Drowning in Princeton

Later today I will be performing a revised version of my invented folksong Drown in the depth, which was commissioned by the 21C Festival in Toronto and premiered there last May.This time I will be joined by composers Matt McBane on violin and Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade on cello, and Mark Eichenberger on percussion. Drawing on and subverting Ukrainian folk imagery, this work explores female erotic fantasy. In this performance, I’m continuing to experiment with theatrical lighting design as well as some interesting props. The concert also features new music by Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, Noah Kaplan, Matt McBane, Juri Seo and Kendall Williams. You can hear the show live at Taplin Auditorium in Fine Hall (Princeton University) or through this live stream link at 8 pm EST.

Unruly Sounds in Princeton

I am excited to be performing my piece What else can I give him? at the Unruly Sounds Festival taking place tomorrow (Sunday, Oct 2) outside of the Princeton Public Library in Princeton, NJ. I will be joined by Nick Tolle (cimbalom), Mark Eichenberger (percussion) and Florent Ghys (bass), who premiered the piece with me in December 2015. We are welcoming a new violinist, Andie Springer, for this performance.

The festival is free and will run from 12:30 to 7:00 pm. I will be performing around 2:00 pm. The rain location is inside the public library’s community room. For more info on the festival, visit this Facebook page.

What else can I give him? is part of a growing cycle of pieces I call ‘invented folksongs’ – pieces which draw heavily from the Ukrainian folksong tradition and marry it with a more contemporary compositional approach. Here’s a recording of the premiere performance with super duper violinist Courtney Orlando:

Leading up to the festival, composer-vocalist Annika Socolofsky and I got to visit Community Park Elementary school to chat and play with some kids in grades 4 and 5. Annika showed them some really cool ways to use their voices, and I told them about my upcoming opera Wild Dogs. We did some great howling, yipping, barking, chirping and croaking together. The kids made particularly great frogs hoping up with every “Enid” croak. I’ve never done something like this before and was surprised at how much fun I had with the kids.

Teach your daughters

I can finally share the live recording of Teach your daughters, which I premiered with Katha Zinn and Illya Filshtinskiy from aTonalHits on a Princeton Sound Kitchen Concert on March 1. Because of the difficulty of the subject matter, this piece took a very long time to take shape.

This piece for voice, violin and prepared piano is my reaction to the horrific rape and murder of Ukrainian teenager Oksana Makar, which took place in 2012. More broadly, it explores the issue of victim blaming. The piece weaves Oksana’s story through a folk song I recorded while traveling in northwestern Ukraine in the fall of 2012. The story of the folk song’s heroine, Halya, is eerily similar to Oksana’s, which speaks volumes about the prevalence of such horrific violence against women and its perception throughout history and in the modern times.

I discussed this work in an interview with Nick Storring, which appeared in the fall issue of Musicworks Magazine. Katha, Illya and I workshop the initial sketches for this piece at Avaloch Farm in August of 2015.


New Year = New Notation

As discussed earlier, I am working on a piece for two violins built around an antique wooden door. Since this piece is already in an unusual form, I thought I would make it even more complicated by trying out some new notational techniques. I have completely done away with dynamic markings and bow pressure indications. Instead, I am using the staff lines themselves to shape the musical line. As much as possible, I am also trying to incorporate accents into this more visual system.

Through closed doors-1

I think the result is very intuitive. The dynamics are completely relative and bow pressure is not an ugly black wedge above the staff. I am hoping this approach will eliminate the arguments about the difference between mp and mf, and give the performers an opportunity to react to the page in a more emotional and intuitive way. It also makes the staff look like wood patterns, which makes me happy.

Through closed doors-2

I think this sort of notation would only really work with certain types of material. What I’m writing is fairly simple in terms of melody and rhythm, and the music doesn’t move up and down the staff very much. In fact, much of it happens below it or above it. So far, Ilana and Suhashini are not reporting any problems with legibility, but I think it would become an issue if I was writing anything much more complex. If the spacing between lines changes too much, I think it would be difficult to maintain any sort of reference point.

Through closed doors-3

Since I will be engraving the score onto a wooden door, this project must involve several stages. I would like to really test out the music before committing it for eternity to such a solid medium. The musical portion of this semi-theatrical work will be premiered by the wonderful Thin Edge New Music Collective in Toronto on February 21. The door itself will follow at a later date. I will also be making a colour paper score using some fancy markers and calligraphy pens (see my past hand-scoring work here).

Through closed doors-4

New Year = New Media

I started off 2014 with a brand new piece: a violin duo for Thin Edge New Music Collective. This piece is a fortuitous coming together of a commission and an idea that had been stewing at the back of my mind for quite some time.

To earn a living, I spend quite a bit of time restoring antique wooden doors, windows and all their trims. I have grown to really love these unique pieces built from beautiful oldgrowth timbre and hardened by a hundred years of service. I spend quite a number of hours with each piece slowly peeling off years of paint, sanding away the grime and revealing the highly varied wood patterns beneath.

Staring at the wavering lines made me think of musical phrases. Imagining notes on a horizontal wooden surface brought to mind early vocal music performed around a table. The individual parts would be oriented towards all four sides of a sheet of paper, which was placed in the middle of this table so all the performers could see their music. Naturally, I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to engrave a score onto a door?

So when Ilana Waniuk from Thin Edge asked me to write a violin duo for her and Suhashini Arulanandam, sparks started flying from my brain. Imagine two young women, dressed in black, playing their wooden violins around a wooden door! Visual perfection!!!

The chosen door in its original condition 

The door

Now imagine that the chosen door was also attacked with a hatchet or cleaver at some point leaving a jagged hole in one of the panels. DRAMA!!!!

After the attack, the hole was patched with a little piece of plywood

The door's wound

So I’ve spend the last few weeks working out the relationship between these two imaginary women trapped on opposite sides of a locked door. This relationship does not seem very peaceful, I must admit.

The door being stripped of the cheery green paint

The stripping of the door


** The door was generously donated by a friend. Thank you! **