Statement of Purpose
In making music, I seek to reconcile the grounding forces of tradition with the disruptive forces of critique. Musical traditions, characterized by aesthetic, technical, and intellectual orthodoxies are powerful in their ability to connect people to the past and to cement strong social relationships among their practitioners. Critique, broadly conceived, encompasses all that subverts or calls into question received values and assumptions, including speculation, empiricism, deconstruction, idiosyncrasy, laughter, irony, and pure punk contrarianism. It is only through a deep critical engagement with historical musical traditions and how those traditions are reproduced by their practitioners that we can fully understand the power of music-making and acquire a horizon of its possibilities for the future.
As a powerfully prosocial endeavor, music-making is indispensable to building and reproducing structures of community. I seek to situate musical creativity in the social space between people, cultivating deep, enduring, and reciprocal collaborative relationships conducive to mutual challenge and support.
- In writing for others, I acknowledge and celebrate that which is unique and specific to them; my creative decisions are informed by their histories, proclivities, aesthetic preferences, technical strengths, bodily presence, and intellectual worldview.
- In place of the rigid composer/performer dichotomy, I strive instead to cultivate a free exchange of ideas and passions, thereby expanding creativity beyond the solipsistic workings of a single mind.
- I similarly reject the notion of perfection. People and relationships evolve over time; my music evolves with them. Every piece has been indelibly shaped by the hands through which it has passed.
Power and Prestige
I reject conceptions of musical value that celebrate a blind submission to craft or established structures of power and prestige, seeking instead to imagine profoundly new models of music creativity and their role in supporting emancipatory social configurations. The act of questioning received values is not done as an unequivocal renunciation of standing traditions, but as a celebration of its contingency.
In working with musical materials, I embrace a spirit of play through the free operation of instinct and intention unconstrained by the necessity of functionality and efficiency. Play favors idiosyncrasy over competence, energy over purpose, and commitment over circumspection.
- I seek to play with inherited conventions of rhythm, harmony, and form, mapping out a liminal space between the familiar and the unexpected.
- I seek to play with notation and instrumental technique, reframing the performer’s relationship with score and instrument from one that prioritizes mastery and perfection to one that values discovery and imagination.
- I seek to play with the borders of style and genre, resisting the tendency to limit my choices to a pre-established palette of musical possibilities based on a rigid stylistic identification.
In order to unearth surprising and provocative musical possibilities, and to avoid the uncritical reproduction of received forms, I embrace an ethos of creative archaeology, using transcription, research, found materials, and system-building to prospect for novel sounds and sonic structures.
- Linguistic Archaeology: As users of language, humans possess an innate feeling for sonic expression. Even our simplest and most mundane uses of speech are profoundly complex and nuanced musical communications. The slightest variation in tone or emphasis can radically alter an utterance’s semantic and/or affective import. By transcribing human speech patterns, I seek to tap into the intuitive musical sensibilities that undergird all of our linguistic communication. The music that results, in appealing to those sensibilities, is familiar and immediate, but, considered as a work of music, it is complex, transgressive, and surprising.
- Systematic Archaeology: Although musical intuition operates at a level of power and nuance unmatched by positivistic approaches to creativity, it often proceeds uncritically and tends to reproduce or reinforce entrenched aesthetic and cultural values. By designing autonomous and robust systems for generating musical material, I seek to circumvent the ingrained habits and tendencies of my own creative intuitions. System-generated musical structures, which are often nonlinear or non-narrative in their configuration, can feel stilted and alienating, but they can also manage to alight upon serendipitous moments that can engage with unexplored or marginalized areas of musical experience.
- Instrumental Archaeology: Musical instruments (and voices), often characterized as neutral vessels for human expression, are freighted with implicit values, favoring one set of morphological and aesthetic possibilities over others. By approaching the instrument as a site for sonic discovery, I seek to question and engage with those ingrained values, carving out an idiosyncratic relationship between performer and instrument and looking for beauty in sounds that have been dismissed as unmusical, ugly, or unwieldy.
I seek to celebrate the irreducible physical and subjective presence of the musician in the moment of performance. We present ourselves to one another through a series of mediations. The act of performance remains uniquely beautiful to me for its ineluctable realness; it is one of the purest ways to experience the real-time operation of another human mind.
- I embrace and thematize the presence of the performer’s body: its intensities, its exertions, its haptic subjectivity. In some instances, my creative decisions prioritize the physical action and experience of the performer over their sounding result.
- I nurture the long-term presence of a performing ensemble as they build an interpretive and technical framework for performance. Each score demands a unique approach, necessitating the creation of novel structures of sociality, methodologies, and means of producing import.
- I celebrate the spontaneous creative presence of the improviser, in which impulse, volition, and instinct articulate a fleeting incipience — creating musical shapes which transition instantaneously from inchoate to accomplished.
