for three cellos & live electronics
Premiere: Celli@Berkeley & Daniel Cullen (live electronics), November 2014 (17 minutes)

On November 7, 2014, I participated in the concert “Dalalæða: Music for Cellos and Electronics” along with pieces by Icelandic composers Úlfur Hansson and Georg K. Hilmarsson, all performed by Celli@Berkeley. (If you’re gonna listen to the Soundcloud link, please use headphones as the mix and the piece are *extremely* subtle and delicate: thanks!) The show was part of the final season of the L@TE: Friday Nights at BAM/PFA series at the current (awesome!) Berkeley Art Museum, a Brutalist wonder that is being shuttered because it’s seismically unfit.

Mosa Tsay performing OPEN (Photo credit: Matt Lee)
Lukas Whaley-Mayda performing OPEN (Photo credit: Matt Lee)
Lukas Whaley-Mayda performing OPEN (Photo credit: Matt Lee)

The piece, for three cellos and live electronics along, was performed by cellists Mosa Tsay, Lukas Whaley-Mayda, and Kane Suga and my genius-collaborator Daniel Cullen (who controlled the live electronics in six channels via iPad) and transformed the simple score into a lush soundworld of harmonics, glitch-distortion, cathedral-reverb, and feedback. Within the resonant space of the concrete museum, the music went up and out.

I was and am deeply inspired by the abstract painting of the mid-late Twentieth century and the possibilities for human expression that they conveyed and continue to strive for whenever we experience them. For me, the project solidified in my mind on the day of my 30th birthday this past September. I had just returned from a summer in Europe, participating in music festivals and visiting friends in Iceland, Switzerland, and Germany. The piece had been commissioned by my friend, painter John Zurier, but I had not sat down with my ideas, instead allowing them to simmer while I hiked over glaciers in þórsmörk, Iceland or gallivanted through the ecstatic streets of Berlin.

Already in a strange time of transition as I prepare to leave the academy and graduate in May 2015, I turned 30 on September 7. That morning, on my way to lunch with my parents, I received the news that my close friend Melanie Lewis had passed away after an eight-year battle with cancer. Not knowing what to do with myself, I spent the next few hours with Barnett Newman’s series of paintings The Stations of the Cross at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. It was in these moments of shock and contemplation that Open finally took shape. I’ll miss Melanie a lot. Her voice will always be with me, encouraging me, comforting me, especially in moments of doubt and self-pity. Some of her thoughts and poetry can be found here.

Newman's "Stations of the Cross" in Washington D.C.My love for the paintings of Newman and Rothko is pretty outrageous. In an effort to articulate my ideas about the impact of the paintings, I’m writing a sprawling study on the relationship between Newman’s conception of scale and the music of Morton Feldman. There is A LOT there. I’ll post the paper as soon as I finish and get the edits in. Any input would be great! Anyways, as far as OPEN is concerned, I had a lot of fun writing it, rehearsing it, and putting together the concert with Celli, Úlfur, Georg, and John Zurier. You can check out their work below.

John Zurier Úlfur Hansson Georg K. Hilmarsson Celli@Berkeley

Photo credits to Matt Lee and the Berkeley Art Museum