Rift & Shade (8′) for string quartet
The concept for this piece began with an interest in continual and dramatic contrast. As the music was taking shape, the title Rift & Shade came to represent a visual manifestation of this idea. With only a small rift in the walls of a cavern, a piercing light and a deep shade can coexist in the same environment. The quartet mimics the stark contrasts of this image musically. In the first movement, the contrast is realized with a rapid alternation between several short gestures, each of which occupies a unique sonic space. In the second movement, the quick timbral changes are replaced by extreme registral contrasts, with the violins playing in their highest possible range, while the cello and viola play in their lowest.
Performers: JACK Quartet
Mosaic (6′) for orchestra
Mosaic is the art of crafting an image using a collection of small, diverse materials. In this piece, that concept is realized sonically using the orchestra as source material. Each instrument contributes only fragments to the larger musical world. In the beginning of the piece, these fragments are small and fleeting, creating a highly percussive texture, akin to viewing mosaic art up close. But as the piece continues, these fragments begin to overlap and expand, creating a sustained texture, akin to stepping back and observing the image in its entirety.
Performers: Dionysis Grammenos and the Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra
Fade (7′) for oboe and tape
We typically imagine speech as a relatively unmusical experience when compared with instrumental performance, despite the fact that it maintains a great deal of rhythm, dynamics, and pitch content. Similarly, we often perceive instruments, like the oboe, as relatively uncommunicative when compared with speech, due to the absence of language. To broach this apparent disconnect, I began with a text by Wyatt Schroeder, which explores the interactions of a son and father just after the death of the mother. This compelling prose creates some meaningful opportunities to explore and blur the lines between the voice and the oboe.
Performers: Mattie Peck – Oboe
Text by Wyatt Schroeder:
I caught him tapping his finger against the desk with a neurotic pulse, like a clockmaker testing the time. It was hard to ignore him as I fussed with dinner, because he kept saying things like “Thomas was wrong. You don’t rage against it. You simply fade.” All the while, pounding the chair with his fist and foot.
On most days, his brow’s well-worn expression betrayed his emotions, but the two seemed to read off the same hymnal that Sunday. He kept going on – I wasn’t even sure if he was addressing me – saying, “There are no wise men or good men just wild men and grave men.” Just shaking his head side-to-side like a pendulum.
I knew it was hard for him to stare at a blank page like that. His words had counseled others once; his prose had shot passion into veins and earned a penny to his pocket. But all of that was years away now, years in the rearview mirror. Fame under-stays its welcome, I guess.
I slid the plate in front of him and told him to eat before his supper got cold. He just told me it would warm up again in time.
After I cleared his half-digested plate, I reminded him that lovers may come and go, but love remains with our best ambitions. He snorted and waved his hand at me, dismissing me to go clean the dishes. As I turned away, he told me that love didn’t exist outside of those we loved.
He was just so sullen, so I acted out the worst parts of the modern novel. I took on the voices of characters until he was laughing, chuckling, smiling. It was good to see his brow relinquish its chokehold over his expression. As the moment settled, he looked down at his feet and said to himself, almost in a whisper, “and death has no dominion.”
As I smoothed out the wrinkles in the tablecloth, a knock came to the door, a black-suited body silhouetted through the blinds.
After the service, we walked the grounds – the two of us – in silence. Him, with his country senses, just watching his feet trod on the ground, and me just watching him. Though he would admonish my saying so, his heart was too sensual to watch the lowering. Three. Four. Five feet. Six feet. It’s too far for an earnest man to bear. But his expression remained unchanged. He glared at the grass as he had eyed the onions.
He sighed and met my stare for the first time that day. He gritted through his teeth and said that the pastor did no justice to Dylan Thomas.
Fade, fade into the dying of the light
And death has no dominion
Metropolitan (13′) for piano
Metropolitan is a piece that was inspired by the multitude of life inherent to every city. A huge variety of people, from all walks of life come together, now united by proximity. The result is a completely unique experience that breeds collaboration for the inspired, ambition for the eager, danger in the masses, beauty in the diversity, coldness in the operation, power in the structure, and everything in between. Each movement of the piece explores a different aspect of this complex environment. It is the composer’s hope that the music may inform, illuminate, or resonate with your urban experiences.
Performer: Ian Scott
Prism (7′) for percussion quartet and electronics
Prism was composed, rehearsed, and recorded within one week thanks to the support of a Subito grant from the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum. And special thanks to the University of the Arts and the faculty, staff, alumni, and facilities that helped bring this project to light.
Headphones are recommended, but not required! Prism was recorded in binaural audio, which means that the recorded sound is designed to convey exactly what human ears would hear. By wearing headphones, the audience will be able to experience the music exactly as the cameraman did. Every turn of the head and every close up on an instrument creates an audible change in the sound. No worries if you don’t have headphones though. You will still be able to listen to the piece just fine in classic stereo.
