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  • All parts per­formed by Bar­ret Anspach.

    The sea and its con­tents is a very dear and unusual project of mine, which began some­time in 2006 as a small col­lec­tion of songs (The moon being my first) that has now arrived, I believe, at its final stages of com­ple­tion. Many heart­felt thanks go out to Michael Hart, Zack Winokur, Par­vaneh Angus, Seth Gar­ri­son, my fam­ily and every­one who has listened.

    Pur­chase a copy of this album for super-​cheap at BANDCAMP!

    To you, lovely boy. The kind one, the one that, when I speak, leans for­ward while fid­get­ing with a bit of curl — but I for­get what it was you said, and I stop.

    While you wait, my love, I try to count how many, how very many oth­ers I have joined together to make you, beside me, into the boy who leans for­ward, fid­get­ing with his hair. And I try to count, but can­not, the ways I would like to use words, but can­not, to tell you — and so dearly, you, you have already fallen asleep.

    I heard you breath­ing. Did you lie down to rest beside a river? I am waiting.

    The sea mur­murs its own name, is fed by the rain rolling off your hair. A ghost fol­lowed me; I fol­low it now, down to the shore where waves lick the sand. Was this where you dreamt? A dull res­o­nance lingers, a faint pulse.

    We sat at a table across from each other, and I missed your glance. I waited out­side and lit a cig­a­rette. I missed you, and I sat down.

    (Later in our lives, we sat down together and I saw your glance.)

    Come in, you naughty bird! The rain is pour­ing down. What would your mother say If you stayed there and drowned? You are a very naughty bird, You do not think of me. “I’m sure I do not care,” Said the spar­row on the tree.

    Lean against me, tired and weary. Rest your head and dream. Watched the cliffs, a trail of trains, a drift­ing boat go by. Always think­ing, the heart slow­ing, the Hud­son River flow­ing. And all I have to do is to stare at you, noth­ing to do but stare at you.

    In the car, where we sat awhile, where you watched from far away: and I saw you. In the room where we talked awhile, trad­ing phrases in silence: but I heard you. Near the end, where I wait for you: thought I felt your hand next to mine. Stars are out, and your face — the moon — shines.

    The bird sleeps. You sleep else­where. Drive home through a blan­ket of weary mist. The road dis­ap­pears and we con­tinue to speak. Moon­light rubs against the birch-​trees.

    I’ve dis­ap­peared.

    A song trails off through the branches. A wil­low tree bends to the ground. A fire at night, its cast-​off smoke: I’ve gone away, I’ve dis­ap­peared. Take care of me. Don’t breathe me in, but say my name and I’ll return.

    We drove past a town, the St. Regis River below. A white cour­t­house loomed, paint peel­ing, over the quiet streets in this val­ley. With Mr. Mul­lan on his right, St. Regis pro­nounced whether their river flowed to day or night. In this val­ley peo­ple hid inside and it began to rain. We drove past dark green, dark mist.

    From Park Slope to Brighton Beach we rode side by side. On Ocean Blvd. we took our time. (If we tried it, if we tried a lit­tle harder. If we tried to, if we tried a lit­tle longer.) Seth! Hours later we arrived and went for a swim. Sit­ting side by side I held hands with him. (If I tried it, if I tried a lit­tle harder. If you tried to, if you tried a lit­tle longer.) Look­ing up at the sky we saw thun­der­clouds. Rac­ing back to 116th I fell to the ground. Seth! (If we tried it, if we tried a lit­tle harder. If we tried to, if we tried a lit­tle longer.)

    La, la, la!

    The sea and its contents


    First per­formed in Peter J. Sharp The­ater, The Juil­liard School, Dec.3 – 5, 2009. Michelle Ross, vio­lin. Vic­tor Ngo, Hea Youn Chung, piano four-​hands. Ben­jamin Laude, syn­the­sizer. Bar­ret Anspach, conductor.

    In a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort for Juilliard’s annual Chore­o­g­ra­phers and Com­posers per­for­mance, chore­o­g­ra­pher Julia Eichten and I worked closely together over the course of a few months to cre­ate Arrow. Our material’s shared con­cept comes from the sim­ple idea of con­trast: more specif­i­cally, the jux­ta­po­si­tion of dis­parate styl­is­tic modes of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, or, put dif­fer­ently, of simul­ta­né­ously pre­sent­ing mate­r­ial derived from both ‘high’ and ‘low’ cul­ture. In the case of Julia’s chore­og­ra­phy, loose, flail­ing (80’s?) ‘club’ dance, paired with an aus­tere, almost geo­met­ric vocab­u­lary of move­ment. (The para­dox of human and machine.) In the case of my music, a com­bi­na­tion of mech­a­nis­tic, quasi-​serial frag­ments, with overtly tonal ones (Bowie and Berg?).

    Inter­est­ingly, stage light­ing proved to be one of the most impor­tant con­nec­tive links between all aspects of the work (music, dance, cos­tumes, space and dura­tion): over the course of Arrow’s seven-​or-​so min­utes, the stage bright­ens from near-​darkness to an almost over­whelm­ing glare.

    Arrow, for mixed ensemble


    1. I. Palimpsest
    2. II. In the acacia-​avenue – the myrtle-​alley–
    3. III. A shad­owed forest

    This Con­certo was com­mis­sioned by The New Juil­liard Ensem­ble — directed and con­ducted by the incom­pa­ra­ble Joel Sachs — as part of the group’s annual com­po­si­tion com­pe­ti­tion, and pre­miered on April 3, 2009, in Peter J. Sharp The­ater at The Juil­liard School by Eun­taek Kim, piano.

