To me the best artwork is a window into the worldview of its creator. Not necessarily in any way that could be explained, but when I hear a piece I want it to reflect and resemble the composer. I want through their work to see them, to understand them, for the duration of the piece to experience the world as they do. That's what I think matters about art in the end, that it's an opportunity to understand someone and their perspective in a profound way, and that we can build deep networks of connection across individuals, across cultures, and across time. I'll never meet him, but when I listen to his masses, I get Palestrina.
For that kind of connection to happen, the artwork can't be pretentious, it needs to be genuine. It needs to authentically be a part of the person who is making it.
So when I begin a work, I start with something that's somewhere between an idea and a value and a feeling, something that's somewhere deep, and somewhere that feels significant. Then I elaborate that something into music, text, or image always asking myself does this feel true? Is this me? Is this right?
Still is a 90-minute experimental music-cinema project created for the Qualcomm Institute. For this project, I developed the concept, composed and notated scores to guide the instrumental recording sessions, composed the electronic music, performed the role of the nightclub singer (seen at mm:ss in the linked excerpt), directed actors, lit and shot the narrative and documentary scenes, mixed and edited the audio, and edited and color graded the film. The piece weaves together three dramatic threads each on a different topic: 1) Songs about the tension of belief, 2) A documentary portrait of my grandparents about transitions and thresholds, and 3) A multimedia narrative about the peril of biology (an excerpt taken from the middle of the work: exceptionallydecent.com/stillexcerpt). The piece was workshopped in 2017 as part of the Institute's IDEAS season and will premiere in 2018.
I’M NOT REALLY MUCH OF A TALKER.
In 2016, I premiered a one-man music-theater piece I'm not really much of a talker. Talker, for which I composed music, wrote texts, and created audiovisual material, is a reconfigurable set of multimedia songs which I perform accompanied by stereo audio and a large television display. The piece aims to be narratively destabilizing. One song is intensely emotional, the next is coolly conceptual, some are whimsical, stylized fictions, others are frank conversations about my dog (an excerpt including live performance and audiovisual material: exceptionallydecent.com/talkerexcerpt). I toured the work in 2016-17 with successful engagements in Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Omaha and Washington.
RECENT INSTRUMENTAL WORKS
Other recent works include a duet for amplified whisperer and piano titled Painter (the recording will be posted immediately following a November 26 session: exceptionallydecent.com/painterexcerpt), a String Quartet played by the Jack Quartet and the Formosa Quartet (score: exceptionallydecent.com/stringquartet), and ALL YOU EVER ARE IS AT A GLANCE composed for actors, singers and pianist (excerpts: exceptionallydecent.com/allyoueverareexcerpt). In these three works, like much of my instrumental writing, I began by composing music that was tightly linked with a text. I composed a musical event for each syllable and each vocal inflection. From that point of departure, I elaborated some musical elements and removed others. In Painter and ALL YOU EVER ARE IS AT A GLANCE the text is performed as part of the piece while in the String Quartet I removed the text entirely and it is not presented to the audience.
As a collaborator, I contribute my aesthetic sensibility and technical expertise towards another artist's vision, frequently acting as a bridge and translator between musicians and other media.
For his Tidings and Sediments telematic project, Grammy-nominated bassist, improviser, and composer Mark Dresser imagined a work where each performance would carry with it the residue of previous performances. To that end, after each performance Dresser would identify moments that he thought were particularly powerful or interesting. I would then use the audio and video recordings of those moments to compose electronic music and multimedia segments that would be included in the next performance. As an example, the manipulation I composed based on vocalist Bae Il Dong’s solo at the premiere served in the second performance as musical and visual counterpoint to an improvisation by Dresser (his improvisation over my manipulation of Bae Il Dong: exceptionallydecent.com/tidingsandsedimentsexample). Professor Dresser and I are currently creating a 45-minute solo version of his piece in which I use all previous performances as source material to compose electronic music and imagery that will be in dialogue with his live improvisations.
