Music can be many things. For me, it is the omnipresent background to my life. I can't remember a time when my identity as a person was separate from what I did as a musician; it is so close that sometimes it is hard to see.
Above all, music is collaborative. It is at its best when it is being made in the moment by one group of people for another. As a site for social cohesion, music cements relationships and builds community.
Music connects people to the past. It is only through a deep engagement with historical musical traditions and how those traditions are kept alive by individuals and communities that we can fully understand the act of music-making in the present and acquire a horizon of its possibilities for the future.
Music is a craft; it requires time and hard work to master. As a result, it is often constrained by longstanding methods and values that are deeply ingrained and have been passed down from teachers, mentors, and peers. To me, one of the most exciting aspects of making music is to question those received values and to experiment with alternate approaches. This is not done as a negation or renunciation of what is already there, but as a celebration of its contingency. I believe that everyone benefits when a community of musicians are each pursuing their idiosyncratic visions with passion and conviction.
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 slated for premiere sometime in 2016 or '17. Our first full-length album, Axle of the World (with Rabbit) was released in July 2015.
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.