Ancient Wing (1998)
Archaeopteryx (Ancient Wing) was a prehistoric animal, presumably the “missing link” between reptiles and birds. I portrayed the dual nature of the animal by writing music that represents it both as a lizard-like motionless reptile, suddenly scuttling through the forest, as well as an ungainly bird, striving to fly and to sing. The quick key slapped figures, marking the end of the first section of the piece and the beginning of the third section of the work, represent the creature’s wings flapping or the pitter-patter of its small feet, scurrying away.
Arioso is a style of singing between recitative and aria that arose in the 16th century. The form is usually free, and it tends to include frequent tempo changes.
The piece is inspired by a print from a picture of a captive unicorn from “The Hunt of the Unicorn,” a tapestry from the early 16th century. The soloist represents the unicorn, and its captivity is represented by the harmonies that surround it, especially in the recurring slow sections of the piece. These alternate with more lyrical yearning types of gestures and with fast music in which the unicorn attempts to escape from the harmonies, sometimes more successfully than others. At the end the only possible release is a disembodied sort of dream-like escape.
The work uses live electronics created by a Max patch that receives the audio from the soloist and tracks the pitches played by the soloist. It transposes these pitches to create successions of harmonies and other transformations of the soloist’s musical material. These transformations are intended to blur the distinction between harmony and timbre, further emphasizing the imprisonment in which the recorder finds itself.
Be My Vision (2011)
“Be My Vision” is based on the well-known hymn “Be Thou My Vision,” a 6th century Irish hymn, translated from Gaelic in 1905 by Mary E. Byrne, and versified in 1912 by Eleanor H. Hull. In 1927, the Welsh composer David Evans set these words to the traditional Irish folk song Slane Hill. The work presents three stanzas of the original hymn, but the hymn’s melody and harmony surface gradually and become most prominent during the third stanza, where the hymn’s melody is accompanied in a traditional chordal way. A much less assertive musical setting of verses from the fourth and fifth stanzas undercuts this conventional setting, and leads to an ending that presents the music and words of the hymn in a more fragmented and disembodied fashion: an attempt to hold on to a vision of God’s love, despite the presence of evil in the world.
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Be thou my wisdom, thou my true word,
I ever with thee and thou with me Lord;
Thou my great Father, I thy true child;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.
Be thou my battle shield’s sword for my fight;
Be thou my dignity, thou my delight;
Thou my soul’s shelter, thou my high tower:
Raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys,…whatever befall,…
Still be my vision…
Blues en el Corazón (2009)
Blues en el Corazón (“Blues in the Heart”) was written for American pianist Marilyn Nonken and it is a set of three piano pieces connected by the use of a simple blues scale. The scale is used as the basis for all the material in the pieces and it is used both as a generator of surface motives, as in the second piece, and as source material for the harmonic background of all the pieces. The first piece Blues Claro (Clear Blues) uses bright sonorities and light rhythms. In contrast, Blues Ronco (Hoarse Blues), is dark and gruff. Blues Mágico (Magic Blues) is the culmination of the set and it is intended to evoke very contrasting senses of time. Time starts and stops as soft, rhythmically free, slow music from the opening alternates with loud rhythmic fast music that presents blues scales most directly.
Because of the wide variety of timbres, dynamic ranges, and varied sound-masses of the instruments in a wind quintet, it is a very colorful but unbalanced combination, where each instrument retains its unmistakable individuality in almost any musical texture. Reflecting perhaps my argumentative and hot-headed Arab-Chilean-Irish-American family background, this disparate combination of instruments suggested to me a group of distinct individuals having an intense conversation: agreeing, disagreeing, cajoling, pleading, interrupting, and sometimes raising their voices loudly over the group, each one bringing a different perspective to the conversation. In Spanish, “confabular” means to conspire, and the work’s title “Confabulario” is a made-up word that suggests, in Spanish, the meaning “place where conspiring happens.” The piece is just such a place, but the characters involved are very opinionated and different from each other, and they have a hard time coming up with any kind of mutually agreeable plan.
