Self Portrait Program Notes — March 2015

Vicente Alexim: Impulses (2015)

Impulses is built around the relationship between individual musical gestures and a sonic material under constant transformation. These gestures, like impulses, propel the music forward, moving it through different registers, altering its texture and shape, and increasing its momentum. This piece was commissioned by and dedicated to my dear friends at Contemporaneous. It is meant to make use of their mastery of their instruments as well as their beautiful expressivity.

For more information about Vicente, click here.

Matt Evans: Still Life for Ensemble (2015)

Imagine music as a physical object — something you can touch, possibly hold in your hand and look at from every perceivable angle. Now imagine that it also takes on physical properties — it might break, get worn down, or degrade over time. In 2013 I became fascinated with cassette tape manipulation and its ability to physically represent sound. Rather than tracking audio digitally, I would record onto a cassette tape at home, digitize the recording, then pull the tape out of the cassette shell, scratch and stretch the tape until it was nearly destroyed, and then redigitize the recording, eventually overlaying the two recordings on top of one another. The result was a slow phasing of timbral decomposition between the recording and its destructed counterpart. Commissioned by Contemporaneous in 2014, Still Life for Ensemble is both an acoustic manifestation of this experience and an exploration of my obsession with the performance of melodic factorials (a set of pitches performed in all possible permutations).

For more information about Matt, click here.



Tamzin Elliott: Gloria Nightwatch and The Ghost (2015)

Tonight only! Come see the Duchess of Story herself backed with that Uncanny Orchestra - the fabulous, Gloria Nightwatch aaaaaaand The Ghost! 

I had the funnest time researching for this piece. When David and Dylan asked me to write a work for the whole group, I really wasn't sure what kind of sound I wanted to produce from this sized ensemble. I was certain that I wanted to write a set of songs for Lucy, but it took me a second to realize that there was a long tradition of orchestrated tunes across eras and genres that I knew and loved well and could easily draw on for inspiration. And that wave brought me to places I could have guessed and could not have guessed. I had the funnest time researching for this piece.

For more information about Tamzin, click here.


Dylan Mattingly: Lighthouse (Refugee Music by a Pacific Expatriate)

Lighthouse (Refugee Music by a Pacific Expatriate) is black window music for when too small thunderstorms sing against vast vast humidity and storm lights flash mutes beneath starships and crosscountry metal and sleepscape crashing trans-Pacific journeys drift flower petals across routes of diluted warm rain and suddenly all you want is skyscraper saltwind and wet rocks and foghorns and dancing cold bridge lights and cars and distant suns flying by black black waves and you say to that indifferent bottomlessness, that throbbing gamelan, that breather of clouds like 747s, “you’re my home” and you run your hands through her hair again.

For more information about Dylan, click here.


Finnegan Shanahan: Water Cycle (Music for a Hudson River Railroad Dream-Map)

Water Cycle is a 35-minute long album written for and recorded by Contemporaneous. Based on a map circa 1852 of the newly completed Hudson River Railroad, spanning from Albany to New York City, Water Cycle is divided into six thematically-connected songs. Each song is made up of three small episodes, and each episode is its own small piece of a dream-like narrative about home. The album’s concept, over the course of these 18 short scenes, is a sort of emotional travelogue beginning with trains along the Hudson River and gradually moving out over the Tivoli Bays at Bard College, through the Catskills, hurtling across the country to the Jemez Mountains of my native New Mexico, and eventually leaving the planet — a journey of self-reflection charted across an idyllic portrait of home.

Water Cycle is written to be performed by 18 members of Contemporaneous. The album will be released on New Amsterdam Records in 2016.

I’d consider Water Cycle to be “road trip music” — that is, music of motion and more importantly, transition. I wrote the majority of it while on the train, commuting back and forth between Bard College and Brooklyn. At the time, I was in limbo, gradually leaving my life upstate to make a new home in New York City. The Hudson River was quite literally the path between the two places I was calling home.

I dreamed in the abstractness of my Hudson River map a greater journey in search of home. Over many months, I filled my notebook with found words, phrases, and bits and pieces of whatever I was reading. Gradually, I used this language to construct a kind of narrative using disjointed memories of people, places and scenes. Then the weave of memories gave way to music.

While the album may be steeped in nostalgia, at its core is change. It is never worth getting too caught up in nostalgia, for there is always a new home to be found elsewhere. In fact, the italicized text of Water Cycle is supposed to be a sort of semi-omnipotent second voice echoing this very sentiment. The image of this central idea is the river itself, a gigantic force of forward energy leading from one thing to the next. I might not have realized it at the time, but I think Water Cycle is not just for Contemporaneous — it's about Contemporaneous. Contemporaneous is the most epic and wondrous ride down a river in perpetual motion. To create and perform music that is completely new is to grab hold of something that is still living and breathing, to make it a part of you and to let go when you are ready for the current to pull you away to something even more beautiful.

For more information on Finnegan, click here.