This Illusion Meant Something (2018)
(or, “Bert and Ernie Go Looking for Answers”)
solo piano

I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, “I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say”; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.

Mary Ruefle, “On Secrets”, from the collection Madness, Rack, and Honey

“It’s like poetry. It’s what you need it to be.”

Mark Saltzman (as quoted by the New York Times), former Sesame Street writer, on whether Bert and Ernie are gay

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The first few minutes of this piece are played exclusively on white keys. Music on only the white keys sometimes carries associations of naïvety, simplicity, innocence, childlikeness, purity. On the other hand, it is alternating groups of two and three black keys that give the hand the most immediate sense of orientation on the keyboard – playing on only the white keys, you have to rely more on your ears and eyes to not get lost on the keyboard’s topography.

Through the course of the piece, the black keys are “found”, changing musical frames of reference – bringing the music places both more definite and more ambiguous.

October 2018

fave tracks of the summer:

"City Looks Pretty" – Courtney Barnett
"One by One" – Connie Converse

"Ghost Town" – Kanye West
"Mother" – Vashti Bunyan
"Glow Worms" – Vashti Bunyan
"It's Okay to Cry" – SOPHIE
"Faceshopping" – SOPHIE
"Someone to Call My Lover" – Janet Jackson

"See Our Lake" – Laurence Crane
"飞 (Fly)" – Faye Wong
"Pendulum" – Broadcast
"Beehive" – Errollyn Wallen

"The Rainbow Connection" – as sung by Kermit the Frog
"Washing Machine Heart" – Mitski
"Majesty" – Nicki Minaj (ft. Labrinth + Eminem)
"Come See About Me" – Nicki Minaj
"sweetener" – Ariana Grande
"REM" – Ariana Grande
"Messy" – Eva. B. Ross

some memorable passages/quotes from This Little Art (Kate Briggs)

  • Perhaps there is one answer. One general answer, one very spare answer, the one most likely to be the most broadly true of anyone who has experienced the desire to write. That answer would be: I write because I have read. – p. 99
  • The effort to reach for the general in such a way as to neither reduce nor crush, in the hope that no one will feel reduced or crushed, and so in such a way as to make no promise of a final theory, no totalizing claim with respect to the shared questions that the lecture courses were, nevertheless, deeply invested in asking was, for Barthes, a way of trying, 'in one's teaching, to attenuate the power and the arrogance of language; to analyse dogmatism, and to try not to practice it oneself,'... – p. 113
  • The desire to write comes (is the feeling you get) from certain readings: the kind of reading that agitates you into making a trace of itself. Or to put it another way, and reaching a little further for an answer to his outrageous, unanswerable question, Barthes arrives at the following claim: 'to want to write is to want to rewrite', he says. And then: 'Every beautiful work, or even every work to make an impression, every impressive work, functions as a desired work, but I would say, and it's here that it starts to get interesting, that every work I read as desirable, even as I am desiring it, I experience as incomplete and somehow lost, because I didn't do it myself, and I have to in some way retrieve it by redoing it; in this way, to write is to want to rewrite: I want to add myself actively to that which is beautiful and that I lack; as we might put it with an old verb: that I require.' – . 115
  • Is this what closeness looks like?
    The lady translator, shouting vowels at her ceiling in preparation for speaking out loud, out of a concern to protect her reading relationship, to not have it publicly queried and thereby taken away from her. Out of an anxiety that the audience might very well find grounds to question her claim to familiarity, her sense of being spoken to by that work, from the instant they hear her speak, or fail to speak, of it.
    To speak, that is, of the late work of a critic, theorist and writer whose very last piece of writing, the one that was left on his desk on the day of the accident that led to his death, was titled: 'One Always Fails in Speaking of What One Loves.'
    Or, in an alternative translation: we always fail to speak of what we love.
    Or alternatively again: you (a general you that includes me, the you we use in English, sometimes, to embrace both you and me),
    you always fail to speak, when you speak of what you love. – p. 178
  • This is what writing is, says Barthes. I would say: this is what writing is. This is what the actual setting down of writing as distinct from the fantasy of writing is: a kind of catch or halt or temporary immobilization in the run of culture. – p. 191
  • The middle-class maiden's productivity, practising in her own private amateur mode, is of value because she represents – she both enacts and represents – one of the ways in which things get made to move, how forms travel, how they get tried out, passing from body to body, from the public sphere into private and back again. Reading Chassain's discussion, I am struck by a line he quotes from a very early review Barthes wrote of a chamber music concert: 'A society is beautiful only to the extent that there's a natural circulation between the works of great men and the intimate life of its individuals and its homes.' – p. 218
  • (of translation) – 'One can sit down at one's table every morning at the same hour, assured of giving birth to something. Of course, the quality and quantity of daily production can vary, but the nightmare of the blank page is, for its part, definitively exorcised...' – p. 252
  • (of creative liberties in translation) – ...I always seem to eventually come back round to thinking: the constraints on how far I can go, the limits on my making-up... the limits on doing what I want, are what interest me. – p. 253
  • According to Pye, a more productive set of criteria for evaluating the quality of workmanship – more productive that the commonly used 'good' and 'bad', 'precise' and 'rough' – would be 'soundness' and 'comeliness'. Soundness, he writes, implies 'the ability to transmit and resist forces', while comeliness 'the ability to give the aesthetic expression which the designer intended'. Or, indeed, 'to add to it'. He goes on: 'in some cases precision is necessary to soundness, but in many others it is not, and rough workmanship will do the job just as well. In some cases precision is necessary to the intended aesthetic expression but in others it is not and, on the contrary, rough workmanship is essential to it.' – p. 267
  • What I am calling 'technique, the technical' in writing, says Barthes, is basically the experience of writing itself... An experience, he claims, that is always 'moral and humble'. This is where technical and – to the extent that the technical aspects of writing are always directed towards, always aspiring to an aesthetic – aesthetic concerns intersect with the ethical aspects of writing...
    Moral, perhaps, in the sense that Barthes gives to 'modest', or 'non-arrogant'....
    I'm not identifying with the prestigious author of a monumental work of literature, says Barthes, I'm identifying with the writer-as-labourer – now tormented, now exalted, but in all events – modest – – p. 270
  • 'I did it because there is a residue: residue = nothing more to say than the fact itself: that which one can posit, state, say, tell: we enter the discourse of the anecdote.' – p. 334
  • The demand to come up with a new, unexpected – some unforeseen – variation, in light of these new circumstances, taking a measure of how things are – this demand, wrote Barthes, is the demand of literature. This is its 'precious indirection'. Indeed, 'it is only by submitting to its law that I may communicate what I mean with exactitude; in literature as in private communication, to be least "false" I must be most "original", or if you prefer, indirect.' – p. 356

