PortRait of the ArTist,**NYC2001
Date Completed: Summer '01
Part of Series: PortRait
Recording: You can get it for free at SoundCloud or through this player:
Performed by: ME! (cello)
Oh, and Tolga Tüzün helped me make the recording sound better
Video: Terrible audio quality, but here I am playing it in Київ (Kiev) in Ukraine:
This is the first piece in my PortRait series, and at the time I wasn't aware that I'd be writing others. The piece was written in New York City in late 2001, hence the latter part of the title. Actually, I guess the only things that need explaining are the random capitalizations and asterisks, but there isn't really a great explanation for them. I think that I just like the vaguely dehumanized nature of it; it looks almost like some sort of old DOS-style filename (though too long obviously). It looks more like it was catalogued by a computer than named by a human being.
This piece is a cello solo with pre-recorded electronics. The latter are comprised entirely of manipulated recordings of cello sounds, with the manipulations being done mostly in ProTools and a lesser-known program called MetaSynth. This program is a so-called "visual synthesizer" that creates sounds using images in various cool ways. So for instance, the opening electronic sound wash was created by taking the open D sound that the live cello plays and using it as a sample. I drew a line representing that pitch but slowly fattened it up as it moved to the right until it's a massive microtonal cluster-cloud. (incidentally, why am I using so much allusive alliteration in this description?) You can even use color to move sounds between the left and right speakers (left=green, right=red, yellow-center), so I just randomly drew colors into the cluster cloud creating the swirling you can hear in the recording above.
The central difficulty in performing the piece is that the electronic part is rigidly set in stone, so you have to really internalize the timing of the events without losing the spontaneity of live performance. For example, there's a cello cadenza near the end, during which the electronics are silent. The timing of the cadenza can and should be somewhat different every time, and I built in plenty of ambiguity in the electronic part as it returns, but you still don't have total freedom in the timing. At this point it's second nature for me, so I'm not sure how hard this is.
Like all PortRait pieces, this work is concerned with the collision of humanity and mechanicity, and like most it ends with the destruction of the human element. I want it to sound like the cello is a lost and embattled element in a secluded desert of electronic noise seeking to eviscerate it.
Like a lot of my pieces written since moving to NYC, this piece features a melody from the third movement of one of the very first pieces I composed, which I call the Chrysalis melody. After a brief introduction it can be heard in the solo cello, with only occassional molestations by the electronic part. Over the course of the piece, the melody is systematically distorted, dismantled, distressed and lots-of-other-verbs-that-don't-start-with-"dis"-ed.
Over the years, this piece has sort of become my "hit single". It's been played on NYC rooftops, clubs in Atlanta, in Київ (Kyiv or Kiev), Львів (L'viv) and other cities in Україна (Ukraine), Philadelphia, radio shows in New Hampshire and at Rutgers, etc. I've played it at virtually innumerable Anti-Social Music shows in addition to other composer showcases.
I'm surprised to say that I'm still not sick of performing it. The piece is pretty obviously cathartic, and helped exorcise a lot of compositional demons that I was struggling with after moving to New York City. I was badly blocked—the only other piece I was writing was String Quartet No. 2, which was not going at all easily—and I was genuinely starting to think that I had made a huge mistake in pursuing composition. I also felt like I'd lost the ability to write melodies, in part because my teacher, John Corigliano, told me that I couldn't write melodies. He may be totally right actually.
I found myself fixating on one of the first melodies I'd ever written, the Chrysalis melody. I used it in both of these pieces, though the string quartet version is fairly significantly altered. The version in this piece is more or less directly taken from that much earlier composition. You don't exactly have to be Sigmund Freud to suspect that something's going on when I then proceed to systematically tear apart that melody across the course of the piece.
COMING SOON (maybe)