Program Notes — May 3, 2022

Kyle Brooks: Servitude/Suffering

When approaching this class and what the final project would entail, I had a strong vision of creating a composition that implements the saxophone, live effects, and fixed media. The idea of adding this element of live electronics to my saxophone performance repertoire is something that I’ve sought after for many years, as I have implemented electronics in my performing with bands in the past, through the use of effects pedals processing the sound of the saxophone, much like a guitar or bassist would. In the case of my composition for this class, Servitude/Suffering, I have utilized a variety of different triggering mechanisms — from different notes on the saxophone, to the use of a Bluetooth foot pedal, to navigate through an array of effects and timbres that combine fixed media with live electronics.

When it comes to the fixed media used in the composition, I took a series of field recordings of the different protests that have been happening on campus due to the graduate workers’ strike. Being a graduate worker myself, this issue is something I hold very closely to me. While the university is the sole entity that allows me to have a roof over my head and food on my table, it doesn’t come without long hours, underrepresentation in the face of university administration, in addition to the need to have supplemental income in order to survive as a student. Part of my reasoning for turning these impassioned issues into a musical form, is to express solidarity and confidence in my colleagues, with the hope that our struggle wasn’t for nothing.

Corey Chang: The Thoughts That Cloud One’s Mind

Our consciousness is both a powerful and strange entity that presently cannot be fully explained. What causes us to be aware of our existence, and how do our physical brains function to bring about the abstract concept of human awareness? How do we control our minds and concentrate our thoughts away from distractions, and on finding who we are and what we want? The answers to all those burning questions will be answered....hopefully in the future; probably not in my piece. But perhaps this work can provide a sense of irony to such an existential topic.

The Thoughts That Cloud One’s Mind is primarily made of pre-recorded and granulated vocal interjections. A combination of rolled Rs, air sounds and complete gibberish gives a unique way of telling a story that is open to the listener’s interpretation. Personally, I see this work as anxsty, yet blissfully innocent. However, there are also moments of aggression and even somberness to contrast the otherwise carefree nature of this piece.

I regard improvisation as a key part of my compositional process. My greatest heroes, both past and present, are those who can make works that are crafted with utmost precision, and yet when performed, result in a show of spontaneity and organicism within the discipline. While this work makes use of fixed media that is preset to play back the same way every time, one’s interaction with the media can change based on what they desire from my narrative. The vocal sounds can be interpreted as happy, angry, or confused, and the performer is free to decide the direction in which they embark within their story.

Luka Chazal: Piece for Oboe and Live Electronics

This piece was composed with the intention of exploring various extended techniques and unorthodox sounds that the oboe is capable of producing. The main focus of the piece is the oboe performance, with the electronic accompaniment serving the purpose of enhancing some of the natural qualities of the oboe. The electronic effects were all designed in Max and utilize pitch and amplitude tracking to control effect parameters in real-time.

Jamey Guzman: MiND’s Last Stand

Erica Henrik is alone in space — except for MiND, the ship’s AI and the being responsible for her last few weeks of torment. Ever since she refused to surrender her pilot’s key to the AI, she has been subject to psychological torture and is on the brink of insanity. In this scene, an ally from Ground Control manages to get a single message through to Erica on the ship — but MiND has some things to say about that, lest Erica grasp onto even a shred of hope. In this scene, MiND pulls out all the stops, stooping to new manipulative depths to make Erica believe that she is truly alone everywhere else in the world but on this ship.

Sonically, some techniques I explore in this piece include live cross-fading between fixed media sources, buffers and looping, and using the voice itself as a controller to trigger elements. I also explore the usage of electronic music elements as well as the performative elements of the Wiimotes as controllers to further story, character, and drama.

Luke Henry: Comfortable Uncertainty

Comfortable Uncertainty was composed for the final project of my electronic music class in the Spring of 2022. I have always wanted to compose a piece for solo instrument with electronic accompaniment, so I knew that this was my chance to try it out.

As for the title, Comfortable Uncertainty, is in reference to my current feelings of ending one chapter of my life and starting a new one. I was originally extremely stressed and worried about life after college, but I have grown to be excited and to embrace the open-endedness of having no clear path. I have reflected this change in the music itself. The piece starts as rhythmically and musically vague before progressing to something that feels a bit more grounded. The English Horn is then left by itself again, but with a greater sense of rhythm and an appreciation of the space that is left open. The piece concludes with the English Horn finding another completely unexpected atmosphere, where it forgets that it was ever lost at all.

hunter t. johnson: i think i forgot how to pray

i think i forgot how to pray is a reflection on the conflicts and contradictions that from my perspective form the primary threads of any sort of faith. Religion was an important part of my upbringing (attending catholic classes, receiving a First Communion, and regularly attending church with family) but it was never something that sat very well with me. The conflicting nature of the New and Old Testaments is just one example of an aspect of my faith that brought me discomfort and confusion. As i grew up, those examples became increasingly personal. i came to terms with being gay and found myself faced with the hateful words of explicit religious extremisms. Then i stopped just being okay with my sexuality and started being proud of it, and i faced the quiet hatred that relatives and friends held in much more secretive, much deeper-rooted place. As the years have gone by and i’ve faced personal challenges, i’ve been particularly drawn to the contradictions between forgiveness/grace/mercy and blame/shame/guilt. i think i forgot how to pray sets the traditional “Kyrie” prayer for mercy against the Penitential Act, in which fault, guilt, and blame are publicly expressed in the hopes of seeking forgiveness. The words “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” have rung in my ears for years, and this feels like an opportunity to bring that ringing out into the world.

i have performed as a church musician regularly as i’ve grown up, singing hymns and lending my voice to a communal experience that has always felt both beautiful and isolating for me as an individual. i truly love church music, and have been inspired more than i can describe standing in ancient cathedrals and hearing music written hundreds of years ago with the aim of expressing sacred ideologies. This only adds to my sense of confusion and conflict. In this piece, i use my voice as the live basis for all of the sounds, and try to emulate the experience of church polyphony through reverberation and layers of delayed repetition.

i think i forgot how to pray isn’t a resolution for any of the conflicts i’ve mentioned here, and i don’t think it helps to clarify any of my personal beliefs. Rather, i hope that you can hear this work as a sonic representation of the conflicts i’ve expressed, allow yourself to be immersed in my personal reflecting, and take a moment to explore your own internal dissonances.

