Moonlight By Mirror (2018)


“Moonlight by Mirror” is the first music I have written completely without a hardware synthesizer. After a long hiatus, I decided it was past time I started writing music again, and actually succeeded where my previous attempts over the past few years had failed. While I was teaching, I explored the notion of doing another work using some sort of algorithmic composition, and sketched out some ideas, but none bore fruit. With the change to a new career, I was able to push past that idea and start writing again. I kept the same working title because I had wanted to use the title for quite some time. The cover art comes from a photo I took of the moon: for this photo I attached my camera to a catadioptric telescope, so it truly is “Moonlight by Mirror.”
“Mons Hadley Delta” is a mountain the lower slopes of which were visited on the Apollo 15 mission. In form, there is a harmonic pattern which first gets longer with each repetition, then after peaking decreases in length until disappearing.
“Rima Cauchy” is a relaxed, slightly wandering ABA formed composition inspired by the 200+ kilometer long depression in the surface of the moon of the same name, which wanders slightly as it passes the small impact crater also called Cauchy.
“Landing” is an octatonic (8-tone) composition, the scale chosen to represent the binary nature of the computers that ran the space program, and ultimately the Apollo Lunar Module.
“Mare Desiderii” (Sea of Dreams) is a far-side feature no longer recognized, having been determined to be composed of a smaller mare with a cluster of dark craters.
“Alien Suits” is a whole-tone (six note) composition in an odd time signature representing the alien clothing used by the astronauts as they explored the Lunar surface. Given that the astronauts were, relatively speaking, the aliens, this is my interpretation of what it may have felt like wandering the landscape wearing one of those space suits.
“Vallis Schrödinger” is named for a nearly straight valley of the same name, possibly formed by the impact that created Schrödinger basin on the far side of the moon.
“The Crater’s Rim” takes us on a journey around the rim of a crater: one of the fundamental lunar features. Craters are round, and one idea that describes roundness is the mathematical constant pi, so the harmonic structure of this piece is determined by the first 100 digits of pi. Listen for the diminished arpeggios to locate all the 9’s.
“Meteor” is an expression of the eventfulness of the lunar surface: a relaxed stroll around the crater park transitions into an octatonic fugue when a meteor comes streaking in and raises a cloud of dust, which quickly settles due to a lack of atmosphere. If you really want to, calculate the maximum height of the debris using 1.62 m/s^2 for g and the time from the start of the fugue until the return to tonic for t.

It took far too long to put this together. Hopefully, the next project will be a little quicker.

The Open Book (2009)


Once I started teaching again, I stepped out of my comfort zone and did something a little different for this collection: it is based mainly on improvisational themes supplemented and cleaned up via MIDI post-processing. The title came from that which was in the way when I went to work on it. In an interesting twist, I had recently had an inspiration for the artwork: a page from Archimedes’ Palimpsest. When I wrote a paper for one of my math classes on Archimedes, I found that the Palimpsest changed hands in the 90’s — and that the new (anonymous) owner handed it over to researchers for imaging with the intent that the document be made public on the web. I realized then at this was as close as I would ever come to being able to use a multi-millennia old primary source for a research paper. Thus, this set of pieces took on the name “The Open Book” as inspired by the opening of the Palimpsest to the public. The cover art was my own attempt at hiding one set of text underneath another. The three instruments used are three synthesizers each of which uses a completely different approach to creating sound: The Alesis A6 Andromeda may have digital controls, but the signal path is all analog (subtractive synthesis); the Yamaha SY77 is a revolutionary digital synthesizer using FM synthesis (frequency modulation) combined with small-scale sample playback; and the Kawai K5000s builds sounds through additive synthesis.

Taking Flight (2009)


In the mid-2000s, I married and found I had a new resource for inspiration. When I returned to school in the latter half of the decade to learn a little more math, I discovered I could write a little music in-between classes so I set about writing a new piece, one that would be more complete than anything I had written before. Since writing “Thought Foundry,” I had accumulated a pair of new synthesizers and wanted to write something that would push one of them to the edge of its capacity. “Taking Flight” was recorded using mostly (but not quite solely) an Alesis A6 Andromeda, a truly astounding synthesizer. In the end, I pushed it hard enough that it couldn’t keep up (not enough voices — I was wondering I didn’t hear all the notes I knew were there) with everything at once, so I ended up tracking each instrument individually.
When I went to name the tracks, I asked my wife for some naming advice and ended up with some names that I think fit better than what I was using as working titles. My goal during composition was to tell the story of a character traveling from the country to the city and from there to an orbital colony.

“En[chant|trap]ment” is the beginning of the story, the journey to the Enchanted City, where people get sucked into a life of sustenance rather than beauty and plenty.

“Intrigue” reflects upon the decision to move onward: while there is always something trying to grab the attention of our wanderer, it is not truly in character.

“Core,” “Taking Time,” “Off-Track,” and “High Wire Act” collectively represent the stages of the journey from the city to the spaceport, and getting distracted along the way until realizing that the alternatives are stay and be sucked into the city permanently or go through security and make the commitment to leaving the surface.