In the first movement, Rapsodia (“Rhapsody”), there is little agreement, and each instrument is a character arguing its point passionately. There are many disparate rhythms and a general lack of a steady rhythmic groove. The instruments coincide rhythmically only as they form partnerships against other instruments. The flute is generally impulsive and excitable. The oboe likes to ask questions and often pleads with the group. The clarinet is often dark and mysterious, but it also has a volatile sarcastic streak. The horn makes thoughtful interjections, but can also be a bit of a bully. The bassoon tries to be the peacemaker, often moving into the high range to make its point. They all seem to be obsessed with a slow turning figure that is often played in imitation by the instruments.
The faster second movement, Concertación (“Pact”) begins with the instruments finally cooperating through music based on a fast variant of the turning figure with a clear rhythmic pulse and playful trading-off of musical ideas. This movement includes passages that slide into music from the first movement, as the instruments fall back into the previous discussion and repeat the same points and counter-points they had previously made, including even a varied return to the opening of the first movement, that started the whole discussion. There is also a return to the opening music of the second movement, but with several interpolations. Eventually any semblance of cooperation ends, and a loud, intense climactic argument in which nobody “wins” is followed by a final section in which the flute, oboe, and clarinet collapse into repetitive babble, while the horn and bassoon stubbornly insist on repeating a pair of loud notes. Exhaustion finally brings all these headstrong characters together.
Cuarteto Claroscuro (1996-97)
I grew up in Chile during the 70’s, and early 80’s, a time of political upheaval and economic distress in Chile, and this has probably exerted as strong an influence on my musical outlook as any other aspect of Chilean culture. The tension between my populist point of view and my personal need to create music that is clever and original, shapes my musical language. In the last movement of Cuarteto Claroscuro, for example, intricate contrapuntal, chromatic, pitch-class, and proportion games are used to create a tuneful, rhythmic, quasi-diatonic, and formally straightforward surface.
The quartet begins in half-light (Penumbra) with the cello presenting a dark, brooding question while the other strings sustain a soft chord in a high register. The energetic music that follows is an intense, polyphonic, rhythmic babble in which the instruments play similar material, but always in a staggered way, as if they were each impatiently trying to provide an answer to the cello’s opening question. Exhaustion ensues, and, after a couple of long silences, more lyrical music follows, initiated, again, by the cello in its low register and followed by a little languid duet in the violins. Eventually, the intensity of the beginning resumes and accumulates tension, which finally focuses on an ascending cello line that is picked up by each instrument in turn, ascending to the highest register, and culminating in a series of ritualistic accented dissonant chords. The instruments finally play together, but there still is no resolution, and the movement ends in conflict, with a reference to the opening question again presented in the cello.
The slow second movement, Meditación, is more introspective. The viola plays a passionate solo, and the ritualistic chords from the first movement return, but are slower and more sustained. These chords, and the enigmatic silences and playful episodes in the movement give it a fantastic quality, which culminates at the end with the cello playing high harmonics over a bed of tremolo chords in the other instruments.
The third movement, Casi Cueca, literally, “Almost a Cueca,” takes its name from the Cueca, a traditional fast Chilean dance in six-eight time, with sporadic measures of three-four time, in which phrases often begin with a quick upbeat gesture. These elements can be clearly heard in the opening refrain of the piece. The verse/chorus form of the Cueca becomes, in the first half of the movement, an irregular succession of alternating episodes, including loud hocket double-stop interruptions, which are intended to evoke wild guitar strumming (yet another transformation of the ritualistic chords of the first movement). The second half of this movement consists of a slow, lyrical section that gradually becomes more active and leads to a return of the opening refrain, but with interruptions from the music that led to the return. The end of the movement is a transformation of the polyphonic babble from the first movement, now presented with descending, rather than ascending, lines and with a regular sixteenth note rhythm, rather than the irregular rhythms of the first movement. The nervous anxiety of the first movement becomes confident energy at the end of the work.