In addition to collaborations where I contribute aesthetically, I also use my technical expertise to support other projects. I've particularly enjoyed working to facilitate live telematic performances between musicians in different cities. These collaborations have included musicians connected from Amherst, Bogota, Irvine, New York, Seoul, Zurich, and San Diego. They represent wonderful opportunities to create work that literally connects distant cultures. In my work as technical director for composer Yeung-ping Chen's premiere with the La Jolla Symphony, I designed and managed a telematic connection between orchestra and soloist in different venues, as well as the simultaneous projection of cinematic images in the concert hall. This December, I will use projection mapping techniques to realize Ross Karre's visual contribution to Roger Reynolds's multimedia work, FLiGHT, for its San Diego premiere.
As a filmmaker, I lean heavily on my musical background to persuasively capture live performances and translate them into the visual domain. In 2017 I collaborated with trumpeter and improviser Professor Stephanie Richards, dancer Professor Liam Clancy, along with the graduate students of their respective studios to create the dance film Dance Film (excerpt here: exceptionallydecent.com/danceexcerpt). In early 2018, The Shifting Foundation will release AHOD, a concert film I directed featuring pianist-improvisers Kris Davis and Craig Taborn (trailer here: exceptionallydecent.com/davistabornexcerpt). In October I completed photography on a documentary on Dan Weiss’s Metal Quintet including Ben Monder, Trevor Dunn, Matt Mitchell and Craig Taborn.
The great power of documentary film is its ability to take people, concerns, and concepts that would otherwise have been distant to an audience and make them personal, relatable, and comprehensible. My objective as a documentary filmmaker is to use multimedia to argue for the music and ideas of the very worthy, nonmainstream music and individuals I'm passionate about.
In early 2018, Neuma Records will release RRPHIAPGJO, a documentary film I directed featuring Pulitzer Prize winning composer Roger Reynolds, legendary violinist Irvine Arditti, computer musician Paul Hembree, and guitarist Pablo Gomez-cano (trailer: exceptionallydecent.com/rrphiapgjoexcerpt). In the film, I blend interviews, behind the scenes footage, live concert footage, and imaginatively staged studio recordings to create an experience aimed at potentially interested but nonexpert audiences. The film presents an intimate portrait of the people behind the work, connecting viewers to their concerns and priorities, in order to provide an intellectual and empathetic context through which new audiences can approach challenging artworks.
Y ASÍ SUENA
My documentary film on Regional Mexican Music and the culture that surrounds it, Y Así Suena, similarly intends to bring important stories to interested but unacquainted audiences (excerpt here: exceptionallydecent.com/yasisuenaexcerpt). While close to unknown in the American mainstream, Regional Mexican Music is a dominant cultural force throughout Mexico and an important source of cultural pride and community engagement in the Mexican diaspora of the United States. The film includes my Spanish language interviews with the genre's most significant figures such as Julión Álvarez (contemporary performer with billions of Youtube views), Pedro Rivera (founder of the genre's seminal record label Cintas Acuario and producer for three of the genre's most historically significant stars: Chalino Sanchez, Jenni Rivera, and Lupillo Rivera) and Banda Machos (the group most responsible for the music's social connection in the United States). In addition to leading stars, the film includes portraits of fans living on both sides of the border, and through their stories the documentary examines how the music reflects issues of national identity, the effects of immigration, and contemporary Mexico's struggles with violence and corruption.
SCHOENFIELD INTERNATIONAL STRING COMPETITION
In 2016 I served as Media Director for The Schoenfeld International String Competition in Harbin, China. The growing competition wanted to reach a larger, younger audience, and I was excited about the opportunity to experiment with strategies to connect with potential classical music fans via new media. I designed and executed a strategy where short clips of varied content (concert excerpts, contextualizing interviews, portraits of the host city, artist portraits) where distributed via social media channels in order to generate interest and guide audiences to the longer concert content (an example of a teaser excerpt: exceptionallydecent.com/siscexample). This strategy was successful, generating over 100,000 minutes viewed in 2016, and will be expanded in 2018.