“Golf Cart Blues”: A spaceport must be a large place, and like any modern airport, have places to stop for a festive beverage, a place to instruct the automated personal transportation (a self-driving golf cart) to stop for a few minutes to relax while not in constant motion.

“Setting Sail,” “Suborbital (Taking Flight),” and “S/F Cowboy Suite” detail the first stage of the outward journey: the lightness of leaving the world behind, the launch sequence, and passing through the low-orbit transfer station.

“Slow Boat to L5” and “Time to Reflect” are the longer journey spiraling outward towards a point in space trailing the Moon in orbit around the Earth, when our wanderer has time to consider all of what has transpired.

“Archipelago” is the end of the journey, arriving at a cluster of islands in space.

Thought Foundry (1997)


In the late nineties, just before I went back to school to get my teaching certificate, I decided it was time to write a piece of music that was a little more serious than the pieces I had been recording over the last few years. The result was “Thought Foundry.” The cover art is a photo of an iceberg, with a little Photoshop tomfoolery to keep it in line with the synthesized nature of the music.

“Foundation” was the starting point: I had a variety of themes I wanted to use, so put them all into the mix. Fundamentally, it is in sonata form but with three primary themes instead of the usual two. Listen for the intermixing of themes as they cross the boundaries between instruments.

“Twilight” is a rondo following up on a few of the themes that didn’t make it into “Foundation”

Stringy (1997)


Like “Sun Return,” “Stringy” is a collection of pieces that didn’t originally fit together. These, however have one element in common: all use some subset of a string quartet plus an organ. The cover art is water cascading down the side of a fjord in Alaska, which in my mind looked like white threads being braided together (or unraveling, depending on point of view) from mountaintop to ocean.

“Prelude” serves simply as an introduction to the set of pieces.

“Stringy” began life in one of my music theory classes as the centerpiece of a string quartet, but I never got around to writing the other movements, so it got swept in with the other string-oriented pieces. It is the only one of the pieces here that lacks the organ, and is also the only one in a traditional form: sonata form, by the book.

“Threesome” and “Whip Tail” are two short pieces each of which I wrote solely to get out of my head and onto a piece of paper.

Random Thoughts (1997)


Once I had recorded everything I had written that I thought I should record, I set about a new project: compose a piece of music with some very basic rules to be interpreted using a source of random numbers. As a result, “Random Thoughts” was written mostly with pennies and a few dice, along with a set of rules on how to proceed. Each piece had the same set of rules: start with a set of notes generated by 12-sided dice, play a rhythmic section determined with coin flips for whether notes were ‘on’ or ‘off,’ and follow it with a melodic section where the flips stand for up and down within the set of pitches.

Each piece follows the same rules, but had different coin-flips and die-rolls. I admit to having ‘influenced’ the dice and coins from time to time, but in general I attempted to keep my fingers out of the pie.
Being a set of randomly generated pieces, there isn’t really a theme separating one from another or even any way to reliably distinguish one from the next aside from memorizing the pitch class sets. Even the names were generated randomly: “four-letter word ending in ‘-ats’” “multisyllable preposition” the “noun describing a location or noun expected to be in some location.”

The cover art is a heavily processed photo of the hand of an articulated suit of plate armor in a museum in Louisville, Kentucky.

Electrons II (1996)


The other half of “Electrons I,” this part has the more classically-oriented pieces. The cover art is another of my attempts at capturing lightning, this time at the beach on Siesta Key, Florida.

“Invention” follows the standard Baroque model for an invention: two part counterpoint with an exposition, development, and short recapitulation.

“Fugue” is a four-part fugue.

“Synfonia” is a three-part invention, which historically was referred to as a “sinfonia” and I renamed slightly to correspond with the instrumentation.

Winter Weather (1996)


In the mid-nineties, I set about recording all of the music I had that was finished so I could tackle new projects with a clear mind. “Winter Weather” is a collection of a few short thoughts that I had sketched out, but didn’t want to leave lying around for years. The cover art is a photo of a Maple tree after an ice storm. My wife once described these as evidence of my ADD — lots of short ideas all smashed together.

“Freezing Rain” is characterized by a series of rising themes that never quite make it above freezing far enough to melt, with short stabs of sleet throughout and a little ordinary rain in a few places in the middle.

“Thin Ice” has one theme punctuated by a reminder in the horns that the ice may be to thin to walk on.

“Lake Flurries” just sits lightly, occasionally getting thicker, sometimes lighter. Time signatures change with the direction of the wind.

“Storm Warning” comes from a need for dissonance in time and space, akin to the disruption that winter storms can cause in those places that get maybe one a year — enough to be familiar with them, but not enough so to deal with them. Listen for the dual themes of swirling wind and heavy blobs of snow pounding (as much as they can) on the windows.

Sun Return (1996)


During the writing and recording process, there were several works that didn’t fit into anything else. These three pieces have very little in common aside from being the only ones that didn’t fit in with anything else, so when I cleaned house they all went into the same bucket. The name comes from the last piece, “Fanfare to the Sun,” which was written for one of my Mother’s “Solstice Parties,” which she held for several years instead of a Christmas party: the darkest time of year turning around and heading for spring. The cover art is a photo of one of the spring Crocus in my yard.

