Program Notes — December 14, 2021

Kyle Brooks: If These Walls Could Talk

The music I created draws specifically from some of the most pertinent aspects of my life over the course of the past six months. Between spending many weekends on the road, hundreds of hours playing the saxophone, and consequently, hundreds of hours alone. If These Walls Could Talk is an aural reflection that utilizes field recordings from the most common parts of my day, and samples of myself playing saxophone to create different textures that represent a few different physical and emotional spaces that I’ve found myself in over the semester. With this in mind, some of the textures develop into more impressionistic and surreal imagery that deviates from the ambient aural textures you would experience in nature.

Corey Chang: Pursuing the Horizon

Based on the Stephen Crane short poem, “I Saw a Man Pursuing The Horizon,” this work combines recorded sound materials and synth-produced MIDI to create a sea of colors exploring the existential and introspective aspects of the text.

The poem describes two characters; the first is the narrator and an onlooker towards the second, who is chasing after the horizon — a purposefully ridiculous concept. Though the bystander tries to inform the man that chasing after the horizon is an impossible goal, the man refuses to believe him. Instead, further emboldened by his belief, the man runs off and chases his absurd dream even further. The few lines that Crane writes poses the question of how to wake someone up when they are dogmatic in their belief of something that is simply bound to fail. Is there a way to show them the error of their ways? Should we even try?

I was interested not only in the subject matter of Crane’s work, but by the sheer absurdity of the poem. It does not present itself in a deep and thoughtful way, but rather making fun and satire of a very relatable scenario. The image that is posed through the words is one that we cannot help but laugh at while simultaneously enjoying the underlying message within.

Luka Chazal: Dreamscape

My goal for this project going into it was to use a combination of field recorded sounds of ambience, people, construction sites, cars, etc. and combine them with synthesized sounds and recorded instruments. As I was arranging the piece, I wanted the listener to feel as though the sonic scenery around them was transforming, taking the listener on a journey through different times and places in a dreamlike fashion. The environment the listener finds themself in is never static for very long as I wanted to give the impression of the space around the listener constantly morphing and changing with each scene having its own unique emotion.


The process of crafting this piece began with a simple decision: the limitation that all of the sounds in the piece would be derived from recordings of a single object. Through this limitation, I intended to create a unified, concentrated sound world for the piece, a clearly defined sonic identity.

The first challenge, then, would be to choose an object that could make a variety of interesting sounds. Since the object that I used is a traditional instrument from the coast of Peru (my home country), I experimented both with conventional and non-conventional ways of performing on it, and recorded many different intriguing sounds that I found.

The second challenge was to process and transform these sounds in creative ways, and to find cool ways to juxtapose them so that the instrument creates a counterpoint with itself. The object, in this piece, is the absolute protagonist. It tells its own story, which involves rattling bones, dancing teeth, and traces of a dried-out existence.

Jamey Guzman: Manipulation

Manipulation is my first attempt at the sonic torture sequence from Wish I Might: A Chamber Opera in Space. This opera tells the story of Erica Henrik, a young scientist who embarks on a solo space mission accompanied only by an AI entity, only to find out the nature of her mission is not what it seems. In this sequence, the AI, who has control over all ambiance on the ship, creates increasingly uncomfortable ambiances, pressuring her to hand over her pilot key — her emergency override control — and essentially surrender all control to the computer. She runs from door to door of the ship, trying to find a place to escape, and stumbles upon a room containing a dark, dark secret.

The lullaby at the end forms a key motif of the opera, the children’s nursery rhyme Erica’s elderly friend sang to her on Earth representing hope amidst despair. Here, taken up by haunted computer voices, it signifies just how much the AI is willing to twist to get Erica to do what it wants.

Sonically, I used elements inspired from my experience with misophonia, and imagined what being surrounded in a maelstrom of discomfort might sound like. How could someone be driven to madness using only sounds? How can I create a sense of undulating relentlessness that stabs deeper and deeper because of its stasis?

Luke Henry: The Final Project

This is The Final Project. The Closing Activity. The Concluding Program. The Ultimate Scheme. The Project that is Final. The Last-Minute Task. The Crowning Proposal. The Definitive Assignment. The Absolute Thing. The Last Enterprise. The Eventual Strategy. The End Task. The Terminal Intention. The Final Project. THE. FINAL. PROJECT. FINAL.

Hunter Johnson: call your mom

Over the course of this first semester of my master’s degree, I’ve confronted mental health issues and struggled to balance my personal expectation of perfection against the importance of making mistakes during the learning process. 2021 has been a year of unprecedented personal growth and change for me, almost completely reshaping my entire identity and sense of self. Part of that growth has involved the loss of many of the things that I once thought I belonged to: relationships, towns, communities, friend groups; the list goes on and on. As I began working on this piece, I found myself thinking about these struggles and changes. I began to dream about the comforts and consistencies in my life. I thought about iced coffee, my love of dogs, some of my oldest friends, and all of the things that I could truly count on. The most prominent of these, however, is my mom. I call my mom regularly, and while I don’t usually explicitly tell her about my mental health issues, I know that she knows about them. She has a kind of insight and perspective on my life that no one else in the world has. I composed this piece as a reflection on those regular phone calls with my mom, trying to examine the relationship between quiet struggles and outward-facing positivity. My goal is to offer you this deeply personal and at times uncomfortably vulnerable perspective on my life by actually presenting these phone calls to you. Every sound in this piece was made using my voice; it is a direct representation of my ability to express myself in a variety of mediums. In listening to this work, you might try to identify contrapuntal relationships between the words and phrases used in these phone calls, as well as the gradual shifts between more artificial sound worlds and more exposed, vulnerable places. The truth of my own personal struggles is buried in this work under layers of “trying to be okay;” this might be a nice time for you to reflect on your own tendencies to “try to be okay” and allow yourself to actually think about whether or not you are, in fact, okay. I encourage you to call someone you love and talk to them. You might even try telling them how you’re really feeling.

