PIECES OF MIND AND MATTER is a book of five string duets which progress through a rich musical journey scored for various combinations of string instruments. Together, they form a snapshot of the discovery and refinement of my voice as a composer. I wrote the first piece in 2004 after finishing my dissertation, and I completed the fifth one in 2017, shortly before receiving tenure. The project began by exploring certain ideas that I had been discouraged from pursuing as a student, and ends by fully implementing these ideas.
PIECES OF MIND AND MATTER explores a variety of rhythmic and metric textures. I search for rhythms that are new and interesting, but at the same time are not overwhelmingly difficult. I combine metered and a-metered music (both with and without barlines and time signatures), 32 different time signatures, and music that gradually transitions between meter and a-meter. This rhythmic and metric language is a defining characteristic of my music.
PIECES OF MIND AND MATTER began with a commission by the Oregon Bach Festival to write a piece in honor of George Crumb on the occasion of his 75th birthday. I was inspired by his Vox Balaenae, which has variations named after geologic eras. I titled my piece Holocene after the most-recent geological epoch, although I later learned that Anthropocene has been suggested as the epoch beginning in the mid-20th Century.
Holocene has no barlines. Its background structure begins with 1 semitone, then 1 and 2 semitones transposed up 1 semitone, then 1, 2, and 3 semitones transposed up 2 semitones, then 1, 2, 3, and 4 semitones transposed up 3 semitones, etc. The piece gradually works through this pattern up to 11 semitones. I later learned that because this pattern is recursive and self-similar, it is somewhat like a fractal, a concept that I would continue to explore in later pieces. Furthermore, the series made from stacking 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. semitones is a sound that I have exploited in numerous pieces. Holocene begins with soft, repeated tones that gradually become harsh, then transitions into an expressive lyrical section where the violin and viola keep reaching over each other, culminates in climax of loud repeated double stops in imitation, and then dissipates in an ethereal calmness that gives a sense of timelessness. Holocene was premiered on July 3, 2004 at the Oregon Bach Festival in Eugene, Oregon by Ron Blessinger and Brian Quincy, members of Third Angle.
Acquiesce was commissioned by violinist and music theorist Mariusz Kozak at a poker game for a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue. Acquiesce has metered music without time signatures. Its barlines merely help to organize the music. Its main melodic feature is a 3-note ascending motive that transforms as its intervals gradually increase and as it is transposed by the intervals contained within it. The lyricism in the opening section gives way to quick pizzicato notes, which build to a climax similar to the climax in Holocene. Then there is an elaborate canon where the harmonic and rhythmic intervals between the leader and follower gradually increase, giving a sense of gradual decay, and finally the music comes to rest with quiet, dark double stops in the cello underneath harmonics in the violin. Acquiesce was premiered on July 5, 2006 at the Ernest Bloch Music Festival Composers Symposium in Newport, Oregon by Ron Blessinger and Adam Esbensen.
The canon in Acquiesce (where the harmonic and rhythmic intervals change between the leader and follower) serves as the basic idea behind Persiguiéndose. This duet features constant imitation where the cellos leapfrog over each other, spawning micro-canons with various harmonic and rhythmic intervals between the leader and follower. When the intervals are small, the music is intense, and when the intervals are large, the music is relaxed. The title is taken from a Pablo Neruda poem, which says “Andan días iguales persiguiéndose” or “Days, all one kind, go chasing each other.” Essentially, this is what the two cellos are doing with all the micro-canons leaping over each other. The dramatic opening section culminates when the imitation converges into a loud unison gesture. This gives way to a lyrical middle section that gradually builds to the climax. In the climax, the opening section returns--except that now the gestures occur in reverse order. One of the ideas from the opening section is further developed as the music slowly disintegrates. The piece concludes with quiet pizzicato tritones. Persiguiéndose was composed for Lisa Collins, and was premiered on October 15, 2007 by Lisa Collins and her student Miguel Peralta at the University of New Mexico. Since its initial premiere, the piece has been revised into its current version.
Physicists demonstrate that light has characteristics of both waves and particles by shooting electrons through a double slit against a phosphorescent plate. A diffraction pattern appears on the phosphorescent plate as the electrons go through the double slits. Phosphorescent is based on a scale made from combining the overtones of the open strings of the cello and bass, as if the scale is a diffraction pattern of the overtones. Since the strings on the cello are tuned in fifths and on the bass are tuned in fourths, and since the partials get closer to each other in higher registers, the scale is quite intricate. The piece begins with quiet harmonics that emphasize overtones that are not equally tempered. The harmonics give way to pizzicato notes, which give way to arco notes, always building, and when the music feels that it can build no more, the mood suddenly changes. Here, perfect consonances from the scale imbue peacefulness. Underneath a sustained harmonic in the cello, the bass descends until the end. Phosphorescent is the shortest of the duets in PIECES OF MIND AND MATTER. It was composed for cellist David Schepps, and at the time these liner notes were written, it had not yet been premiered.
Throughout PIECES OF MIND AND MATTER I explore self-similar and recursive patterns of intervals, durations, dynamics, and attack. I combined these patterns into a fractal of intervals. Fractals are infinite, so the part of my fractal I notated on paper is the part that lies within the range of the violin and within 12-tone equal temperament. The audible part of my musical fractal is like a part of a visual fractal that can be viewed in a single magnification. Since fractals are nonlinear, they cannot be depicted linearly in music, so there are a plethora of ways in which they can be interpreted musically. Fracture is a musical realization of the fractal of intervals I made, a culmination of the ideas I had been working on since Holocene.
Fracture begins with a ritornello that recurs throughout the piece. This ritornello has double stops in both violins that serve as the basis for the fractal. Since Fracture is the longest piece in the set, it takes ample time rising to both of its climaxes. The first climax features loud repeated double stops, similar to those in other pieces in this set. The second climax features jarring tritones, accenting simple beats divided in thirds and compound beats divided in halves. The ending dissipates into an ethereal calmness, much like how Holocene ended. Fracture was composed for violinist Cármelo de los Santos, and at the time these liner notes were written, it had not yet been premiered.
PIECES OF MIND AND MATTER progresses through a journey, which is both musical and personal. In these duets, I discovered and refined my artistic voice, nursing it from embryonic stages to a vibrant and colorful realization of a system which, at its core, is based in self-reflection, intricate examination, and the acknowledgment of infinite possibilities. Through the development of these pieces, I hope you can hear how the musical systems I am working in become both more defined, and yet more capable of varied shades of expression. I am considering composing a second book of string duets for the five combinations not contained within PIECES OF MIND AND MATTER. Essentially, every piece would feature viola and/or bass. Until then, thank you for listening!
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