“Aori Harp” started life in the dorm my senior year at college, but languished for several years. Parts of it are antiphonal, parts interwoven.

After I graduated from college, I acquired a small folk harp which played a central part in the creation of “Firelight Dance.” Again, it languished for some time before begin expanded into an ABA form and recorded.

“Fanfare to the Sun” was originally written for one of my mother’s Solstice parties, performed via tape (before CD burners became affordable) for the attendees at the height of the party, where it was well-received. Being wholly done via synthesizer my “performance” of it was limited to sticking a tape in the tape player and pressing play, but that’s close enough for me. Listen for the marimba to come alive near the end to usher in the lengthening days.

Electrons (1994)


During the mid-nineties I was out of school, having taken an extra year and a half to study computer science while I figured out what to do with my life, and into teaching people how to use their computers along with fixing the occasional problem. One of the questions I asked during this time was “How much can I make this synthesizer do at one time?” Unlike a computer, which from the user’s point of view slows to a crawl while from it’s own point of view is doing as much as it can as fast as it can without waiting for slow people, a synthesizer never slows down — it just drops notes that have been hanging around too long when asked to play one more note than it can play. Electrons was my first foray into playing with the limits of a single synthesizer, and to cope with the limitations I designed a set of instruments each of which was monophonic (a single note playing at a time) layered into one performance package. As a consequence, the music came out rather classically-oriented when looked at a particular way. The most classically-oriented group languished for some time before becoming “Electrons II.” The cover art is the product of one of my early attempts to catch a lightning bolt on camera, which is far easier in digital than on film due to the number of frames required to catch what is essentially a random event.

“Prelude” follows no particular form, but listen for the initial theme as it appears in the different instruments in different registers.

“Interlude” also follows no particular form. Listen for the rising four note theme throughout.

“NoDance” is distinctly not in one of the baroque dance forms, and in addition switches between several odd meters, in an attempt to keep anyone from actually dancing to the music. Listen for the trills and tremolos taking advantage of the sliding nature of the monophonic synthesizer.

Sunrise Sonata (1993)


Sunrise Sonata: the beginning of home ownership. These are pieces written and recorded in my first home studio. To accommodate what I had available to me at the time, these were sequenced and then recorded in one take with my job being to pretend I was an automation system for my rather primitive mixer. The cover art is actually a sunset, taken somewhere in the vicinity of North Port, Florida, and manipulated in Photoshop to achieve a synthesized image reflecting the synthesized sounds.

“Night Begins” introduces the instrumentation: bells, strings, an old-school synthesizer, and a harpsichord. Listen as the cold harpsichord of night gradually takes over.

“Midwinter” is a collection of five themes in a minimalist style. The themes are connected using a Gray code, which is a binary numeration system in which increasing a number by one changes exactly one bit. In “Midwinter” the code is expressed by turning on or off one of the themes.

“Freeze/Thaw” is the darkness of strings taking over the lightness of bells. Listen for the bells to change character, taking on the dissonances of the strings over time.

“Warmth” comes alive with the optimism of new light. The majority of the piece was sketched out on a piece of scrap paper over Thanksgiving dinner at my Dad’s place.

Number Study (1990)


Number Study: a few pieces written for a Music Theory class and inspired by numbers in some way. I had not yet reached the fruition of my love for math, but this was when I first realized there were deeper connections between math and music than were immediately obvious. The cover art has a collection of four prime numbers surrounding a composite number that has been struck out. The assignment was to write one piece of music to demonstrate a straightforward association between numbers and music, and as was usual for me, I wrote several and turned in my favorite. “Timelessness” was performed at a student recital in the spring of 1988.

“One/Eight” revolves around a sequence of time signatures repeating the pattern {1/8, 2/8, …, 7/8, 8/8; 8/8, 7/8, …, 2/8, 1/8 }. The pitches are less important than the patterns. In this example, the numeric association is strictly the counting of the time — but listen for the one instrument that ignores the time signature specified by the measures.

“Timelessness” is the opposite: a series of chords explicitly not to be played in time, and written out as instructions to the performer involving statements like “when one performer wishes to move to the next chord…” and the like. The score is very efficient — one page contains three minutes of music for a sextet, and each performance of it should vary widely. For this piece, the numeric aspect was in the absence of indications of duration or tempo.

Last, “Primes” uses a series of pitch classes the components of which multiplied together define tempi. Pitch classes are interesting objects: since western music is based on a 12-note scale, arithmetic mod 12 is very useful. The pitch class theory involves reducing a set of notes to a particular form, with the notes clustered as best as possible at the “bottom” of the scale presumably to make it easier to compare pitch classes and do some of the other (more interesting) analyses. I used a series of pitch classes involving only prime numbers (2,3,5,7,11), and took those values into meaning tempo as well as pitch. Notice that when the tempo changes, so does the character of the implied harmony.