Dear Brown University Faculty,
I hope that the following offers a comprehensive insight into my work, process, and goals. I have divided this page into three main sections:
1. Composition work
2. Research interests
3. Visual Art
These three categories are really part of one connected whole. It’s important to me that during doctoral study I develop and improve my compositional style. My work has always had a strong connection to the visual, even when visuals are not explicitly provided in performance. This stems from the unique synesthetic and richly phantasic way my brain seems to categorize new information, respond to powerful experiences, and create. My mind creates vivid, spontaneous imagery in response to certain pieces and experiences, a sort of dreaming while awake, which is further heightened by relaxed and altered mental states. When I compose, it’s the reverse process: I hold mental imagery (over which I’ve had some conscious control) in my present mind and “listen” for spontaneous musical ideas from imagination. In either direction, the spontaneous mental connections are never random but always consistent and happen when my mind senses a powerful congruence between things.
In my compositional work, I am interested learning how to maintain these connections to meaning but express them more abstractly. (I explain this a bit more in my personal statement.)
My research interests likewise stem from these connections between the music and something outside of itself, whether it be metaphors of parts of internal or external human experience or relation to something with which the mind has already had contact.
Visual art has always been an important part of me, though one that has as of yet been separate from my musical work. The Music and Multimedia degree would offer an exciting chance to integrate all three of these aspects. I can envision a dissertation project that would include a substantial written portion outlining a theory of musical meaning (including the necessary cross-disciplinary foundation in cognitive science and philosophy as well as an explanation of its connection to European Symbolist movements), a piece of music designed to play on and evoke extramusical meaning, and visuals such as sets, lighting, costumes, and puppets that reinforce the extramusical ideas to which the piece is tied.
First, I would like to invite you to watch this video: Musical Production Design. In it, I talk about my compositional process and show a number of short excerpts of music, some of which appear again in my portfolio below, while others do not. This video begins to paint a picture of the role that visuals play in my music, even when there are no provided visuals explicitly present in a performance.
The Arborist, The Alchemist conjures memories of early Baroque music and still older alchemical ideas as if through the lens of an ever shifting kaleidoscope which bends and distorts the image it contains. Alchemy was not so much about the actual practical transmutation of metals but about the philosophy behind the symbol of the creation of the lapis, the philosopher’s stone. This set of philosophical beliefs drew influences from cultures spanning several continents and was steeped in spiritual mysticism, ciphers, symbols, and secrets. Practicers of the hermetic tradition sought the purification of the soul by way of the symbolic alchemical process.
Except for a distorted quotation of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater early in the piece at rehearsal D, all of the rest of what sounds like early music has been newly composed. At the center of the work is a sarabande which seems to carry inside it intimate memories of love and loss. The sarabande appears in fragments again and again, at times lush and longing, at other times distorted and grotesque. It never quite gets to be heard in a non-distorted entirety before being interrupted.
At the beginning of his piano prelude Des pas sur la neige, Debussy includes the following performance instruction: “Ce rythme doit avoir la valeur sonore d’un fond de paysage triste et glacé” (“This rhythm must have the sonorous value of a sad and frozen landscape”). I have modeled my string quartet abstractly on Debussy’s prelude. I have always been fascinated by Debussy’s prelude because it seems to evoke varying states of alertness or reverie that one might experience, for example, while walking and becoming lost in memories. The aim was to evoke the essence of each of the prelude’s phrases, conjuring the same images and placement on a spectrum of cognitive awareness or reverie, without explicit quotation of the prelude. I have expanded the roughly four minutes of the prelude into this fourteen minute string quartet. Every now and then however, for example in the very opening notes of the quartet, one can hear Debussy’s music peeking through. For more on the idea of this consciousness continuum, see my research proposal.
To Starboard, Star-Bound also formed the heart of a multimedia collaboration between the Curtis Institute and students at Drexel University. This project, called SymphonyXR, culminated in a live performance accompanied by holograms in 3D space which audience members saw in their Microsoft Hololens headsets. The holograms were triggered by MIDI data being sent from the digital organ in the hall. This brief video gives a taste of the project. I believe both virtual reality (closed headset, like Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard) and extended reality (open headset, like Microsoft Hololens) offer exciting potential for the realm of music composition and I hope to produce more collaborative work in this genre.
To Starboard, Star-Bound is my first work for solo organ. My musical inspiration for this work certainly includes Messiaen as well as the science fiction of yesteryear. One of the things I love about Messiaen’s organ works is the rich, strange spectra that live inside his harmonies, an element which also depends on sensitive registration by the performer. Messiaen was particularly fascinated with the non-harmonic spectra of the bells tolling in the church tower. I took a page from his book in the way I chose my harmonies and requested registrations - for example by finding the mysterious extra life within harmonies that beat in unusual ways, as well as in adding false “upper partials” (chosen by ear) to otherwise tonal harmonies.
I am particularly interested in the topic of meaning across the arts. This stems from the powerfully associative way I experience art as well as day to day life. I’m excited by the possibility there would be at Brown to create a dissertation project that unifies all three areas of interest - music composition, visual arts, and research in musical meaning. I’m also interested in Brown’s Open Graduate Education program, as the topic crosses disciplinary lines into cognitive science, philosophy, and other fields. Below I’ve listed an outline of the categories of musical meaning I perceive to be important. Please read my research proposal for more explanation.
Categories of Musical Meaning
Metaphors of the Inner Self
Emotion: anything from complex feelings such as bittersweet longing to very basic and primal ones such as safety vs. danger, fear, noxious vs. pleasant, etc.
State of Consciousness: the degree to which one is focused on and aware of one’s present surroundings and the present moment versus unaware of those surroundings and focused inward, in reverie
Metaphors of the Environment / Outer Self
Visual/Textural: This includes color, shape and size (e.g., large blocks, long tendrils, waves), material (e.g., glassy, smooth, rough, prickly, liquid), etc. but not specific objects from memory
Location/Velocity: closely related to visual/textural metaphor but deals with placement, speed, and direction within four dimensional space-time of the imagined visuals or of the subject/self. The dimension of time comes into play when we seem to perceive a manipulation of time from the vantage point of an omniscient third person.
Relationship to Other Things
Similarity to another form: Any connection one instinctually feels between the music and some other thing, be it another piece of music, another artwork, specific memories, objects real or fictional.
The following writing sample, “Moments of Fracture in the Rondoletto from Stravinsky’s Sérénade en La and their Relation to Juan Gris’s Cubist Symmetry Transformations,” shows an example of the last category at work. In this case, the relationship is between Stravinsky’s music and Gris’ cubist art. Prior to any analysis, I instinctively felt that this movement sounded particularly “cubist,” and within this movement, the six moments of “fracture,” likewise found by ear, seemed to hold that which made the music sound cubist. From there I began to analyze and show why this hearing was warranted, using the best tools at hand for this particular case.
My second writing sample, An Associative Model of Musical Perception, shows some of my first thinking on this topic, and the way I began to formulate the last category. This topic invites plenty of opportunity for cross disciplinary work, as I mention in the research proposal.
Finally, I would like to show some examples of my visual art work. I would greatly welcome the opportunity to meld my interests in music and visual art. For example, I have always wanted to create a sort of Wagnerian performance in which I not only compose the music but design and make the visual aspect as well, the sets and costumes. I’m excited about the possibility of working on a larger scale than what’s possible in a small apartment. Also, I am interested in creating pre-recorded multimedia works, both in traditional video as well as in immersive virtual reality. Below you can see work in digital painting (a relatively new medium I in which I began working in the spring of 2017) as well as jewelry and costume design work.