Danza del Ocaso (1998)
Danza del Ocaso (Dusk Dance) is a dance for three instruments, which uses rhythms and tunes vaguely inspired by Latin American popular dance music. The piece evolves from a simple humming tune shared by the three in 7/8 meter, to a complex contrapuntal texture, in a more abstract atonal language. Running throughout is the notion of transformation and cross-over, and the instruments frequently, share, mimic, and, especially in the middle of the piece, distort the musical material, sometimes after it has been presented, sometimes as it is being presented. Despite the allusions to different musical genres, the piece is conceived as a continuous whole. It changes gradually, using a consistent group of harmonies and motives as connecting elements between the dance-like passages and the “freely atonal” ones. As the piece proceeds, the dance continues into the evening, and the opening tune returns, varied, at the end, but in a nocturnal harmonic environment.
De Metal y Madera (1999)
I first conceived De Metal y Madera (Of Metal and Wood) as a work for three performers—a flutist, a cellist and a percussionist—immersed in an environment of percussive electronic sounds. The electronic sounds would emanate from the sounds of the percussion strokes, as a kind of “binding spirit” connecting the three instruments. The rhythm of the music is fully notated, but in order to give the electronics a sense of floating loose coordination with the ensemble, I used a scheme of expanding 3:2 rhythmic ratios. These occur at the local rhythmic level, creating the effect of large peals of bells, as well as at the level of the tempo relationships between large formal sections of the piece, connected by metric modulations.
There came a point, during the composition of this piece, when I became obsessed with the mystic connotations of the number three, as represented by the number of instruments and the rhythmic/formal aspects of the piece. The work became a metaphor for the Trinity, as understood in simple popular Latin American Catholic devotion: “Padre, Hijo, y Espíritu Santo,” the cello playing the role of the Father, the flute playing the role of the Son, and the percussion and electronics playing the role of the Holy Spirit—a floating love binding the Father and the Son.
The piece focuses first on the cello playing passionately, and then on the flute, which plays in a more detached, innocent way, with its extended final solo representing, for me, a kind of loneliness in the human condition. But I deliberately avoided any direct spiritual reference in the title of this piece, since I would like the spirit of the work to color the title, rather than the other way round.
Desde el Límite (2006-07)
In Desde el Límite (From the Edge) I was inspired by the experience of my granduncle, Benedicto Chuaqui as presented in his book “Memorias de un Emigrante” (Memoirs of an Immigrant), who immigrated to Chile from Syria in the early 1900s. In the work there are disguised references to American musical sounds and styles that at vari- ous times come clearly into focus. Having grown up in Chile, these sounds are familiar, captivating, and yet somewhat foreign. The electronics are made up for the most part of white noise and elec- tric bass and guitar sounds with much distortion, and the acoustic instruments are immersed in the artificial environment that these distorted elec- tronic sounds create.
The work begins with a noisy jet-like electronic explosion that gradually becomes a broad, static, electronic harmony from which the instruments tease out the motives that are to undergo a trans- formative narrative journey through the various recurring episodes of the work. Besides distorted electric guitar sounds, these episodes include ref- erences to rock’n’roll back beats, jazz, sentimental popular music, the Bach chorale “Nicht So Traurig,” and even Beethoven’s Lebewohl motive: a contrapuntal babble of musical memories. The 21-minute work is through-composed, and uses the continuous transformation and alternation of material as a binding thread. The journey through these episodes leads to no specific goal, but toward the end, after a short recalling of the opening music, the acoustic instruments and the electron- ic environment they inhabit engage in a calm dia- logue. Desde el Límite was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation at the Library of Congress.
Dómine Exaudi (2000)
Dómine, exáudi oratiónem meam, et clamor meus ad te véniat.
Ne avértas fáciem tuam a me:
in quacúmque die tríbulor,
inclina ad me aurem tuam.
In quacúmque die invocávero te, velóciter exáudi me. Quia defecérunt sicut fumus dies mei:
et ossa mea sicut in frixório confríxa sunt.
