computer music. More generally, it illustrates the compositional strategy of starting from the known, in this case bird song and behavior, and abstracting to the unknown. The familiar, whether it be a musical style, a bird song or a computer-simulation of the human singing voice, is already something of great richness and character. The process of abstraction then involves combining several familiar elements in an unconventional manner, or stretching the familiar in strange directions or to unnatural proportions. The result can be something quite alien, but with a strong hauntingly-familiar identity, as if viewing a face from a long-forgotten childhood dream.

Use of bird song can be viewed as one example of "external" artistic inspiration that, far from the popular view of a passive experience that overcomes an artist, involves active molding and sculpting of raw material into something new. In taking such an inclusive approach, the artist has, quite literally, the world to gain. Paradoxically, when he or she allows private personal experience to find its way into music, the result can be more broadly relevant, compelling work.

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A Virtual Piano Concerto

We describe here the process of collaboration that went into the creation of a The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World a seventy-minute, seven-movement concerto, scored for remote-control piano and an acoustic ensemble of eight instruments. The solo piano part, written specially for Andrew Schloss and developed in collaboration, is for the Yamaha Disklavier C7 Grand Piano Mark II (a piano that can "play itself" under computer control) and the Mathews/Boie Radio Drum [Boie et al, 1989] (a device that conveys three-dimensional gestures to a computer.) The Radio Drum and Disklavier are connected via a computer running software created for the piece. Thus, the final result of this work is entirely acoustic.
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