Church of the Friendly Ghost’s devout follower

The Austin Chronicle has published an interview with Aaron Mace, Church of the Friendly Ghost founder. I’m glad to read that CotFG is still going strong. I have great memories of attending and playing shows there.

I was there most often as part of the Austin Cobra Players, and I don’t think the group would have had nearly as long a run as they did without such a welcoming home as the Church.

One favorite event of mine that wasn’t mentioned in the article was the farewell show for Keith Manlove. Keith’s friends and colleagues performed a surprisingly varied program of works and then Keith led an ad-hoc, yet surprisingly large chamber ensemble in a heartfelt, half-hour long (if somewhat under-rehearsed) reading of one of his works. It couldn’t have happened without Aaron and the Church of the Friendly Ghost.

I still wear my CotFG t-shirt. Proudly.

Awards Abound

Just read on NewMusicBox about awards to some (now even more) distinguished colleagues. Congratulations to Erik Carlson, John King and Pauline Oliveros.

Erik Carlson – Area C – has recently received a MacColl Johnson Fellowship from The Rhode Island Foundation.

John King is the recipient of an Alpert Award.

And finally, Columbia University School of the Arts is presenting Pauline Oliveros the William Schuman Award.

Yes, it’s been awhile since I caught up with NewMusicBox, but this still seems like an awards bonanza. A kind of alternate universe Grammys.

Austin’s other live music scene

The Austin American-Statesman is running a month-long series on Austin’s other live music scene: classical music. The first installment mentions the usual establishment players (who, I should point out, do a better-than-usual job with adventurous programming than their national counterparts…).  Also mentioned are some of my much-missed colleagues who are busy

“pushing the boundaries of what classical music can be and how it can be presented in the 21st century. Austin has a tribe of adventurous musicians – composer-performers like Graham Reynolds, Peter Stopschinski, P. Kellach Waddle and Travis Weller; ensemble leaders such as Michelle Schumann and Aurélien Petillot and groups such as the Tosca String Quartet, Audio Inversions and the Invincible Czars – that lead the charge, taking their newly composed classical music to nightclubs, collaborating with filmmakers, dancers and theater companies and otherwise finding ways to challenge the status quo of classical music performance.”

I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

One 4 One on 8/4/8

I’ve just added a new album on One 4 One is a live recording of interactive electronic music from a performance at the Impulse/Response series in Troy, NY. The title of the album is a play on the direct, one-to-one relationships between performer and computer that I was deliberately avoiding. Plus, the performance took place on January 4, 2001, hence the title. Every 390 days since (give or take) I’ve been meaning to do something with the recordings. Luckily I got around to it before 2013. (Drop me a line if you figure that one out and I’ll send you a special little something.

Check it out on amiestreet, or listen to the tracks below.

The Shape of Music: Lumpy (and I like it that way)

It may be old news now, but Seed Magazine has published a piece called The Shape of Music that describes two mathematicians’ attempt to represent the multi-dimensionality of harmony and melody using “the geometry and topology of what mathematicians call ‘quotient spaces’ or ‘orbifolds.'” The author does a commendable job of making these and other mathematical ideas approachable for the average reader (unordered sets, anyone?) , but does a pretty awful job convincing me, at least, that the result is meaningful in any musical way.

Here’s a section discussing major chords that opens up some of the problems of this type of analysis.

“These harmonies occupy the center of our musical spaces, and are thus able to take effective advantage of its non-Euclidean twists. Remarkably, in the 12-tone system of notes, these are precisely the chords that Pythagoras identified almost 2,500 years ago: the chords that sound intrinsically harmonious. Far from arbitrary or haphazard, scales and chords come close to being the unique solutions to the problem of creating two-dimensional musical coherence. Contrary to the hopes of generations of avant-garde composers, it follows that the goal of developing robust alternatives to tonality may be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

The shapes of the space of chords we have described also reveal deep connections between a wide range of musical genres. It turns out that superficially different styles–Renaissance music, classical and Romantic music, jazz, rock, and other popular forms–all make remarkably similar use of the geometry of chord space. Traditional techniques for manipulating musical scales turn out to be closely analogous to those used to connect individual chords. And some composers have displayed a profound understanding of the higher-dimensional geometry of musical chords. In fact, one can argue that Romantic composers such as Chopin had an intuitive feel for non-Euclidean higher-dimensional spaces that exceeded the explicit understanding of their mathematical contemporaries.”

First, there’s the wholly appropriate invocation of Pythagoras; this is, after all, an article about music and mathematics. But there’s no recognition that Pythagoras’ simple whole number ratios which produce consonances (octaves, perfect fifths and fourths, etc.) no longer exist in most music heard today. Thanks to equal temperament tuning, the predominant mathematical concept which most composers “intuit” is actually the twelfth root of two–a number Pythagoras would have found abhorrent. It seems our notion of consonance has more to do with cultural norms than mathematical underpinnings. Which turns out to be a better explanation for why “Renaissance music, classical and Romantic music, jazz, rock, and other popular forms” all share a common approach to harmony and melody.

And that brings up another area where this analysis goes off the rails: it defines a huge practice in a limiting way and then uses that definition to justify why the rest of that practice isn’t valid. Paradoxically, this is a kind of logic shared by so many of those “generations of avant-garde composers” to which this article pays backhanded tribute. Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique comes to mind as a mathematically sound system for making music (pitch class sets, anyone?). But the system alone doesn’t ensure the resulting music is great; neither does it invalidate music produced by other means.

The author concludes the article with a mention that the same geometrical analysis is being applied to economics. I imagine they’re on to something here. Maybe they’ll discover that the market has an intuitive feel for non-Euclidian higher-dimensional spaces, too

Pi is such an ugly number. How could circles be so beautiful?

Universal Instrument Videos

Here are some videos from the Austin New Music Co-op‘s recent Universal Instrument concert. The Behind the Scenes segment is especially nice.

Austin New Music Co-op: Six Bagatelles

Austin New Music Co-op: Behind the Scenes

Austin New Music Co-op: The Becoming Machine IV

Albany Sonic Arts: 4 Solo Sets for April

I never posted a proper announcement for last weekend’s Albany Sonic Arts Collective show at the Upstate Artists Guild Gallery featuring Ray Hare, myself, Eric Hardiman and Travis Johns. Here are recordings of the pieces I played.


Turnover – I improvised the melody and lyrics for this one inspired by Ray Hare’s hair raising performance.


My Own True Love – an arrangement of a traditional tune


Telephone Temple – an arrangement of a piece I wrote to be performed with LEMUR‘s musical robots.

Visit the UAG site to view photos from the event.

Nine Tas

I recently heard a recording of the premiere performance of Nine Tas by the Austin New Music Co-op and thought I’d share it here. The singers are Ashley Gaar, Kathy Hatch, Wendi Olinger and Brandon Young


Nine Tas

The rest of the concert is knockout good. Let’s hope the Co-op makes it available soon.