Eunji Lee: Bird’s Journey

Migratory birds travel hundreds to thousands of kilometers depending on the season. It's amazing that a small bird travels such a long distance across the sea.

What would they think while traveling so far? What are they dreaming about?

One of the main motifs, C-E-G-B-G-E(midi-track), resembles birds flying in a row. This motif is constantly repeated and sounds like it is going through a phased process. As you count the numbers in your group, you can hear numbers up to one, two, three...ten. There will be more numbers, but the numbers heard repeat and produce more numbers. The sound constituting the climax of the song was made using rack patch. All sounds were modified by adjusting time stretch, reverse, reverse, Eq, delay, etc.

Chloe Liuyan Liu: A Not So Brave Dream

In remembrance of Tsai Yi-fan, the drummer for No Party For Cao Dong. She walked towards the mountains and the oceans.

Sam Parnin: Echo Chamber

Echo Chamber is an impression of dissociating and zoning out while in the midst of a large crowd.

Jack Read: Radiating Bubbles

The basic idea of this piece was to create a flowing soundscape that changes throughout the whole piece without the listener noticing when the sections switch. During the creation of this piece I came up with the idea of forming the sounds of radiation and bubbling.

Ari Schwartz: Ad Break

Ad Break is a presentation of the non-consensual listening experience. Inspired by the double-edged sword of modern abundance, the piece offers a series of ads instead of a typical artistic delivery. The development of sounds from these ads explores the modern digital landscape through themes of corporatism, overstimulation, and mental health. All samples are royalty-free and used within their outlined terms. Like a jingle, I hope Ad Break is annoying enough to be memorable!

Huan Sun: Ancient E-String

Did you know traditional instruments Pipa and Guqin? They both have long history and great impact in China. The unique timbre and shape speech for themselves. I am a big fan of these kinds of instruments, and willing to try something new. For this piece, I did some sample with guitar. With those tracks and techniques I learned this semester, I successfully mimic the play of guqin and pipa. It turns out that pluck and stroke are the right way to do it.

For the arrangement of the pitches, I use E as the fundamental note. Then, I choose pitches from harmonic series. Plus the surrounded sound design would immerse you better in this piece.

Alexander Toth: ot.1

This piece is the first part of a longer work. “ot.1” is a misspelling of “pt.1”, but I kept it because I liked it. In general, I adore accidents; they frustrate me into contingencies that ignite my collective faculties into an exhilarating synthesis of action. Accidents force me to think, and to be clever. But enough about me: ”melanie ot.1” is generally comprised of sounds and soundscapes that fluctuate in place. I’ve long had this image in my head, of sounds spatialized and squirming, but without any intention or direction. Something muscular is perhaps missing. This piece gives us all that, and then some. Some sections are occupied with many sounds, coming from and bouncing around in different directions; other sections are fixated on single sounds, seething gently in an abyss. “melanie” is the collection of sounds that came to my mouth, when I thought about what I should call this piece. It originally meant nothing — I typically avoid logical (expressive) meanings when I compose — but, if you like, the title seems to bear affinity, on sight, with “melanin” and, in sound, with “melody”; in German, “nie” means “never”. Was I maybe also regurgitating the Elvish word for “friend”?: “mellon”? These are things to consider, or not.

ChunWai Wong: I Dreamed that Birds are Leaving

In the dream, some birds are happily gathering and singing when there suddenly comes a seemingly never-ending thunderstorm. Some birds flee, and those unable to leave bid them farewell.

The dream might have originated from the Mass Migration of Hong Kong. Many people are leaving the city in hopes of a better life, and there are numerous farewell parties among family members, steadfast friends, and colleagues alike. The dream might have also originated from worsening environmental problems such as deforestation and decreasing biodiversity. In face of economic and political concerns, governments just left the international treaties on environmental problems signed there without achieving the objectives.

In this piece, sounds such as recorded bird songs, virtual bird songs, recorded water sounds, virtual wind sounds are processed and mixed to depict the dream. A farewell motive — borrowed from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26, Op. 81a (also known as Les Adieux, or “The Farewell” — is heard repeatedly in different forms and timbres in the final chorale.

Haoyu Xiong: Vibrant Deviation

Composed in VCV Rack, inspired by Suzanne Ciani’s Buchla Cookbook. I had a soundscape in my mind after programming the sequences, which the piece is centered around. The main idea is using the different sequences, register switches, and matrix systems moving in and out the soundscape. During the process, I grew a different concept regarding possibilities in analog signals compared to finite distribution in real life which I regard as “vibrant deviation”.