What goes unsaid (2017-18)
for voice and small mixed ensemble
text by Claudia Rankine (from Citizen)

Words work as release; well-oiled doors opening and closing between intention, gesture. A pulse in the neck, the shiftiness of hands, an unconscious blink, the conversations you have with your eyes translate everything and nothing. What will be needed, what goes unfelt, unsaid, what has been duplicated, redacted here, redacted there, altered to hide or disguise. Words encoding the bodies they cover.

And despite everything, the body remains.

Occasionally, it is interesting to think about the outburst if you would just cry out –

To know what you'll sound like is worth noting –

First performance at MISE-EN_PLACE, Brooklyn, NY (4/13/2018):
Amber Evans, voice
Ford Fourqurean, bass clarinet
Issei Herr, cello
Sam Zagnit, bass
Humay Gasimzade, piano
Caitlin Cawley, vibraphone



Music of mine that I would rather not have performed, but that I would still like to acknowledge as being mine in one way or another. Some of them are real landmarks for me (maggie and milly and molly and may, Violin Sonata, Concerto After Joyce, Modest Music), others have interesting ideas that I don't feel like I explored far enough to be happy with them (Figments in Fracture, Air in Slow Motion, release), and still others are rote studies that are perhaps only biographically interesting.

Ultimately this is a record for my own sake; I'd just like to concretely (even if internally) account for the pieces that I don't present **officially**.

This record includes all existing juvenilia, pieces that might warrant revision, and even some composition assignments I was once proud of. Does not include unfinished pieces, pieces I no longer have materials for, nonclassical covers and other such GarageBand essays, arrangement work for hire, voice-leading assignments... basically anything I didn't at some point consider complete.

* = performed in a non-reading setting

On Hedonism – voice, piano (text by Anne Carson)

seeds (China) – piano

Figments in Fracture* – piano, four hands
Faded Songs III (After F. Chopin)* – string quintet (Winner of the UCLA Hugo Davise Composition Competition, as part of Faded Songs)

Air in Slow Motion* – wind quintet
release* – piano (four hands)
Fifty Shades of Tremolo – open instrumentation
Modest Music* – youth string orchestra
Catacombs/With the Dead in a Dead Language – orchestra (arrangement of two movements from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition)
Paganini – orchestra (arrangement of a movement from Schumann's Carnaval)

Prelude* – piano
Prelude – string quartet
Bichordal Etude* – piano
(untitled twelve-tone passacaglia) – viola, piano
(untitled "minimal" piece) – string quintet
Unnamed* – soprano, piano (text by William Carlos Williams)
(untitled; "I bought a new bathing suit...") – soprano, piano (text by William Carlos Williams)

Passacaglia* – string quartet (revised 2015, still withdrawn)
maggie and milly and molly and may* – voice, piano (text by E. E. Cummings)
in time of daffodils* – voice, piano (text by E. E. Cummings)
It Just Keeps Raining – voice, piano (text by a Craigslist client)
Short Variation on a Melody from Into the Woods – piano
Caprice – string quartet
Intermezzo – string quartet
Black is the Color – voice, guitar (later adapted for viola and piano)

Five Watercolor Studies* – piano
O Magnum Mysterium – chorus
Four Watercolor Studies* – orchestra
Winds of May – voice, piano (text by James Joyce)
Fragment – cello
Minuet – violin
To Mary – piano
To Iris – piano
To Ryan and Seido – violin, viola

