Aleph…Zain

Aleph…Zain is a series of musical and multi-media works involving indeterminate form, as a context for both determinate and indeterminate sound. Each work begins with a six-page score; each score page contains compositional material linked to the other pages by choice operations: performers design a pathway through the pages which, in each instance of performer choice, dynamically impacts the content of the work’s immediate future. Some works involve site-specific content or found texts, which are to be re-determined (if only slightly) for each new performance.  

Taken together the compositional and performance processes in “Aleph…Zain” uniquely combine the study of rhythm perception with traditions of algorithmic and aleatoric music. The notion of “algorithm” invoked here builds on established techniques of John Cage, Tony Conrad, and Roger Reynolds, but this is the first such practice informed by empirical research in memory and attention.

 Writing for New York’s Franklin Furnace Collective, Harry Spiller described experiences of works in the Aleph…Zain series as “often akin to illusion, with one perception being traded for another: what seems at first ambivalent and complex yields suddenly to an unexpected impression that a simplicity of purpose has been present all along.”

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Takes to the Stage is both the first composition in the series (commissioned by cellist Franklin Cox), and a video with animation. Both are attempts to address and resist experiences of rhythm and form that develop in contemporary commercial spaces. The video (DVD, forthcoming from Kunaki) documents performances at UC Santa Cruz and an interpretation of a parallel work for saxophone at Columbia University.

The work for cello is situated in and throughout a concert of diverse music, somewhere in the middle of which a cellist performs an interlude that functions as a series of emergent properties of the concert as the whole. The interlude takes its sonic content by sampling the surrounding repertoire: some sounds echoing prior works, others anticipating works to be played later on the program. Rhythms of other works are referenced within larger rhythms of the interlude; their roles seem to repeat and switch. Musical surfaces are thus connected, broken, and connected again, in a slow, formal, unfolding of the classical recital stage.

The video articulates these sonic unfoldings with patterns of animation. Animated elements (hand-drawn line art, painted photography, and manipulated film stills) are distributed through the work, associating curt imagery with the cellist’s sampling references across the concert program. The visual associations are dynamic, first developing one pairing of image and sound, and then a contrary one, engendering the possibility of narrative memory involving both continuity and distortion.

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Commissioned by acclaimed San Francisco-based percussionist Chris Froh, A is for Azimuth and Arnica extends the “Aleph…Zain” principle with found texts and found objects. Five recordings of the work—by Froh, emerging New York percussionists Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg, and Geneva-prize winner Aiyun Huang of McGill University, are the core of a my new CD “Music for Percussion” from Albany Records (December 2010).  (Also see video recordings and excerpts of the varied interpretations on this site.)

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The “Anahistoric Ensemble,” sans bass, re-assembled with the UC Colorado Springs Performance Studies Ensemble to premiere Snow Bloom (Ochromonas) [20-30”] a concerto for trumpet and chamber orchestra, on December 10, 2010, with guest artists Rhonda Taylor, Jane Rigler, and William Malone. I conceived of the score as a kind of way of modeling a peculiar pattern of red algae that forms (blooms) rarely on snow at high elevations in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The rarity of the phenomenon is due to numerous and unrelated factors that need to converge in the nutrients of trees’ root systems, in order to nourish the algae.

Snow bloom (Ochromonas), for Trumpet and 10-20 instruments [23’30”]. Glen Whitehead, trumpet; Rhonda Taylor, baritone saxophone; Jane Rigler, flute; William Malone, alto saxophone; Ben Leeds Carson, piano; with members of the UCCS Performance Studies Ensemble and students of Glen Whitehead and Jane Rigler.

N is for Nolana and Nycandra [15-25”], for two continuo or rhythm-section instruments, co-composed with the prolific guitarist Johnny Montgomery Carson (no relation | notably a lead guitarist for “General Caine,” “Alexandrite”, and John Lee Hooker Jr.) at the April in Santa Cruz Festival, April 15, 2011. Two of the small compositions (marked in the score) within the larger work are documented in embedded videos below.