The electronic instrument in the video is my own design called Nattang, which means born from touch. The instrument centers around four membrane potentiometers (basically touch strips) and several buttons and knobs that can add new functionality and sonic capabilities. It is a fusion of arduino hardware and pure data software.
My initial impetus for the piece was inspired by the concept of a triangular prism refracting white light into a color spectrum. My imagining of this phenomenon focused on the contrast of the two sides of the experiment. The narrow, unified focus of the white light and the wide, colorful spread on the other end. As such, this piece alternates between two parts. A rhythmically clear, through-composed section and a floating, often-improvised section.
Musically, the piece draws heavily on the pattern 4-3-4-5-3-5. I selected this pattern because the close oscillation of the numbers seems to imitate the slow spread of the colored lights from a prism. This pattern is punctuated in the rhythm that opens the piece and appears throughout the work at various rhythmic levels and in retrograde.
Performers: Percussion – John Holback, Drew Johnson, Jordan McCree, Andrew Nittoli, and Electronics – Charles Peck
Crew: Video – Jason Chen, sound – John Paul Beattie, lights – Joe Samala
Ephemeral Empire (9′) for strings
Commissioned by the University of Cincinnati CCM Concert Orchestra
This piece explores the rise and fall of great empires. Musically, this is represented with a few different ideas. One involves the ensemble moving as a single powerful unit. Another involves a single leader that tries to come forward, but is eventually overtaken by the ensemble. And the final idea puts the upper and lower strings in opposition to each other as each group struggles for prominence.
Performers: Ken Lam and the University of Cincinnati CCM Concert Orchestra
Alluvion (8′) for two bassoons
Commissioned by Benjamin Peck
The term alluvion means the flow of water against a shore or a bank. The immediate mental image this conjures is the back and forth of rolling waves. This concept of action-reaction is the driving force behind the piece. There is a constant dialogue between the two instruments in which they must propel and resonate each other if they are to do so at all. This image plays out in the first half of the piece in its most serene setting, utilizing a variety of subtle timbral shifts and extended performance techniques to create the motion. The second half, however, focuses more on the driving power of a river, often invoked by heavy rain. This initially sporadic gesture builds and builds into a dynamic swirl of energy, only to dissipate once again.
Performers: Benjamin Peck (right), Ryan Romine (left)
Dichotomy (5′) for clarinet and electronics
The concept behind this piece places the warm tone and agile character of the clarinet in opposition to the unforgiving and repetitive nature of a click track. This click track is manipulated and performed on Peck’s custom electronic instrument Nattang, which creates an important visual representation of the dialogue between the electronics and clarinet.
Early on in the piece, the clarinet is limited to only a single pitch as it establishes a rhythmic and dynamic agility that sits in stark contrast to the static electronics. As the piece develops, the clarinet introduces its own internal dichotomy as it begins to break away from the single pitch idea and instead slowly reveals the impressive range of the instrument. Meanwhile, the development of the electronics is restricted to primarily timbal effects. It is not until later in the piece that the electronic part unveils a sub-bass tone, derived from a slowed down click, and a continuous high-pitched rhythm, derived from a sped up click, that provides a full, sustained texture. At which point, the clarinet both enhances the gesture, by using its full range, and contrasts it, by inhabiting a spontaneous, less constant rhythmic world. As this energy is dissipated and the piece comes to a close, the instruments briefly retreat into the introductory content, all while maintaining their dichotomy.
Performers: Clarinet – Derek Bermel, Electronics – Charles Peck
Ferrous (7′) for fixed format audio and video
Ferrous is a piece that showcases the unique properties of ferrofluid. This liquid contains microscopic magnetic particles, which will react to any external magnetic field. By introducing a magnet, we can see the fluid take the shape of the magnetic field lines emanating from that magnet. In this piece, all of the magnets are manipulated below the ferrofluid, but their shape and movement remains clear as the liquid mimics them. The score seeks to give each of these different magnets a character of its own. All of the audio is derived from two sources — liquid and metal.
Special thanks to Henry Leach with the University of Cincinnati Physics Department for his help in creating the video.
Sharpy (3′) improvisation for electronic instrument
Sharpy is an electronic instrument that was designed and built by composer Charles Peck. The instrument utilizes three infrared distance sensors to control the sound, which is produced digitally with an Arduino board and GinSing shield. So as users interact with these sensors, there is a clear auditory connection to their physical actions.
Despite having only three sensors, the instrument is capable of a variety of sounds. This is because Sharpy has three possible operating states, each of which assigns a different set of parameters to the three sensors. State 1 is initiated by covering the sensor on the user’s left first. The instrument will then stay in State 1 until no sensors are being covered. Therefore, the user must completely remove their hands form the instrument in order to change states. Concordantly, State 2 is initiated using the middle sensor and State 3 using the sensor on the right. The short improvisation in this video demonstrates a few of these sonic possibilities.
Performer: Charles Peck