Stargates

These experiments in musical science fiction feature a strong sense of passing, as if through some stargate, into an alien realm of mystery, wonder, and, sometimes, terror. I hope they prove to be reliable vehicles for your imaginative travels and allow you to, as Immanuel Kant once put it, reach into the infinite.

"In justice, the rational soul should be called a kind of god, or a star ringed with cloud, or a daemon: not an inhabitant of the earth, but a guest. Guest, know yourself, know you are a citizen of a heavenly country, a citizen born to contemplate things celestial. Remember, if your end is contemplation, that you life should be enriched and perfected by contemplating. But since from this contemplating the body's life in a way loosens its hold, it follows that in this very weakening and death of the corporal life, your life grows not fainter but stronger." 

- Marsilio Ficino

(translated by Michael J.B. Allen) 

Platonic Theology, Book X, Chapter II

 

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Fox Fires

 

In Japanese lore, foxes (kitsune) are typically shape-shifting tricksters, often appearing as beautiful maidens, mothers, or old men, with the ability to generate fire or lightning from their mouths or tails. Their supernatural fires (kitsunebi) often lead people into dangerous or even fatal traps. But foxes can also be servants of Inari, the Kami of rice and worldly success, who protect humans from evil (especially from demons of the Kimon or the gate of the northeast direction). Inspired by these ideas and images, I decided to create some experimental world music for solo piano and piano with small ensembles. I wanted these compositions to be series of musical traps in which some "fire" leads the listener into mysterious musical spaces of danger, safety, or a shape-shifting mixture of both. In the ensemble pieces, these fires are usually represented by synthesized or affected sounds that suggest something supernatural entering the domain of the natural acoustic instruments. In the solo piano pieces, the fires are represented by some repetition or motif that serves as a metaphor for a strange flashing signal. In general, these works seek to combine aspects of Japanese and Western music. They were realized using a keyboard set to control various samples inside a computer. I hope they serve as useful vehicles for your own imaginary fox fire investigations.

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Fireflies

 

This experimental world music for solo piano, piano and koto, and piano and koto with small ensemble explores the dynamics of appearance and disappearance through the symbolism, behavior, and imagery of the firefly. Many tracks were inspired by Japanese myths of fireflies as ghostly messengers (tracks 1, 5, 9, 12), lovers (tracks 4, 5, 6, 9, 10), and warriors (tracks 3, 7). In track 8 all three aspects come together in a musical interpretation of the Japanese tale F. Hadland Davis entitled "A Strange Dream" (you can read this online). The two "Catching Fireflies" pieces are metaphors for our efforts to capture enchanting things that elude us. The two "Firefly Tree" pieces were inspired by the phenomenon whereby thousands of fireflies gather together in a tree and flash in synchronized patterns of energy at once ethereal (represented by the synth sounds and effects) and Earthbound (represented by the cellos and low koto pitches). There are two minimalistic pieces that model signaling behavior of certain fireflies (the Blue Ghost and Femme Fatale). The Blue Ghost firefly emits a glow that increases and decreases which I tried to capture in the piece; the Femme Fatale firefly sends mating signals and then kills the approaching male firefly. "Grave of the Fireflies", inspired by the film of the same name, is a haunting elegy for those who disappeared in the face of very different fireflies: the fireflies of war. In terms of imagery, I emulated the flashes of fireflies at various distances and luminosities by employing a musical pointillism with various levels of reverb and volume. All these works combine aspects of Western music with Japanese aesthetics and music. They were realized using a keyboard set to control various samples. Approach them as you would fireflies at night.

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Tiger/Crane

 

These works for solo piano and piano with small ensembles seek to synthesize western ideas of harmony and song structure with Chinese and Japanese music and aesthetics. They are based on the martial arts and metaphysics of the tiger and the crane. The majority of the tracks are inspired by certain tiger (representing yang) and crane (representing yin) movements in five-pattern Hung Kuen kung-fu. In some cases a title or movement evoked an image or feeling that gave direction to the piece; in some cases I tried to create musical analogues of particular movements. The final track, 1000 Cranes, is a musical prayer for peace dedicated to the living memory of Sadako Sasaki. 

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Dark Gates

 

 

These works for solo piano and piano with small ensembles seek to express what in Japanese aesthetics is referred to as ‘yūgen’. Yūgen refers to those moments when we feel as if we have had a partial glimpse into a hidden Reality. Such a glimpse is felt to be profoundly mysterious. It is also experienced as beautiful. Inspired by this notion, I have tried to create some mysterious musical gates that seek, whether as a whole or in part, to foster yūgen. Most of the pieces were inspired by descriptions of yūgen gates from Zeami, Mumyo Hisho, and Shotetsu Monogatari. I found these descriptions led to themes of change, loss, and transformation. This is fine since yūgen is often experienced when something transforms into something else in an obscure fashion—when something goes through a dark gate. 

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Beautiful Ghost

Beautiful Ghost consists of small ensemble works featuring piano with various Chinese and Japanese instruments. This experimental world music was inspired by this quotation from the Noh playwright Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443): "Since no one has seen a real ghost from the Nether Regions, the actor may use his fancy, aiming at only the beautiful.  To represent real life is far more difficult. If ghosts are terrifying, they cease to be beautiful." This theater direction inspired me to create a series of beautiful ghosts in music, that is, haunting yet beautiful works full of enchantment, mystery, and longing.  Many of these ghosts came to me from characters and narratives from traditional Chinese and Japanese mythology. The majority of them seek to be "musical gates" or compositions which feature a strong sense of passing into a transcendent musical world of suspension.  They were realized using a keyboard set to control various samples.

 

 

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