Percússus sum siccut fenum, et áruit cor meum.
Tu exsúrgens, Dómine, miseréberis Sion:
quia venit tempus miseréndi eius.
Lord, hear my prayer,
and let my cry come unto you.
Do not turn your face away from me;
in the day of my distress,
lend me your ear.
On each day that I call upon you, be quick to hear me. For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn as if in a furnace.
I am smitten like grass, and my heart is withered.
You will arise, Lord, and take pity on Zion,
for the time has come to have mercy on her.
(From Psalm 102)
Dream Swim (2011)
Dream Swim takes as its inspiration the inner experience of swimming. Swimming is often an intimate experience and it happens in a mysterious and unusual environment. This liquid setting, in combination with physical exertion, elicits unusual thoughts and memories that remain dormant in typical daily situations.
After an unabashedly emotional introduction which presents a sighing idea that pervades the work, the piece begins with rhythmic music representing mechanical swim strokes, but gradually the rhapsodic inner world of the swimmer takes over, with the violins often leading towards the lyrical, and the cellos countering with passionate and emotionally charged statements. Although the viola is no more a soloist in this piece than are the other instruments, it plays the specific role of the swimmer immersed in the dream environment of the quintet, and the piece was conceived around it. The form of the piece is quite free, but with frequently recurring material. The music is based on the transformation of a few simple ideas, originating in a very disguised folk-like and nostalgic kernel presented toward the end of the piece.
“Dream Swim” was premiered by the Intermezzo Chamber Music Series and is dedicated to my wife Lisa Chaufty, an avid swimmer.
El Canto Repartido (2003-04)
El Canto Repartido (The Shared Out Song) takes its title from a poem in the collection Las Uvas y el Viento (The Grapes and the Wind) by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Many of the poems in this col- lection have a communist political tone, and crit- ics often describe the poems in this book as among the weakest that the Nobel laureate ever wrote.
Nevertheless, El Canto Repartido, while being no less political than most of the poems in the rest of the collection, is a gem. The poet presents an ecstatic vision of a united world community (“I slept under all the gathered flags”). His travels bring him close to all peoples (“I found that a dove was sewing my heart, in its flight, with other hearts”). As he arrives in Chile he brings these experiences as an offering to the people of Chile, and is “reborn, in the blood of my people.” This transnational patriotic idealism is one of the few aspects of the socialist movement, as I experienced it as a child in Chile, which I truly miss today.
The three movements of the work take their titles from lines in the poem. In the first movement Que sea repartido todo canto en la tierra (“May all singing be shared on earth”), the instruments are treated in a somewhat spasmodic way, with extensive use of hocket and percussion, denoting the sharing of a common fraternal purpose and resolve against tyranny, represented by the militaristic percussion. The second movement Que el amor nos defienda (“May love defend us”) is a quiet communal prayer or litany, with some surprises along the way. It leads, via an accelerating, pleading transition, to the fast last movement, Que suban los racimos (“May the boughs rise”). This movement portrays the ecstasy at the end of the poem, represented by fast quasi-diatonic scales that gather up everything in their path and deliriously send it forth. Given
the generally assertive tone of this music, it seemed appropriate to end the work quietly, like the poem’s last lonely line: Así sea (“So be it”). El Canto Repartido was commissioned by the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University.
En Santiago de Nuevo (2002)
On September 11, 1973, a brutal coup d’état led by armed forces General Augusto Pinochet toppled the democratically elected leftist government of President Salvador Allende. Allende died during the military attack on the presidential palace, and the military government declared a state of siege which allowed it to suspend civil liberties and due process. Leftist supporters were rounded up all over Santiago, the capital city.
On the following day, the National Stadium was opened as a massive detention and torture center. By September 22, up to 7,000 political prisoners were detained. Many of these political prisoners were sent to concentration camps where they were secretly killed. Their families were unable to find out what happened to them. These people, estimated to total in the thousands, are Chile’s “desaparecidos” (“disappeared”).