Eunji Lee: A Piano in a Cage

I researched and thought about Cage’s life and his work these days. I had a feeling that what he wanted was some kind of freedom. While studying him, however, I thought I was trapped again in his philosophy of being free. I wanted freedom while making music, but a piano was still trapped in a cage and seemed to make a sound.

Chloe Liuyan Liu: Culture is the Body — My Arms

When expressing “culture is the body,” the Japanese theatre director, Tadashi Suzuki, implied a pessimistic view of the technology’s impact — it alienates us from our body, hence our culture. Interactive computer music, however, presents a possibility of bridging technology and our body. Moreover, the constant microscopic data streams triggered by subtle body movements can further our understanding of our body. My Arms is an exploration of “culture is the body” under the light of the computer music practice. In this composition specifically, I primarily used the recordings of an electric fan taken from different angles, and the arm gestures continually morph the fan sounds throughout the piece.

Sam Parnin: Suspended Movement

This piece is entirely generated using sounds captured in real time from the piano. The performer has freedom to improvise on predetermined figures, while the electronics capture fragments of the performance to be manipulated. Each performance of this piece is different, as both the performer and the electronics have the freedom to react to variability. While the scope of each individual phrase is short and the interaction between performer and electronics is fairly quick, there is an overarching structure that guides the piece to an inevitable arrival.

Jack Read:

Ari Schwartz: Move Fast and Break Things

“Move fast and break things” was a motto coined by Mark Zuckerberg, used internally within Facebook to encourage innovation and vision. This piece is not about that motto. Move Fast and Break Things is inspired by Randall Monroe’s commentary in his webcomic xkcd. The piece aims to capture the physicality and sonic consequences that might occur when moving fast and/or breaking things. For the sake of danger, the electronic media features many sounds that you might hear if a harp was broken during performance. Don’t worry though, even with all that fast moving, nothing will really break...

Huan Sun: The Qin Huai Scenery

The Qin Huai Scenery is a Chinese traditional folk song. Different areas of China have different dialects and different types of music. The Qin Huai Scenery describes the scenery of Nanjing in South China. The Qinhuai River rushes from south to north and passes through the main urban area in Nanjing. Water brings residents life and entrainment. This poem describes a singer telling audiences about the beauty of Nanjing.


I have a story,
and let me put it into song.
I hope every one of you,
can listen to me patiently.
Allow me to sing the legend of the Qinhuai River.
Slowly and passionately for each one of you.

Ever since the ancient era,
the river has been Ilowing gracefully.
It is the beauty of the South (of China),
the elegance of Nanjing.
Walk in the famous Zhan Palace,
enjoy the spectacular architecture.
Look at the Colony of Cranes,
with water rippling all around.
What a paradise this is!

Alexander Toth: sixwaystolookatahypercube

My favorite thing to do in Max is to set up a patch in such a way that it generates sound continuously by itself, and within such parameters that, although each of its functions are limited, the ways in which these functions can combine and recombine are virtually infinite. This creates what I call a sonic mobile, which facilitates aurally the shifting impressions afforded by the moving, visual perspective. These patches function by layers of generative algorithms, which tend to be internally-unified by some sort of concept: typically, and with which Max is blissfully accommodating, some unique proportion or set of proportions. The strict mathematical underpinnings of these mobiles results in a complex sonic object, which, although theoretically-endless in its becoming-variety, yet maintains a consistent being-profile: a character or shape which looms and collects the infinite transience of phenomena beneath its transcendent shadow. Since Max is so great with proportions, I thought I would explore its capabilities to render audible a more abstract mathematical problem: a four-dimensional “object,” a geometry which could only be conceptual because of the inability of the visual organ to sense it. Using generative algorithms, four-channel spatialization, and Syntien, sixwaystolookatahypercube emulates the experience of trying to sensually grasp the image of an object of more than three dimensions, by presenting six differing patches which present the problem in six contrasting, yet compatible ways. The unifying musical parameters are the ubiquitous use of square waves and a 16-tone equal-tempered scale which is typically parsed into eight unique subsets (imitating the eight unique cubes of a tesseract, all unified by 16 vertices). The live portion of this patch is controlled by Syntien and is my attempt at holding a hypercube in my hand.

Jacob Wilkinson: Fish Poison

This piece is a study for a piece I would like to call Fish Poison. The title comes from a chapter of Claude Levi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, in which a sequence of myths from South America is analyzed whose central theme is the origin of the practice of using poison to catch large amounts of fish. Levi-Strauss attempts to prove that fish poison is a metaphor for a continuous and potentially hazardous relationship between nature and culture, in other words, technology. The entire book argues that the myths presented and their transformations operate as a consistent and logical system based on a dialectic of qualitative states (raw and cooked, high and low, etc). The important opposition in the sequence of myths about fish poison is the discrete and the continuous, which Levi-Straus compares to the diatonic and chromatic, making mention of the poison drink in Tristan. Here I transpose that opposition from the pitch domain into the rhythmic domain, in addition to trying to create sonic textures that might express the image of fish dying en masse in a body of water that has suddenly become unbreathable.