Dissertation Update and Some Thoughts on Composition

I was deleting some spam off of my site today and realized that I haven’t posted in a long time, so I thought I’d give an update.

I am currently trying to finish my dissertation at LSU in case anyone reading this didn’t know. I have to have a completed draft to my committee by October 1 – which is in exactly two weeks. The dissertation must be a 20-minute composition and a sizable document. I have also chosen to add electronics, which means I had to create software for the performers. The document and software are mostly finished. I have roughly six minutes of music left. That includes a short movement (4 minutes) and then some room to elaborate what I have barfed out in the last month.

The work has to be for large orchestra. If you have never written for orchestra, it presents a unique set of challenges from both a compositional and performative standpoint. That is mostly what the written document of my dissertation is about.

I write mostly solo and chamber music, so one of the hardest things for me has been to tone down some of the string parts (I resisted the urge to write “dumb down”). Imagine taking 30 random people and have them all step forward while simultaneously touching their nose in exactly the same way. You also can’t use words – only dots and lines on paper to show them how to do it – and they only have 15 minutes to look at your diagram before it happens. It is easy for one person to do it because he can’t really be wrong, but 30 becomes a real challenge.

When writing music, constraints are both creatively irritating and refreshing. They are irritating because you are limited in what you want to do, but refreshing because pulling off what you want while adhering to the constraints is very satisfying. It’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle looking at only the back. Solving a jigsaw puzzle is already refreshing, but adding a constraint like I just mentioned adds a challenge that might be difficult – but never impossible – to overcome. For a great example of an extreme musical constraint, check out the Musica Ricercata by György Ligeti. Ligeti constrains himself to only a single pitch class – the note A. It’s a short piece, but very musically refreshing.

Anyway, I just finished the opening theme for my final movement. It is going to be a Rondo (a theme plays back several times throughout the movement). I’m excited to write it, but I want it to be a fast tempo, so that means more notes. diss3_themeI better get back to writing. Thanks for the break. Hope you all enjoy the post. I’ll try to write more I promise!


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The Power of Media

This is something that I have been wanting to write about for nearly a month, but with the start of a new semester, I have had trouble finding the time to do so. I took today off work, so…

Part of my dissertation is a look into different names used for electronic music that is performed on stage, whether it is live, real-time, interactive, or all three. For the most part, these words are buzz words, often used with no regard to their actual meaning, but to convey something that is new and exciting in the electronic world.

As a by-product of looking at these words, I found it necessary to discuss the concept of media, specifically with regards to the medium that the artist is presenting his or her work. A work is fixed media if it is relayed on a permanent storage medium and cannot be changed, such as a recording or photograph. Many older 21st-century texts talk about new media, which refers to most digital storage and transfer. This word has fallen out of favor because most new media are now over 10 years old.

One thing that I did not specifically talk about in the dissertation was mass media. Mass media are resources that reach out to wide ranges of people, such as television and radio. What I want to talk about in this blog post is the way that corporations and governments still use mass media to control their users. This is nothing new, but it is very relevant in today’s world.  These power brokers are losing that control due to the newer mass media such as the internet and social networking, but are having trouble relinquishing their hold. A prime, albeit innocent, example was on display during Shark Week this past summer. For those of you who may not know, I LOVE Shark Week, although as it becomes less scientific and more ratings fodder, I have begun to care less and less.

If any of you watched Shark Week or followed it this past year, you probably heard about the opening night show Megalodon, a ridiculous mockumentary about a group of scientists who stumble upon an actual megalodon in the ocean. The episode used pseudo-science and actors to paint a picture of believability that is insulting. The episode was nearly universally panned, and social media sites exploded with negative criticism. Here is a great article on the anger caused by Megalodon. In fact, google “discovery channel megalodon social media” and you will find a slew of critical articles about the show. I would have much rather seen a scientific documentary about the repercussions of a live megalodon in the ocean, but Discovery Channel went the ratings route.

What bothered me most is not the show itself, although I did find it deplorable, but the censorship deployed by the Discovery Channel.  During the broadcast, the Discovery Channel displayed a series of Twitter posts alongside the episode, all of which were overwhelmingly positive. There were absolutely no critical tweets that were aired during the episode. If you had the show on mute and were only following the Twitter comments displayed, you’d have thought the public loved it. And that is my criticism.

How can we ever trust the Discovery Channel again? Not only did they insult our intelligence with a ridiculous fake show, but they failed to present an accurate and unbiased commentary from social media, which, in my opinion is the entire point of having a twitter feed. I can’t respect them as a company or a presenter of scientific fact. In fact, I now have a hard time watching the Discovery Channel.

Businesses and governments still haven’t realized that we are all members of a social medium far more powerful than the filtered window of television. We can see all viewpoints and gain a much more profound view of something than what the corporation itself can present to us. I need only to mention Arab Spring to show you the power of social media and the anger toward those who censor the medium.