With the return of democratic government to Chile in 1989, the extent of the atrocities committed under Pinochet became apparent, and in the General Cemetery of Santiago the names of the disappeared were carved on a wall near the entrance.
This piece reflects these events. Most of the street names are very familiar to any Santiaguino, and the order in which they are presented in the text accurately describes the journey of someone being led from the airport on the West side of the city, to the foothills of the Andes on the East, to the National Stadium, in the South, and then to the North, to the General Cemetery in downtown Santiago.
EN SANTIAGO DE NUEVO
Te encuentro en Santiago,
Compañero, por fin, de nuevo.
¡Qué alegría el verte aquí,
en la vieja Alameda!
Pasas triste por
y te vas a ver a mi vieja casa
en Los Leones.
por Pocuro y Tobalaba.
Tómame de la mano, y sube por Bilbao,
hasta arriba, hasta Padre Hurtado.
Y corre con mi alma por los cerros,
y muéstrame por donde te escondiste
cuando nos buscaban.
cuando me encontraron,
y yo sentía las calles pasar,
Me llevaron por Onofre Jarpa,
por Príncipe de Gales,
Américo Vespucio, Irarrázaval y Pedro de Valdivia…
¡A pisar, atónita, el concreto helado,
y las baldosas inmundas de este estadio,
de este sordo estadio chileno!
Aquí, hace tiempo…
hace tiempo que el horror de mis gritos,
las multitudes los sofocaron.
Seguirás mi sombra
por Avenida Grecia y Vicuña Mackenna,
y cruzarás el polvoriento río Mapocho,
hasta Bellavista y Recoleta.
Y ya dentro del cementerio,
en el silencio
de ese muro
que tienen ahí,
IN SANTIAGO AGAIN
I find you in Santiago,
Comrade, at last, again.
¡How happy I am to see you here,
on the old Alameda!
You pass, somber, down
and you go to see my old house
on Los Leones.
Go on, then,
down Pocuro and Tobalaba.
Take me by the hand, and go up Bilbao,
to the top, to Padre Hurtado.
And run with my soul through the hills,
and show me where you hid
when they were looking for us.
Where were you,
when they found me,
and I felt the streets go by,
They took me down Onofre Jarpa,
down Príncipe de Gales,
Américo Vespucio, Irarrázaval and Pedro de Valdivia…
to step, thunderstruck, on the cold concrete,
and the filthy tiles of this stadium,
of this deaf Chilean stadium!
Here, long ago…
long ago the horror of my screams
was suffocated by the crowds.
You will follow my shadow
down Avenida Grecia and Vicuña Mackenna,
and you will cross the dusty Mapocho river,
to Bellavista and Recoleta.
And once in the cemetery,
you will find, perhaps,
in the silence
of that wall
they have there,
Forest Hymns (2004)
Ye lispers, whisperers, singers in storms,
Ye consciences murmuring faiths under forms,
Ye ministers meet for each passion that grieves,
Friendly, sisterly, sweetheart leaves,
Oh, rain me down from your darks that contain me
Wisdoms ye winnow from winds that pain me,—
Sift down tremors of sweet-within-sweet
That advise me of more than they bring,—repeat
Me the woods-smell that swiftly but now brought breath
From the heaven-side bank of the river of death,—
Teach me the terms of silence, preach me
The passion of patience,—sift me,—impeach me,—
And there, oh there
As ye hang with your myriad palms upturned in the air,
Pray me a myriad prayer.
From Hymns of the Marshes: Sunrise
Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)
Obsessive repetition and variation, and a somber undercurrent of descending melodic patterns pervade Hyperbole, and counterbalance the fast tempo, bright harmony, and rhythmic energy of the music. The piece was originally conceived as a kind of elegy, but, as I worked on it, I found myself drawn toward a somewhat exaggerated language with fast rhythmic activity and relentless contrapuntal conflict. I connect this exaggerated language with the verbal profusion of the style of the influential Chilean writer Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948), founder of the aesthetic movement known as Creacionismo (Creationism).