I was born in 1984 and grew up in a family of musicians. Both of my parents are music theorists and my brother is a saxophonist and composer. I started playing the violin when I was four and the viola when I was twelve. Since the age of 10, I have been incredibly lucky to have been exposed to composition teachers who were able to impart knowledge and technique while at the same time nurturing the spirit of joy and adventure at the heart of the musical experience. The first of those, Daniel Deutsch, I met when I was in fourth grade in Stony Brook, Long Island. His mentorship and guidance was invaluable to my development as a musician and he remains a close friend to this day. Throughout high school and college, I was lucky enough to study with great teachers, including Carlos Guedes, Betsy Jolas, and William Bolcom for composition; Curtis Macomber for violin; Yizhak Schotten for viola; and Bob Rosen for jazz.
Following my graduation from the University of Michigan, I embarked on a west coast rumspringa: turning away from traditional academic career paths to try and find an identity as a musician that felt authentic to me. During this time, I immersed myself in any music I could get my hands on, acquiring a particular interest in the work of Charles Mingus, Igor Stravinsky, John Coltrane, Joni Mitchell, Duke Ellington, and Stephen Sondheim. I also began to collaborate with violinst/vocalist/composer Carla Kihlstedt, joining her group Necessary Monsters for performances in the Bay Area and Chicago. In that group, which included several members of Oakland's now defunct Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, I learned how to work in a communal creative environment, making music of the highest quality possible, and having a lot of fun while doing so. I have since relished the role of sideman, performing alongside Tin Hat Trio, Katherine Young, Kong Must Dead, and Toby Summerfield's Never Enough Hope.
In 2010, I moved to Chicago to begin a doctorate at Northwestern University where I studied composition with Lee Hyla, Hans Thomalla, Chris Mercer and Jay Alan Yim. Beyond my academic studies, moving to Chicago allowed me to become part of a close-knit, vibrant, and intellectually challenging community of like-minded musicians that has propelled the local new music scene to a place of international prominence. Under the guidance of my professors and colleagues, I familiarized myself with the music of the AACM and with the major movements of European art music in the late 20th and early 21st centuries (specifically, I made various attempts to confront the techniques and aesthetic values of spectralism, new complexity, and instrumental musique concrète).
During the years since starting my doctorate, I have worked hard to build strong and enduring relationships with collaborators and peers in local, national, and international music communities. In Chicago, this includes very close collaborative relationships with ensembles like the Spektral Quartet and Ensemble Dal Niente, with whom I have worked consistently for almost ten years. Some of my out of town collaborations include working with New York-based ensembles Mivos Quartet, loadbang, and ekmeles. In 2012, I attended the Darmstadt Summer Courses, where I met a lot of great musicians, heard a lot of great concerts, and got to work with established ensembles, including the Arditti Quartet and Matmos.
Since 2011, along with fellow composer/performers Ben Hjertmann and Luke Gullickson, I have been a member of the Grant Wallace Band. That project has evolved from its inception as a voice/viola/piano trio to include diverse instrumental combinations and to encompass a wide spectrum of stylistic influences. It has also been a welcome outlet for musical activities such as improvisation, explicit style reference, and collaborative creativity that have not always found ample expression in my work as a composer of notated music. After a year in which we exclusively wrote and rehearsed, GWB spent another year playing gigs in Chicago. Following the departure of my bandmates for other corners of the country, our activities are more concentrated and project-based. Recent engagements include appearances at the Fast Forward Austin and Resonant Bodies festivals, performances with Ensemble Dal Niente and the Chicago Composers Orchestra, and a commission by the Houston Grand Opera which was premiered in 2016 at the Menil Collection. The band has released four albums and continues to tour regularly.
For several years, my work as a composer has included research on human speech and its musical potential. In the spring of 2011, I began to make transcriptions of the vocal deliveries of standup comics. Without any specific intention as to how I could integrate these transcriptions into the music I was writing, I continued to study speech patterns and the phonetics of speech. In 2014, I finally began work on a string quartet, Hack, which took as its material comedic transcriptions like the ones I had started doing three years earlier. The speech material, with all its attendant complexity and nuance, is used to generate musical textures that seek to elucidate the inherent musicality of speech and the inherent communicative and expressive power of music. I am currently writing a piece for the vocal quartet Quince based on an analysis of the speech patterns of its members and my doctoral dissertation focuses on the topic of speech in and as music.
Upon leaving graduate school, I relocated to southern Vermont. I am currently working on several ambitious projects: a saxophone/percussion duet for Timothy McAllister, a string quartet for the JACK Quartet, a solo piano piece for Winston Choi, a solo viola piece for Doyle Armbrust, an album of viola improvisations, and a portrait disc of my music to be released by New Focus Records in 2019.