Lianas* – violin, cello, piano (ASCAP Morton Gould Award Honorable Mention)
Three Diversions* – piano
In Memoriam Steve Jobs – baritone and piano
Four Mementos* – piano
Concerto After Joyce – flute, strings, harp (ASCAP Morton Gould Award Honorable Mention)
Toccatina – piano

Violin Sonata* – violin, piano (ASCAP Morton Gould Award Winner)
i like my body when it is with your* – tenor, piano
Song for L – flute

Two Curiosities* – three flutes (Areon Flutes Composition Competition, Open Division, Honorable Mention
Aposiopesis (first movement lost) – three flutes (Areon Flutes Composition Competition, Open Division, Honorable Mention)
Maycomb Portrait* – flute
Maycomb Summer(*?) – flute, violin, and guitar

2008 and before
Sonata for Two Flutes and Piano – two flutes, piano
bolt* – two trumpets and piano
Scherzo – flute, piano
Salute to Shostakovich – violin, piano
Where Souls Meet Under Trees* – flute, cello
Short Unplayables, Book 1 – piano
Sky Songs* – two flutes
Pinball Etude - piano
Sealed Door (arrangement of a cue by Y. Mitsuda from Xenogears) – piano

See also...

I really feel like all my best music was somehow written by accident. I don't mean this in a self-deprecating way; the music I try to make "my finest" (which usually involves me setting out feeling like "I know exactly what I'm doing" and "having something to say") usually shows its strain.

at some point in my undergrad I tried to plan everything I wrote, and would abandon projects when I couldn't plan clearly enough, or when plans fell apart. a teacher asked me why I planned so obsessively and I said it was because I wanted to avoid feeling stuck. he told me I would get stuck anyway so I may as well just write.

perhaps I never felt the necessity enough. perhaps I needed much harder deadlines, or something to really compel me to write no matter what. then even accidents become necessary and inevitable and I would learn to accept them and to follow them in the directions that I might be surprised to take.

I have a desire, even a necessity to write – the conflicting desire is that it be "good", that it be "a statement". I should like to let that go.

call me trite, but this is wonderful. I love to see stars of my generation grow up with me, it's inspiring. and sometimes we need to be reminded that despite being Established as a child star, children are still people who have a life ahead of them to develop and evolve and become who they want to be, on their own terms.

the Janet Jackson (original!) version of this song is of course totally stunning, too – I heard it for the first time this week (can you believe it?!) and was totally floored.

wanting to "say something" or "express an idea" or even write a piece "about something" – these impulses continue to lead me to dead ends before the piece (or any material) even takes any shape. everyone is trying to tell me something in their art, everyone is trying to say something and trying to change my mind or make me outraged or get me to sympathize or reveal some truth or some beauty and while it is my habit to want to have some kind of interface with that I'm just so tired and feel like anything I could "say" would ultimately not be adequate. I just want to be free and when I encounter art that is free, despite the (sometimes adverse) circumstances of its creation, I feel free. I don't want art to tell me how to feel, at this point I don't want art to tell me anything at all...

Kate Briggs writes in This Little Art  (a lyrical essay about translation and its nature as a personal, relational art)  that sometimes our misinterpretation/misunderstandings of text mean more to us than what they “actually” mean or say.

there is a fragment of “The last rose of summer” which (in Britten’s arrangement) I first registered as “The lovely are the sleeping” (the second “the” is extraneous). this misunderstanding has since been cleared but I must say I prefer my distortion. 

recent obsessions include:

Variations on the Right to be Silent (Anne Carson)

*this version of the essay does not include the stunning epilogue found in the version included as part of Float. she "translates" a poem by Ibykos in a handful of increasingly absurd ways and calls it a "catastrophe of translation". this version is astonishing nonetheless.

have long been fascinated by the idea of notation as a personal, expressive, and highly psychological art

 Martino, "Fantasies and Interludes"

Martino, "Fantasies and Interludes"

 Mikhashoff, "Elemental Figures"

Mikhashoff, "Elemental Figures"

 Silvestrov, "Kitsch-Musik"

Silvestrov, "Kitsch-Musik"

 Monk, Suite from  Atlas

Monk, Suite from Atlas

 Ustvolskaya, "Sonata No. 6"

Ustvolskaya, "Sonata No. 6"

 Miller, "Philip the Wanderer"

Miller, "Philip the Wanderer"

 Kurtág, "Jatékók"

Kurtág, "Jatékók"

 Ligeti, 10 Pieces for Wind Quintet

Ligeti, 10 Pieces for Wind Quintet

 Reich, "Piano Phase"

Reich, "Piano Phase"

 Soper, "Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say"

Soper, "Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say"

 Adès, "Mazurkas"

Adès, "Mazurkas"

 Aperghis, "14 Récitations"

Aperghis, "14 Récitations"

 Schubert, "Piano Sonata in A minor"

Schubert, "Piano Sonata in A minor"

the most meaningful compliment I received these past two semesters accompanying precollege came from a mother who told me she remembered my accompanying her son on Debussy's "Première rhapsodie" – she described my playing as "so supportive", which is perhaps all I could ever really hope to be as a musician who likes to play with others