At the same time, the counterpoint between the contrasting personalities that the instruments embody, reflects the influence of the music of the American composer, Elliot Carter. The piano plays mostly in an aggressive, somewhat jazzy rhythmic style that provides a foil for the rest of the ensemble, especially the cello’s expressive music. At the beginning of the piece, the flute, clarinet, and violin echo the cello’s lament, but the influence of the piano leads them toward faster, more ironic music, which often mocks the cello’s attempts toward lyricism. Only in the last quarter of the piece, while the piano plays static background harmony, does the cello’s lyrical voice partially succeed, although it is always interrupted. These interruptions cause the cello to obsessively repeat its lament. The piano puts an end to this with a final explosion of angry virtuosity, leading to the quiet last bars of the piece, which are intended to suggest exhaustion rather than reconciliation.
Invenciones Eclécticas (1998)
Invenciones Eclécticas is the 1998 piece for amateur chamber players commissioned by the Chamber Music Center at Wellesley College, Massachusetts
Invenciones Eclécticas is a suite of five short, contrasting, but related pieces. The titles of the pieces represent different musical characters and styles.
The two pairs of pieces I and V, and II and IV, are musically related. The texture of the opening piece alludes to the bright, elegant grace of the opening of Mozart’s C major viola quintet; the piece has an 18th century rhythmic quality in a modern harmonic environment. In the fifth piece, a somber opening is overlaid with counterpoint until it becomes the music of the first piece. It is then extended and transformed into coarse, emphatic, rhythmic outbursts.
The fourth piece is a modal two-part counterpoint with chromatic inflections, in which the lines pass from instrument to instrument. Piece two takes the two-part counterpoint of piece four and inverts it, creating a much darker harmonic world than that of piece four. Over this counterpoint the viola plays a third part with a repetitive, complaining character.
The relentlessly continuous middle piece is a love duet (a tonada) for the first violin and viola, and it indulges heavily in late 19th century harmonies. However, the duet should be played with the lilting expression of a Latin American folk singer, which the hooked bowings and 3/4 – 6/8 alternations are intended to convey.
Individual pieces from the suite may be played separately.
La Persistencia de la Memoria (2007-08)
La Persistencia de la Memoria (The Persistence of Memory) takes its title from the iconic surrealist painting (“The Persistence of Memory”) by Salvador Dalí. The flexibility of this work’s tempo, unusual for a work in which the electronics are closely coordinated with the live performer, mir- rors the flexibility of the clocks in the painting. Flamboyant electronic transformations reflect the personality of the painter, and the whimsical directions in which he later took the images pre- sented in the original painting.
The work is scored for interactive electronics and a midi-generating acoustic piano, such as a Disklavier or an acoustic piano with a Moog Music PianoBar. A MAX score-following “patch” receives midi pitch data from the piano, and con- trols the electronics by measuring the continuous- ly changing tempo (as directed in the score) of the pianist’s playing. The electronics consist of six rather anodyne contrapuntal tunes, in conven- tional styles (particularly boogy-woogy blues), which play with varying probability and degree of distortion, depending on the moment in the piece, and on whether the pianist is accelerating or decel- erating the tempo of the music. The pianist plays lines taken directly from the electronics, and new unpredictable music, derived from register-specific combinations of notes that come from the differ- ent electronic lines. Because of the probabilistic nature of the interaction between the piano and the real-time electronics, the electronic music will be different each time the piece is performed, but its overall shape and character will persist across performances.
Although the completed work ended up having quite a whimsical character, my original concept was the exploration of memory and its effect on our perception of the present. The electronic parts play melodies that counterpoint the pianist’s music, but which, based on probabilistic algo- rithms, come in and out of focus, like imperfectly remembered obsessive melodies distorted by mem- ory. As the piece progresses, the tempo becomes more and more unstable, and more and more elec- tronic distortions and musical “non-sequiturs” are introduced. Gradually the electronics become less recognizable, becoming distorted echoes of the tunes, timed to the pianist’s current tempo. The pianist finally tries to bring everything under con- trol by reverting to mindless scale-like technical exercises, which speed up the electronics to their “breaking point,” until they collapse at the end of the piece.
