Menagerie — The Trial of Spock

Merit Review—Fall 2013

This document describes my activities in research, teaching, and service, in my second review period (June 2011-September 2013) as Associate Professor at UC Santa Cruz. I am grateful for my colleagues’ attention to this work.


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Research Categories:
Menagerie: An Opera in Three Acts [in-progress]
Quartets for Cage (& associated events)
Incidental Music Supervision and Composition: “Peer Gynt”
Soundtrack: “Live Oak Mural Documentary”
Piano Recital in Prague
Carson, Saxton “Unpulser 3.4”
Sporka, Carson, Nauert, Kurniawan “Toward Accessible Technology…”


In this review period I composed approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes of a in-progress music drama Menagerie: The Trial of Spock, , roughly 60 minutes of which is thoroughly orchestrated, and 30 of which is drafted in less detail. Of the orchestrated passages, I am submitting draft scores of Act I, Scenes 2 & 3, and Act II, Scene 2; representing approximately 20 minutes of diverse material. I wish to emphasize, however, that these represent an “in-progress” work; some elements of notation optimal for professional purposes will not be implemented until a later phase of development in the whole project.

The libretto—co-written with Lincoln Taiz (UCSC Professor Emeritus of Biology), the artist Lee Taiz, and award-winning comedy writer Perre DiCarlo—combines two teleplays by Gene Roddenberry—used in 1966 as “Menagerie Parts 1 & 2”, episodes of the series Star Trek—with elements of Ottavio Rinuccini’s libretto for Peri’s Euridice (1600) and that of Hector Crémieux for Offenbach’s Orphée Aux Enfers (1858). I have written permission from CBS Television (rights holder to the Star Trek) to pursue limited productions of an opera that make use of Roddenberry’s language. The complete in-progress libretto includes a story summary and an additional composers’ note. A separate document contains a complete synopsis of Acts I and II.

The work will be approximately three hours in length, for a traditional (19th-c, “grand”) opera orchestra and 10 singers. For purposes of outreach to performers and advisors I have realized, in detail, approximately one hour of the opera with a sample orchestra, using saxophones in places of voices. For each recording displayed in the completed scenes section of my review portfolio, there is a ‘Soundcloud’ widget; please click on the widget (rather than playing it in the page) to hear the recordings with the text visible. The draft scores mentioned above (Act I, Scenes 2 & 3, and Act II, Scene 2), are linked to their corresponding recordings on the completed scenes page.

Additional drafted scenes may be heard in the comprehensive sound-cloud set, I provide this page as an alternative, for a more thorough sense of the work’s overall form. I have also produced a graph showing, in yellow, the portions of the work that are finished, in grey, the portions that are drafted, and in black, the portions so far unventured.

Finally, I wish to express that this project extends and transforms several of my most prominent concerns as a composer, producing work that differs markedly on the surface, but is connected substantively to my existing catalogue, in ways I’ll describe briefly for those who are curious: 

  1. Mid-career- and tenure-reviewers of my work have commented that my rhythmic language—based on empirical and algorithmic work on additive timespan ratio complexity— (see “Unpulser 4.0” below) seemed sometimes to rule out forms of repetition and pulse. My design of the rhythms and phrase structures in this work reflects an expansion of the foreground repetition that was (in fact) common in my prior work, into larger and more diverse types of timespan structuring.
  2. In spite of its experimental approach to rhythm, much of my piano and chamber music in the past has explored traditional tonality, major and minor key signatures, and “vernacular” and popular musical language, in ways that resist “stylistic reference,” partly because, in my past work, those ‘sounds,’ and ‘references’ are not contextualized by tonal rhythmic schema. I have been startled by how quickly my tendencies as an experimental composer have become “legible” here, due to the way that an expanded rhythmic language contextualizes what has always been a deep concern for tonal sonority and progression in my music.

My path forward with the work is increasingly collaborative. I have begun seeking advice from experienced opera producers, soliciting promotional activities from amateur singers-Star-Trek-connoisseurs, and consulting YouTube mavens to explore a variety of means of performance, both traditional and non-traditional. The work will certainly evolve through this process, and will ideally be finished in 1-2 years.

Three Quartets for Cage

In 2011-2012, I wrote three short studies inspired by Cage’s centennial celebrations. They were premiered at the Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art, Nature, and Dance and the New School for Social Research’s “Moving Into the Out There: Indeterminacy & Improvisation in Performance & Environmental Practice” (New York, 3/23-3/27, 2012), a toy-themed concert directed by Ma’ayan Tsadka at the UC Santa Cruz Performance Studio (5/25/2012),  Third Coast Percussion’s RENGA Project at the New York Museum of Modern Art (8/31/2012), and New Music Works’ locative “Cage 950” (various locations in Santa Cruz, 9/5/2012).