    (In lieu of a ‘pro­gram,’ a few explanatory notes:)

    The word “palimpsest” is broadly used to denote an object in which the simul­ta­ne­ous pres­ences of an ear­lier and cur­rent form can be per­ceived. An instance of such an object is to be found in the faint traces of a build­ing (now demol­ished) pre­served on the side of its neigh­bor­ing house: as the out­lines of a tarred roof, or in the patch­work of brick where the two were once connected.

    A lit­er­ary example:

    Alas! in the acacia-​avenue – the myrtle-​alley – I did see some of them again, grown old, no more now than grim spec­tres of what once they had been, wan­der­ing to and fro, in des­per­ate search of heaven knew what, through the Vir­gilian groves. […]
    The places that we have known belong now only to the lit­tle world of space on which we map them for our own con­ve­nience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the con­tigu­ous impres­sions that com­posed our life at that time; remem­brance of a par­tic­u­lar form is but regret for a par­tic­u­lar moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugi­tive, alas, as the years.
    — Proust, Swann’s Way (trans. Moncrieff)


    When I had jour­neyed half of our life’s way,
    I found myself within a shad­owed for­est,
    for I had lost the path that does not stray.
    — Dante, Inferno (trans. Mandelbaum)

    The Con­certo is struc­tured, for lack of a bet­ter illus­tra­tion, in this manner.

    Concerto, for piano and chamber orchestra


    1. I. Osti­nati
    2. II. Dirge
    3. III. Con­trary motion

    Com­mis­sioned and pre­miered by Andrew Eitel, piano. This record­ing is of the first per­for­mance in Paul Hall at The Juil­liard School, Feb­ru­ary 18, 2008.

    A good friend and spec­tac­u­lar pianist, Andrew Eitel has worked dur­ing the past few years on a num­ber of my com­po­si­tions. At the begin­ning of the sum­mer of 2007 he asked me to write a solo piece for him, “as hard as you’ll dare” (to para­phrase). These three etudes are an attempt at meet­ing his request.

    The etudes are con­ceived as a set and not as inde­pen­dent works. The first move­ment, “Osti­nati,” is con­structed of a num­ber of repeated pat­terns lay­ered one atop another in a sea of whirling activ­ity — the most promi­nent layer dash­ing with­out pause from the first beat to the movement’s last breath. “Dirge” fol­lows in con­tem­pla­tive fash­ion. Over­lap­ping, decay­ing sounds illus­trate this study of the piano’s inca­pac­ity to indef­i­nitely pro­long notes. “Con­trary motion,” the last of the three, imper­cep­ti­bly emerges from our “Dirge’s” detri­tus. What is done with osti­nati and decay else­where is accom­plished here by employ­ing “con­trary motion” under var­i­ous guises: with pitch and har­mony, dynam­ics, rhythm, along with the oceanic reg­is­ter avail­able to the piano.

    Etudes, for piano solo


    A new bal­let score I’ve been com­mis­sioned to write for the Pacific North­west Bal­let will be get­ting its pre­mière in a mat­ter of weeks, right here in Seat­tle! It’s been an absolute plea­sure work­ing with multi-​talented PNB dancer and chore­o­g­ra­pher Andrew Bar­tee, whose exhil­a­rat­ing move­ment slides bril­liantly between moments of sud­den ten­sion and breath­tak­ingly unex­pected res­o­lu­tions. Truly mar­velous stuff! (And a lit­tle hint: the big, inter­ac­tive stage prop is not to be missed.) Cos­tumes are designed by the won­der­ful Mark Zap­pone, and light­ing by Ran­dall G. Chiarelli. Shar­ing the pro­gram are world pre­mieres by Mar­garet Mullin and Kiyon Gaines (both PNB dancers as well), and one of ballet’s Amer­i­can mavens, Mr. Mark Mor­ris. You won’t want to miss this! For those that know my sis­ter Jes­sika, you’ll be excited to know that she’s one of the dancers in the bal­let; my par­ents’ dream of us putting on a show together is finally com­ing to fruition.

    Per­for­mances are spread over the first two week­ends in Novem­ber: to be spe­cific, Nov.2 – 3, and Nov.8 – 11, with mat­inée shows on the 3rd and the 11th.

    Tick­ets are already avail­able for pur­chase online at the PNB web­site, or at PNB’s box office, next door to McCaw Hall on the Seat­tle Cen­ter campus.

    See you there!

    Mille-​fleurs, ballet for nine dancers


    Side Projects,” a new per­for­mance series pro­duced by Seth Gar­ri­son of The Fancy, will have its first show on Jan. 20th, 2012, at Gallery 1412 at 8PM. I’ll be pre­sent­ing for the first time in a live set­ting selected songs from my not-​entirely-​classical album, “The sea and its con­tents” (2011), with the help of the super-​talented Seth Gar­ri­son and pos­si­bly some guest appear­ances as well. Expect some new songs as well. Hope to see you there!

    Side Projects: January 20 at Gallery 1412


    For soprano, flute and piano four-​hands. Poem, “Prairie Spring,” by Willa Cather.

    Dura­tion: approx. seven minutes.

    Writ­ten for the Moirae Ensem­ble (Cather­ine Han­cock, soprano; Fiona Kelly, flute).

    The flat land