New Piece: Music for Social Distancing (2020)

Music for Social Distancing p 1I wrote a piece from social distance, for social distance, for open instrumentation. In a lot of classical music social media, people have been wondering how to do live music remotely. The speed of light is (for the moment) an insurmountable limitation preventing us from having our rehearsals and concerts over Zoom, at least for most repertoire.

With that in mind, I wanted to write this piece that would work in this teleconference environment. Instead of finding workarounds for the network latency, I made it an important part of the piece. In some ways, it’s a piece about network latency. You’re right, that’s not a very good tagline. I’ll keep workshopping it.

Speaking of workshopping it, there is a lot about this piece that I can’t really know how it will work. There are a lot of network, software, and hardware variables that I know I didn’t account for, as much as I tried. Because of that, I’m posting the materials on my site as a “beta”. Anybody that wants can download the materials for free (“buy” it for $0); I just ask that if you decide to give it a performance or a reading that you let me know about it so I can learn how it goes and make the piece better.

Get the score here. Give it a shot, and let me know what you think.

Castbot and access

A few years ago I was in a conversation about audience access to classical music. We weren’t talking about accessibility in the stylistic way, but in a more literal way. Who can afford to be in the room when a performance is given, thereby experiencing a work as intended? In popular music the “primary document” is usually a recording, which is pretty widely accessible, especially today, as it can likely be streamed for free or purchased as a download. In comparison, my music is among the least accessible music to most people around the world. Even though a recording of a performance might be widely distributed, that’s far from the same thing as being in a room for its performance.

On a continuum of audience access to audio media, my acoustic compositions are near one extreme. Another audio genre that I care deeply about is podcasts. I’ve been listening to podcasts since I got my first iPod1 around 2004, and I started making and publishing podcasts in 2011. Castbot is the first in what may become a series of electroacoustic works that are created expressly for the podcast format.

I first created Castbot in 2016, and it has been running on-and-off since then. It has gone through a number of iterations, and I’m pretty happy with its simple yet compelling output in the current version. Each night2, my little bot generates a new episode of the piece based on a narrowly defined set of conditions in the software, uploads it to a sever, and updates the corresponding podcast feed.

In each episode of Castbot, a small ecosystem of virtual “audio creatures” is created and runs its course. For some reason, I think of them as birds. They fly back and forth in the stereo field, playing a stuttering rhythm on a repeating pitch. Each time they cross the center, they change pitch within the defined scale. Eventually, the birds fly off the edge of the environment and do not return. The episode ends when all the birds have flown off. To set up each episode, Castbot picks the number of creatures, the scale, and the tempo. I think of this as the weather of the environment. And the piece plays out according to the whims of the drifting birds.

I mentioned that this little bot has been running since 2016, but I’ve recently submitted it to the iTunes and Google podcast directories, which means it is now much easier to find and subscribe to. If you’re podcast-inclined, give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Links: Castbot in my portfolio, in iTunes, in Google Play, it’s own feed page.

  1. It’s been so many years since I’ve looked at the word “iPod” in print that this looks wrong to me. My brain-autocorrect wants to make it into “iPad”. 
  2. Ok, “each night” is a bit of a stretch. The whole shebang runs on a Raspberry Pi 3 in my home studio, and sometimes I accidentally let it overheat. When that happens, it will stop running until I notice and reboot the little guy. Also, if you catch any episodes that aren’t posted a few seconds after midnight, that’s me running Castbot manually to test something, or just for fun. 

Spring 2018 Listening List

Each semester, I assign a series of weekly listening assignments to my composition students. The last few semesters, I’ve had a goal of making at least half of the list women and composers of color. One of the challenges of this is that I only get 14 weeks in the semester, and that means if I’m going to address this concern, I have to remove some of the composers and works that I found important and that I was taught when I was a student. We talk a lot about curriculum reform, not just in representation in the repertoire, but also things like technological and entrepreneurial skills. Often, we don’t address the fact that we can’t just keep adding things without taking other stuff away.

I have to trade a William Walton for an Olly Wilson. Good trade, IMO; but you’re free to disagree. Here’s my semester list if you’re curious. Hat-tip to the Women Composers Database and the Composers of Color Database, both projects organized by composer and inveterate list-maker Rob Deemer.

(Where possible, recordings are available in the Spotify playlist. Otherwise, there are links to listen elsewhere.)