Incidental Music Supervision and Composition: “Peer Gynt”

For the Theater and DANM Departments, in collaboration with Kimberly Jannarone, Michael Chemers, Brandin Baron-Nussbaum, and Danny Scheie, I worked collaboratively for two years to develop the music- and sound- concepts for a production of Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt,” drawn from English adaptations by Colin Teevan and Brian Johnston. My former students Chris Molla (DANM MFA) and Eric Parson (BA Music) were my primary collaborators, and I collaborated with them in their roles respectively as sound designer and music director of the production. Working with the cast after the production, we also recorded and produced an 18-track album reflecting the production’s music, to be released commercially in October 2012.

Video Score for “The Live Oak Mural Project: A Documentary”

In early 2012, with Associate Professor Regina Langhout of Community Psychology (UCSC), I worked on a short documentary film project on her work guiding children in an under-privileged Live Oak school system to transform a public space with cultivations of historical consciousness and art labor. I composed the music for the project, in consultation with the teachers and students there. Interacting with children about music is always a joy; in this case, the students’ sense of musical purpose, inflected by their own growing social and political consciousness, influenced not only these compositions, but my approach to issues of youth and aging in Menagerie, described above.

Since editing for the project was not entirely in my control, I include here also the recordings in their independent forms.

Other Research

My research activities this term also included smaller projects:

1. A travel-grant funded Piano Recital (May 9, 2013) at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, where I also gave lectures based on prior research, and served as a resident artist during my sabbatical.

2. A new version of Unpulser (3.4), now includes a complex web tutorial. Produced in collaboration with Ian Saxton; this was the subject of lectures at the University of California, San Diego (3/13/2012), Northwestern University (4/4/2012), the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (Czech Republic, May 6, 2013), and the Hochschule Hanns Eisler in Berlin (Germany, May 12, 2013).

3. Contributed bibliographic research and theoretical perspectives on disability studies and music, as secondary author with Adam Sporka (Assistant Professor, Czech Technical University in Prague) Sri Kurniawan (Computer Science, UCSC), and Paul Nauert (Music, UCSC) in a new series of studies in assistive technology for composition, accepted for presentation at the 15th Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGACCESS International Conference on Computers and Accessibility.


During this review period I have served as doctoral dissertation committee chair for Andre Marquetti and Evan Merz. Both are brilliantly inspired composers who face unique challenges in their aspirations both as teachers and artists. I am pleased with their hard work, which I hope my colleagues agree is reflected well in their progress toward completion. In the winter of 2013, I successfully guided my talented advisees in the masters program Tobin Chodos and Fernanda Aoki Navarro to highly selective doctoral programs at UC San Diego (PhD and DMA, respectively). In general, I was responsible for mentorship of a larger than optimal number of graduate students during the period, including students in DANM. I also taught two brand new graduate seminars in the review period: DANM 250 (Locative and Adaptive Music), and MUS 253B: Rhythm, Time, and Form; the combination of mentorship duties and new graduate and undergraduate courses, simultaneous to a time of intensive service duties, was distinctly and unexpectedly challenging.

Many undergraduate students during this period have commented on my enthusiasm, passion, patience, and logic, as well as my openness, and ability to speak to different students’ needs. However, there was some student dissatisfaction that I need to address. Music 130 (Fall 2011): 1-5-scale rankings for this course averaged between 3.5-4.0 for overall course learning experience; quality of assignments, materials, and reading; instructor availability and helpfulness; rankings averaged above 4 in instructor enthusiasm, fairness, availability, and knowledge. Scores below 3.5 in organizational and clarity categories partly reflect 2-3 students who both disagreed with course content and strongly resisted friendly discussion of it; a more personal animosity is sometimes evident in the comments, some of which is contradicted by evidence in my syllabus, which I hope describes a class with clear objectives and assignments. However, I do take these minority concerns very seriously, as a reflection of potential for improvement in the course.

Music 150 (Spring 2012): 1-5 Rankings averaged 3.5-4 in overall instructor effectiveness; quality of assignments, exams, and materials; quality of feedback, fairness in evaluation of work; and in their resulting understanding of course content. Rankings averaged 4 or above in enthusiasm, respect and sensitivity to students’ needs, and instructor availability and helpfulness. A number of negative comments about Music 150, particularly about its degree of organization, are understandable to me in that the course was brand new. Many students were frustrated by very difficult musicianship and admittedly experimental aural skills assignments that will need to be revised. I believe this can be explained in part by their expectation that the study of “popular song” would not challenge them as significantly as other theory courses. There were also strongly negative comments on learning goals (regarding e.g. musical form and lyrics), that have been very well received in my lower-division courses. I take student critique in these areas very seriously, I obviously still have some “translation” work ahead of me, to make these otherwise successful intellectual engagements function well for upper-division music majors.

In the Fall of 2012, I successfully taught Music 30A with generally strong reviews and comments. It was my second time teaching the course and my first time teaching it without a concurrently operating ear-training program. 1-5-scale rankings averaged between 4 and 5 for use of class time, enthusiasm, availability and helpfulness, fairness in evaluation, quality of feedback; examinations and other materials. Students were less positive (between 3.5-4) on my level of organization, clarity, sensitivity to progress. I hope to teach Music 30A again to improve my approach. A few politely critical comments included suggestions for organization, and, predictably, requests for more extensive ear-training. Many students praised thoroughness, accessibility and approachability, and rigor, among other qualities in the teaching and course experience.