In Mareas (Tides), the dark timbre of the alto flute is immersed in a dark, watery, electronic sea. The bell sounds in the work evoke for me the bells of fishing boats as they toss around in choppy waters. These are sounds I first heard in the port of Valparaíso, Chile as a boy, their rhythm being an unbalanced long-short alternation of two pitches, caused by the tilt and the rocking motion of the boats on the water. In the piece, the alto flute imi- tates and expands the motives that these bells sug- gest, and the bells are also the goals of the alto flute’s phrases. In writing this piece for Carlton Vickers, I was able to ask for very acrobatic ges- tures that are not conventionally required of the alto flute.
Mareas uses recorded electronic sounds and a MAX delay and flange computer “patch,” with 15 effects settings, which processes the live sounds produced by the alto flute as well as the recorded sounds. This live processing helps to integrate the music of the alto flute with the electronics. The delay simply results in the echo effects heard first at the beginning of the piece. The flange patch varies the delay time continuously and results in a kind of Doppler effect where the pitch of the echoes is affected. Towards the end of the piece, as the performer plays very wide alternating leaping gestures that are echoes of the bells heard earlier in the work, waves of sound, consisting of flanged mixtures of alto flute and electronic sounds, envelop the performer as in an ocean of sound.
Salmo 139 (2009)
This work was written in the summer of 2009 for a choral festival at the University of Utah, and, having been originally intended for a non-professional choir, it is quite different from the electro-acoustic and more chromatic music that I typically compose. Although it retains many characteristics of my musical language—particularly the use of Latin American inflected rhythms and symmetrical harmonies—the simple modality and the strong tonal cadence at the end are unusual in my music.
Despite the desire to write in a simpler language, I tried to find ways to avoid writing in a completely traditional choral style, and I tried instead to imbue the work with a personal point of view. The vigorous tempo and rhythms of the piece, which come directly from contemporary Latin American folk-influenced music for the Catholic mass, were a first step in this direction, and I chose to set these verses of Psalm 139 especially because the opening words immediately suggested the quick repeating pattern that recurs in the piece. I also felt that the images evoked in the text lent themselves easily to tone-painting (making the music sound like the images in the text). In addition to the straightforward tone-painting of natural images, such as “heaven” and “abyss,” I tone-painted references to the mystery of God’s presence by setting them to chromatic music that transcends the bounds of the modal scales that anchor the music.
At a more spiritual level, the verses of the psalm, with their insistence on the omnipresence and omniscience of God, have been a consolation for me in times of distress, when I have been tempted to feel abandoned by God. I could find no other psalm verses that spoke to me as directly about God’s abiding presence in our lives.
(versos 1‐10 y 23‐24)
Señor, tú me examinas, tú me conoces.
Sabes cuando me siento y cuando me levanto,
entiendes mis pensamientos desde lejos,
adviertes mi andar y mi descansar,
y conoces todos mis caminos.
Aún no está la palabra en mi lengua
cuando ya tú, Señor, la sabes toda.
Me rodeas por detrás y por delante,
y sobre mí tu mano pones.
Para mí tal ciencia es demasiado maravillosa;
¡alta es, no la puedo comprender!
¿Adónde lejos de tu espíritu podré irme?
¿Adónde lejos de tu rostro podré huir?
Si subo a los cielos, allí estás tú,
y si en el abismo hago mi lecho, allí estás tú.
Si me elevo sobre las alas de la aurora,
o me radico en el extremo del mar,
aun allí tu mano me guiará,
y tu diestra me asirá.
Examíname, Dios, y conoce mi corazón.
Ponme a prueba, y conoce mi pensamiento.
Ve que no haya mal camino en mí,
y guíame por la senda eterna.
