The Score: Turbulence

Commissioned by Sound Energy - a string trio based in Boston, MA - Turbulence Turbulence was premiered and recorded on 4 November 2016 in Boston’s Old South Church by the ensemble Sound Energy.

The physical process of turbulence is one of the most complicated and beautiful in all of the natural world. Ripe for artistic imitation, turbulence is a phenomenon that shows the dissociation of order into chaos, from focused intensity to diffusive clouds. From a scientific view, the process is well-understood statistically, but difficult in the details. The best physical model of turbulence we have was first proposed in 1941 by Russian mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov.

Using the phenomenological results of this theory (e.g. the general relationships between different physical parameters like velocity or energy dissipation rate), the music is made from mappings of the physical parameters to musical ones. Essentially, the way the velocity changes in a turbulent flow controls which pitches are sounding, the way energy dissipates into heat as the system evolves is mapped onto the dynamic volume of the piece, and the way entropy increases is mapped onto the range of the pitches. These three mappings generate the entire musical discourse as the piece – as much a demonstration of a turbulent flow as a work for string trio – is allowed to unwind over ten and a half minutes. The image above shows a 2D graph of a turbulent flow emanating from a jet, and below it is the waveform of a recording of Turbulence. Although only approximate, it is clear that the major stages of the flow are captured in changes in the music in a temporally significant way.  Ultimately, no matter the level of the listener’s previous engagement with fluid dynamics, especially if it is none at all, this piece is still art. Turbulence should still, hopefully, act as a coherent and compelling musical expression the meaning of which is left up to the listener’s imagination.

Other works include: Heat Death (score and recording)

science-inspired music

cosmos 1

The Score with analytical program notes: Cosmos 1

Composed for the Royal Academy of Music's Symphony Composition Workshop, Cosmos 1 represents the first major work in my output to explore scientific themes with scientifically derived compositional techniques. From the program note: 

Cosmos 1 is meant to be a framework for your imagination. The physical universe is alive in this piece, from the very smallest quantum mechanical processes to the largest structures in the heavens. The best way to listen to this piece is to keep your mind on whatever you think of when you think
of the universe, be it galaxies, black holes, atoms, the cosmic-microwave background radiation, or the flying spaghetti monster. Allow this music to coexist with these thoughts and hopefully, by the end, your perception of the cosmos has been enhanced.

This piece is dedicated to all the scientists who have played a role, both directly and indirectly, in stoking the flames of wonder and imagination that still burn within me. My passion for science comes from watching the space shuttle take off from my backyard in Florida. But my love and respect for the life-long endeavor of science comes from their work. I  hope this work (and the others like it) will pay homage to their efforts and inspire others to look toward science as a source of awe and wonder. 

Other works include: Cosmos 233.4 Billones de Gramos de Sonido, and The Pale Blue Dot. Scores and Recordings.

dramatic music

Three french songs

The Score: Three French Songs

The three songs presented here are part of a project to complete a song cycle started by Charles Koechlin that uses a set of 24 poems by Theodore de Banville. The project was developed by Professor of French, David Evans of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In a collaboration with him and Tania Holland-Williams, a profession singer and performing artist, we explored different interpretations for each of the remaining three poems. In particular, it is important to note that each of the poems is in a very old form called a Rondel, which has 13 lines, a specific rhyming scheme, and a collection of repeated lines including the repetition of the first as the last.

The first poem I set was Le Feu, which I found to be the most serious and emotionally intriguing poem of the three. Because the poem discusses the idea of immolation and disgust with the world, I was inevitably drawn to the parallels with Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen. I chose to draw the harmonic material for this song from the Magic Fire leitmotif that occurs throughout The Ring. Additionally, I thought that there was a sense of almost stately resolve apparent throughout the poem, so I tried to create a texture within both the piano and vocal lines that captured the resolve with which the narrator is describing their own (literal or not) immolation. Formally, the song takes on a fairly standard ternary form with an added coda at the end. The first and third sections have similar textures while the middle section most closely captures the 'Magic Fire' sound of this poem's destructive desires. The coda is harmonically separated from the other sections by redistributing the poly-tonal structures that are consistent throughout the rest of the song. In the first three sections, the left and right hands of the piano operate in different 'keys' that are always rotating but never identical, while the voice jumps between either 'key' as needed. In the final section, the piano occupies a single 'key' while the voice occupies the other. 

Le Cafe is a much more trivial poem and as a result, I was inclined to set it in a humorous manner. The narrative arc I fit over the poem was that of the experience of coming off a caffeine high. The opening tempo marking is 'Caffeinated' and the final tempo marking is 'Post-Caffeinated'. To achieve the sense of inevitable exhaustion setting in, I employed a continuous canon that has rests inserted each time the subject of the canon is repeated. To capture the sporadic nature we've all experienced while under the influence of caffeine, there are also, inserted in a somewhat unpredictable fashion, two other sections of music. These sections are designed simply to be different from the canon and are employed at points in the text where the rhythm of the poetry changes slightly. 

The final song, Le Soir, is the most adventurous of the three. Imagine you're in an opium den in late-19th century Paris. The host of the den (the singer) approaches you and begins to talk to you about what is simply the most trivial matters. This experience becomes evermore intense as the opium seeps through your veins and soon the sounds you hear in the background and her voice have morphed into one overwhelming sonic experience. Just when the intensity is at its maximum, the music returns to its quiet and calm opening. 

Other music: The operas, the Trio for Horn, Violin, and Piano, the other songs, and the other chamber music. Scores and Recordings.