Service Categories (Overview): 2011-2012

DANM Executive Committee (includes MFA Program Administration and Admissions), Senior Recruitment Committee (chair), Scholarship Committee (member, Winter), Dean’s Ad Hoc Committee on Curriculum and Budget (Fall 2011, Winter 2012)

Service Categories (Overview): 2012-2013

DANM Executive Committee (includes MFA Program Administration and Admissions), Curriculum Committee (chair), Director—April in Santa Cruz 2013, Community Outreach [see below]

Recruitment in Composition

As part of a normal slate of committee work, I coordinated, in 2011-2012, an effort to recruit a senior figure in the field of composition; the effort culminated in our successful attraction of Larry Polansky, formerly of Dartmouth College, to our ranks. My service in this effort consisted of 10 distinct stages of work for the department, some of them multi-faceted.

  1. Committee formation—May, 2011: with Dean Yager, Department Chair Amy Beal, Associate Dean Jan Cloud, I worked to assemble a seven-person committee consisting of myself, four members of the department representing diverse areas of specialization, and two external members, from Visual Art and Film and Digital Media. The committee was expected to work with all music-department faculty in each of its stages of work, and so a principle of area diversity was balanced with principles of investment in the field of contemporary music, addressing, as well as possible, concerns of representation voiced by several faculty.
  2. Outreach, solicitation of guidance, job description—June-July, 2011: the committee of seven in conjunction with the chair, the Dean, and other senior faculty, met on several occasions to coordinate (1) outreach to prospective candidates, (2) guidance from diverse senior figures in composition at major institutions, regarding the management of the search, and (3) the composition of the job description.
  3. Initial screening—September-October, 2011: we screened approximately 150 applications, narrowing the field in conformity to Academic Personnel’s unique guidelines for conducting senior searches, and demonstrated that we met criteria for diversity outreach. Due to budget shortfalls and an over-worked department staff, it was frequently my responsibility as search chair, to scan scores, upload sound-files, and organize the online directory of candidates on which faculty based their evaluation of the candidates.
  4. Ranking, preliminary candidate List—October, 2011: In several meetings, the committee determined an approach to discussion and comparison of candidates. We ranked approximately 70 applicants on 4 ways, and discussed the relative importance of several desirable features. The metrics were not conclusive, but descriptive; we presented our top 20 choices to the faculty and asked for further guidance and insight.
  5. Phone interviews, off-reference-list screening—November, 2011: Again in consultation with the faculty, we narrowed our choices further to a list of 13 candidates. I coordinated schedules of committee members and candidates to interview each of the 13 candidates by phone; presented notes and recordings of those interviews to the faculty. Third, I coordinated a Division-charged subcommittee effort to seek permission from each candidate to contact colleagues not listed as references, inviting lists of names to exclude. I then took record of 22+ detailed conversations about the candidates (approximately 2 for each), and made them available for faculty review. This effort required extensive coordination with Academic Personnel, as several problems of ethics, fairness, and confidentiality arose.
  6. Interviewee/campus-visit ‘short list’ selection—December, 2011—January, 2012: Three extensive meetings, and two consultations with the faculty as a whole, were necessary to narrow a field of 13 candidates to a list of 3 or 4, whom we proposed in detail to the department and the division, and invited to campus as guests for lectures, formal interviews, and other meetings. During this phase of the search, I served in capacities normally reserved for the department chair, owing to her recusal.
  7. Coordination and hosting of campus visits—February 2012: I planned and coordinated the two-day schedules of each of the four candidates’ activities in consultation with supportive, hard-working department staff.
  8. Final discussions—February-March 2012: I processed video recordings of lectures, and audio recordings of candidate department interviews and master classes, and notes from designated exit-interviewer Leta Miller, for confidential online view, and coordinated meetings for faculty discussion of our ranked choices among the four interviewees.
  9. Recruitment—Late spring 2012: Collaborated with the Dean, serving as both committee chair and “acting” department chair, in coordinating our final recruitment effort, and in the planning of a candidate tenure-and-promotion review approach.
  10. Review—Summer-Fall 2012: Coordinated faculty conversation to select referees and recruit 6 formal letters of review for the Committee on Academic Personnel.

Second Curriculum Revision Effort

In Fall 2012 discussions of faculty workload and budget, I chaired an ad hoc committee (including Anatole Leikin and Leta Miller), to produce a further-streamlined version of our evolving major curriculum (and path-to-degree) plan. It generates a net savings and simplifies aspects of the programs’ requirement structure. It has not been implemented, pending short-term budget uncertainties voiced by the division.

Outreach to CATHS, San Francisco

On November 19, 2012, collaborating with alumnus Sophie Iribarren, I coordinated 4 tours of the music center, each consisting of 15-25 high-school juniors from City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco, assisted by three current music majors, Peter Elsea, and department staff. To each group I gave a 20-minute lecture on what it means to study music at the college level.