(verses 1‐10 and 23‐24)
Lord, you examine me, you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise,
you understand my thoughts from afar,
you are aware of my walking and my resting,
and you know all my paths.
The word is not yet on my tongue
before you, Lord, already know it all.
You surround me from behind and from in front,
and upon me lay your hand.
For me, such science is too wonderful.
It is high, I cannot understand it!
Where, far from your spirit could I go?
Where, far from your face could I flee?
If I rise to the heavens, you are there,
and if in the abyss I make my bed, you are there.
If I rise over the wings of the dawn,
or dwell at the end of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your right hand will hold me.
Examine me, God, and know my heart.
Test me, and know my thought.
See that there is no evil path in me,
and guide me on the road of eternity.
Saturniana is a work for bass trombone that includes fixed and live electronics. For the live electronics the composer designed a recursive program (“patch”) in Max that captures the characteristic glissando (slide) of the trombone and extends it infinitely. This program also measures the musical intervals that the trombone plays and uses them to shape fairly aggressive electronic sounds and textures, which inspired the basic material from which the bass trombone part was created. The title was suggested by the sombre and, at the same time, savage character of much of the music: something like an inhospitable planet, or like the dark humor of the Roman god of Time, Saturn.
Sonora Run (2006)
Sonora Run is dedicated to the memory of the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño. Although his novels take the reader all over the world, the Mexican state of Sonora and the Sonoran desert play a central role in several of his works, including his acclaimed major works, The Savage Detectives and 2666. The title “Sonora Run” refers to the final section of The Savage Detectives.
Tiempo Norte, Tiempo Sur (2008)
Tiempo Norte, Tiempo Sur was commissioned by the Utah Arts Council for the 2008 Utah Arts Festival, and it evokes the bilingual influences of my life —conscious of American and Chilean antecedents— incorporating the unique harmonic and rhythmic gestures of jazz with the folk rhythms and melodies from Latin America. The jazzy opening “American” gesture, for instance, is quickly followed by Latin American dance music in six-eight time and irregular rhythms.
Trance was written during a time when I was listening to a lot of classical Indian music. Its pitch material is in a tonal framework similar to a raga but more chromatic, and at first the cello explores this framework in an irregular improvisatory way as in a raga.
The piece begins with the cellist knocking twice on the sounding board. These knocks are recorded and they set the tempo for the piece, like the tabla in classical Indian music. They eventually present rhythmic patterns that accompany the metrically regular cello music that follows the improvisatory music that begins the piece. As in Indian music, the cello music includes many bent notes, both plucked and bowed. All the electronic sounds in the piece are transformations of sounds produced by the cello during the course of the performance, and eventually the electronics take up these bent notes and extend them into longer and wilder gestures that quickly lead the music away from its original source of inspiration in Indian music, and towards a more abstract electroacoustic environment.
In the last section of the piece, the roles of the cello and the electronics are reversed. The cello takes on the role of the tabla, playing pizzicato notes in a simple accelerating rhythm that causes the electronics to speed up and get higher and higher, playing a recording of everything that the cello has played before, as if the cellist were automatically reliving the experience of playing the piece, as in a trance.
Vision was written for Brazilian percussionist Ricardo Coelho de Souza. The work is scored for multiple percussion and live electronics. All the electronics in the work are transformations of sounds created by the performer during the piece, and they represent the performer’s “vision,” which is slightly different each time the piece is played and which is also completely erased when the performance is over, as at the end of a vision. The work begins with two strikes of the claves, which are picked up by a Max patch that records the sound and measures the tempo in which the figure was played. This claves sound, as well as other sounds played near the beginning of the work, is played back by the Max patch in the tempo that has been set, and with rhythmic figures that the performer uses to coordinate with the live electronics in the work. At the end of the piece the roles reverse and the performer plays a gradually accelerating claves rhythm that the Max patch uses to control the tempo of the recording of all the music played by the performer up to that point. The accelerating claves make us hear the previous performance gradually accelerating until it is completely unrecognizable. All of the recorded material disappears when the piece ends.