P.S. On a final note, I suppose I should point out that we are being heavily spied upon by those governments and corporations on the Internet, and we are not via television, so I suppose that with a trade for unlimited knowledge we are also losing our freedoms, but that is a whole different blog post.

P.P.S. Why don’t they ever show actual seals being breached by sharks anymore? It’s always the foam replicas.

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Current Composition Project

vocal1I haven’t posted in awhile, but I thought I’d give an update of what I am working on at the moment.

Currently, I am taking a break from my dissertation and working on a chamber piece for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin, cello, and voice. The goal is to have the piece done by sometime in March, with the premier in April or May. I haven’t been feeling like much of a composer lately, so it’s good to be getting my hands dirty again.

The text I am using for the voice is a suicide note my cousin found in the attic of her new house in West Virginia. It is dated June 14, 1930. She researched to find who it might be, but was unsuccessful. The text never makes any reference to whether the writer is a man or woman, nor does it mention a name. The writer does not give any particular reason why he or she cannot bear life, only that they no longer wish to do so. In perhaps the most interesting line, they ask the reader to “destroy all of my pictures that I have not got hold of. I would not have any one to remember that such a looking mortal ever existed.”

The text is sad, especially in light of the fact that this person is completely unknown. I also find it fascinating, and it is easy to try to imagine why they were the way they were, or what happened to them. The setting has also led to some interesting debate, such as whether it should be set musically or more rhythmically like speech, or whether it is appropriate to change or reorder the text for musical purposes. Some might even feel that setting this text is not appropriate, but my answer is that if I can make something contructive out of it, then maybe the world will seem a little less bleak.

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If Lance Armstrong can give up, so can I

Not many of you know this, but I am a tax delinquent. In 2010, I did not pay my taxes. The IRS caught me, and BOOM! I have to pay my taxes including interest in fees.

Only, I did file. I e-filed, and the IRS (apparently) rejected my e-file. I was never notified. I now owe $150 in fees and interest.

What is funny to me is that the e-file I sent the IRS was good enough both for the State of Louisiana to base their taxes upon and FAFSA, a federal government agency, to disburse my student loans.

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An interesting scam


Which is which?

So for those of you who do not know, I have been traveling across Austria and the Czech Republic the last week or so. Two of my colleagues and I have just performed at the International Tuba/Euphonium Conference (ITEC) in Linz, Austria. We gave a 30-minute lecture on developing electronic instruments, specifically one we have been working on since 2009 called GUA.

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Jackie Evancho arrangement

I recently completed an arrangement of Vincent (Starry Starry Night) for singer Jackie Evancho. This is the premier performance of the work, played by the San Francisco Symphony. Unfortunately, the recording is from someone’s cell phone, so the quality is not the best. There are some really nice moments in the work, but there are a few little things that maybe I could have tightened up as well. The piece is a little strange anyway, the way some of the accompaniment lines up with the melody seems slightly skewed. The song is originally by Don McLean, but my arrangement leans a little more toward the Josh Groban arrangement (I was asked to use the Groban as inspiration). Anyway, hope you all enjoy it!



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Music Added

WordPress won’t let me upload music to my blog, so I did the next best thing: I put it in dropbox and attached it via url. Not every piece is on the site, and I am still missing information on some of the pieces, but it’s a start.

If you want to download the pieces, just add ?dl=1 to the url in the browser window.

If you don’t see a recording and want to be the first, let me know, and I will be happy to get you the score!

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Bureaucracy in Action II

For those of you who do not know, I recently accepted an assistantship at the LSU School of Music to be their IT Specialist. It has been a really good experience, and I am learning a lot about enterprise IT and what it entails. Some may argue that enterprise IT requires a lot more than 20 hrs. a week and should be a full-time job. I won’t argue with that, but I am very happy with the experience and it is great for me.
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Article in the Daily Reveille at LSU

Yesterday, I was interviewed for part of an article in the Daily Reveille, the newspaper at LSU, to talk about some of the things we are doing right now. For those of you who are unaware, we just performed at the Electroacoustic Barn Dance Festival at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA this past Saturday. The article details this performance, along with a multimedia art exhibit done by some other students at LSU. It is titled: “University grad students debut electronic instrument.” You can find the article here.

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European Performance

I just got an email today asking for a bio pic, because my piece Selva Oscura is being played at a European Composer’s forum in Ljubljana, Slovenia! How cool is that? I think I am (with maybe the exception of Dr. Constantinides) the only composer I know that will have been performed in Slovenia.

For a little more info, the performers will be Katarina Jovanovic, soprano and Natalija Mladenovic, piano

For a bio of Ms. Jovanovic, click here.
For a bio of Ms. Mladenovic, click here.

Thanks to the Composers Association of Serbia for selecting my piece for performance and finding the performers.


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