  • Week 1
  • Week 2
    • Pauline Oliveros: No Mo (2001)
  • Week 3
    • John Adams: Chamber Symphony (1992)
    • optional, Son of Chamber Symphony (2007)
  • Week 4
    • George Walker: Lilacs (1995)
  • Week 5
    • Pierre Boulez: Le marteau sans maître (The hammer without a master, 1955)
  • Week 6
    • Christopher Cerrone: Memory Palace (2012)
  • Week 7
    • Dorothy Hindman: The Road to Damascus (2010)
  • Week 8
    • Nico Muhly: Mothertongue (2008)
  • Week 9
    • Anna Thorvaldsdóttir: In the Light of Air (2015)
  • Week 10
    • Olly Wilson: A City Called Heaven (1988)
  • Week 11
    • Mary Ellen Childs: Ephemeral Geometry (2012)
  • Week 12
    • Raven Chacon: The Journey of the Horizontal People (2016)
    • score
    • recording
  • Week 13
    • Aaron Copland: Piano Variations (1930)
  • Week 14
    • Sofia Gubaidulina: String Trio (1988)

New Sounds: Stumpery

Last weekend, I got to hear a wonderful performance of a new work of mine for wind quintet. The title refers to the new Stumpery Garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in my hometown of St. Louis. Stumpery was on the program along with four other excellent works by members of the Central Florida Composers Forum, performed by the recently formed new music chamber collective Alterity.

Orlando is where it’s at.

There is usually an artist creating work live on stage during performances at Timucua. It’s a total coincidence that the paintings this night were tree stumps! You can hear the full concert on this YouTube playlist.

Oh, and just because it’s cool. Here’s a photo from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Stumpery.



Happy Eclipse Day!

In 2007, I set a poem by Archilochus1 about a total eclipse visible in Greece in the seventh century BCE.

Nothing can surprise me now, nothing can astonish
or alarm me now the god of gods has galled the midday
into night and trimmed the light of the westering sun.
Surely anything can happen now, anything at all,
so brace yourselves for the sight of milk cows grazing
the dolphin-crowded seas, of sure-footed deer
and mountain goats crossing the talus of a cresting wave.

The performance above is by Joseph Baunoch, bass-baritone; Marissa Olin, alto flute; and Kawai Chan, piano.


  1. Translated by American poet Sherod Santos in his collection Greek Lyric Poetry 

Fall 2017 Semester Listening

Where possible, recordings are available in the Spotify playlist. Otherwise, there are links to listen elsewhere.

  • Week 1
    • Du Yun: A Cockroach’s Tarantella (2010) – Soundcloud
    • Du Yun: an empty garlic (2014) – YouTube
  • Week 2
  • Week 3
    • Tristan Perich: Surface Image (2014)
  • Week 4
    • Olivier Messaien: Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time, 1941)
  • Week 5
    • Steven Mackey: It Is Time (2010)
  • Week 6
    • Chen Yi: Tu (2008)
  • Week 7
    • Ken Ueno: On A Sufficient Condition For The Existence Of Most Specific Hypothesis (2008)
  • Week 8
    • Augusta Read Thomas: Jubilee (2010)
  • Week 9
    • Julia Wolfe: Dig Deep (1995)
  • Week 10
    • Andrew Norman: Play (2013)
  • Week 11
    • George Crumb: Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale, 1971)
  • Week 12
    • Luciano Berio: Sinfonia (1968)
  • Week 13
    • Jennifer Higdon: On A Wire (2010)
  • Week 14/15 (Includes Thanksgiving break)
    • Missy Mazzoli: Tooth and Nail (2011)

Husa Rememberance

I’m not big on naming favorites of things. Having said that, Karel Husa—who died last week at age 95—is one of my favorite composers. His inventiveness in orchestration, rhythm, and texture combine with a keen sense of dramatic gesture in works that are as creative as they are approachable. I met him once at the University of Missouri as an undergraduate student and heard him speak about his music. He signed my copy of the third trumpet part I was playing on his monumental Music for Prague 1968. I recall that he seemed to think that while the Pulitzer committee actually awarded his String Quartet No. 3 in 1969, they really intended to honor Music for Prague, and weren’t quite sure about taking the wind band seriously as a medium for serious music. I won’t offer an obit here, as I’m sure your Googlemachine can connect you to some much better writing. I will simply conclude by sharing the opening of Karel Husa’s beautiful Les Couleurs Fauves from 1996. I often say half-jokingly that every time I write a piece of slow music, I’m trying to rewrite this.