Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg in Santa Cruz

{ Jump to: Anonyme | Detalér | Pari Passu }

For marimba with metal objects (Ian Antonio) and vibraphone with wooden objects (Russell Greenberg) [ca. 11’15”].
Camera direction, editing, and post-production by Ashley Aron Craig.
Albany Records concludes their new disk of my music for percussion with Antonio & Greenberg’s recording of this work. Share

Ian Antonio and Russell Greenberg at the April in Santa Cruz Festival of New Music, 2009


What makes a melody? When do our ears mark its beginning and end? Mediations, Tenors is one of a pair of exploratory studies for marimba and vibraphone. In it, I explore the narrow and unfamiliar region of ambiguity between melody (often defined in terms of single lines, openings and closings, the presence of a “voice”) and texture (which implies something out-of-time, something environmental, something ‘felt’). Melodies begin and end, textures are fulfilled in a musical snapshot.

Melody and texture aren’t opposites, but their overlapping boundaries are tense. (Think of how melody separates from a concurrent ‘accompaniment’; consider that compelling, memorable tunes command attention as texture fades from consciousness, and vice versa.) Texture is most important when melody is truncated, undeveloped. Memorable tunes are not supposed to rely on “texture” for their meaning or identity.

Thinking about all this made me wonder how, or where, the two might overlap. Could a musical idea seem textural at first, and then, thinking back, find its place in memory as a tune? Could a line beg to be hummed like a melody, but then find itself disintegrating into something broad and almost infinite? Order the CD here.




Rhonda Taylor in Santa Cruz

ANONYME (2008) 
For alto saxophone [ca. 8’00”].


Anonyme is part of an in-progress collection of works called Lesser Myths, that sketch categories of feeling and expression in unknown or unrecognized (or non-existent) “myths”; together, the collection might form the basis for a comic opera.

For my purposes, a myth is a story that transforms mere narrative into a kind of shared symbolic language, or even ideology, through which we can express much more than the story itself. Since the definition hinges on the story’s broad appeal and meaning, the term “Lesser Myths” is probably an oxymoron. Oxymoron is also the crux of the story of Anonyme, a Neptune worshipper whose impressive sacrifices exceed all expectations, but who takes a special kind of power over the Sea God, by making her offerings stealthily, when no one is looking. Neptune is driven to madness by this unusual veneration, for which no one will take credit; revealing that his relationship to worship is little more than an exchange of vanities. Filled with rage, he turns her into a sea anenome—and thereafter, as the story goes, when acts of kindness are committed without hope of recognition, they are said to be done in “anenome-ty.”

It may make some kind of sense to imagine what “lesser” stories might have been flattened or subsumed by the greater myths…I take an interest in stories like this not so much to pretend that something meaningful got lost, but rather because something once meaningless might be more interesting as it grows more distant.




Christopher Williams with Harvey Sollberger, Susan Ung, Bob Zelickman, Aiyun Huang, Geoff Gartner, and Yvonne Lee in San Diego

DETALÉR (2001)

Conducted by Harvey Sollberger
For contrabass solo (Christopher Williams) with bass clarinet (Rob Zelickman), trumpet (Jeff Nevin), harmonium, percussion and voice (Aiyun Huang), piano (Yvonne Lee), viola (Susan Ung), and cello (Goeff Gartner) [6’30”].


“Detalér” might have been a baroque dance form, which involved members of an absolutist monarchy at some point jumping back from a partner or from the center of a rectangle. But it wasn’t—-it’s just a French word, meaning something like pulling away or retreating or gathering. The fictional English word “detend” might be a good translation, if it weren’t fictional. What’s true in all of this is that both the composer and the bassist who commissioned this work have minor training in ballet, and that fact seemed important while the piece was being written.

On another level, the retreat that I am trying to describe is a retreat from cultural representations that are obsessed, overwhelmed with association and direction. For example, a retreat from the deceptively tight links between original and copy, or between question and answer on TV and Internet news sources. Or between melody and accompaniment, subject and imitation. This is not to say that I wanted the piece to “fall apart”; on the contrary, I was interested in compelling strong relations among musical objects and texts that might not normally lie on clear boundaries with one another, or that might seem specifically incompatible.

For example, utterances like “tour” and “mat” have almost no meaning without the context of a sentence. Putting unrelated mundane things next to each other (“tour, you call it, mat”) is one way of expanding categories and blotting out their category-ness. On the other hand, words like “True”, “False” , and “Saint Anne”, can inspire meaning-making in almost any situation. My challenge was to give them a context. (At a quiet moment, the percussionist Aiyun Huang sings “is it laying out my things?”) A context in which the tyrannical ubiquity of “association” can make a hasty and peaceful exit. Leaving, in its contrasemiotic wake, a path toward unusual structural unities and unplanned narrative momentums.

A path toward those things, perhaps, but not quite reaching them. In a world where large opaque institutions are perpetually retransmiting an inflexible language of what ends up seeming like “common sense” — in trillions of supercoordinated broadband digital coughs – I had fun writing this piece. I hope you have fun listening.

Detalér won First Prize for Chamber Music in the London-based International Bass Festival competition (2001).




Jorja Fleezanis, Laura Park, Tom Turner, Andre Emelianoff, and Ken Woods in Round Top, Texas


For two violins, viola, and two cellos [ca. 13’30”]

Conducted by Harvey Sollberger

Pari Passu is a Latin phrase meaning, roughly, “take it as it comes.” More particularly, “to each its due, with nothing privileged.” This sense of the title should suggest something about the relations among voices and ideas in the work, which are composed to avoid feelings of centrality or periphery, to subvert any tendencies toward a feeling of priority for one or another.





Charon Rosner and La Banda Bastarda in San Diego


[Stay tuned! A recording is forthcoming.]

For contrabass, violin, spinnet or fortepiano, and harpsichord.