Composing with Drones

Recently I’ve posted on this website a series of pieces using an electronic instrument I designed in Max. It’s called the Drone Machine, and here’s a screen shot of the playing surface:


This surface hides the construction of the instrument, which under the hood looks in part like this:


Basically, with the Drone Machine you can play pre-recorded drone sounds, white noise, some other electronic samples, and some old-school synth sounds. The graphs you see allow you to filter the harmonic spectra of the sounds interactively, and the controls on the bottom allow you to apply some granular synthesis. A MIDI controller makes it easier to use the instrument but is not required.

What does this sound like, you ask? Well, it depends on the piece! The first piece in the series is Bordone (2012), for violin and laptop. The laptopist uses the Drone Machine. Here’s Mark Davenport playing the Drone Machine, with me on the violin:

Next came Bordoncello (2014), for cello and laptop. Again, the laptopist uses the Drone Machine, and also plays a telephone pick-up over the laptop to generate some pretty wild electronic sounds. Here’s Richard vonFoerster on cello and me on the Drone Machine/telephone pick-up:

Then, there’s How’s All to One Thing Wrought (2014), which is for Drone Machine alone, and uses only one sample, the low C on the cello, manipulated in various ways. Here’s me on the Drone Machine:

Finally, I wrote Bordonquartet (2014), for string quartet and Drone Machine, plus telephone pick-up sounds again. This is the Spektral Quartet and me:

The word “bordone” means “drone” in Italian. I chose Italian for the title because the Max workshop I took in Italy in 2012 got me started down the path toward these pieces. While each one uses drones, the pieces differ in many important respects. And because they are largely improvised, they are also different each time they are played. I find this combination of improvisation and droning musically powerful, and I hope you enjoy the fruits of my exploration of these ideas.

Recently I was asked if the Drone Machine was available for other people to use. You can order the Max patch (“patch” is what Max calls its files) from this page — just choose one of the Bordone series of pieces to purchase and I will send you the patch, the sound files that go with it (though you can use your own if you prefer), the text-based score for the piece, and some instructions. Don’t have Max? You can still run the patch using Max Runtime, which is available for free from Cycling ’74, the company that makes Max, here.

A Summer of Composition

It’s been a great summer of composition projects!

First, I arranged Carol Thomas Downing’s haunting tune Walden (originally written for the Walden School) for SAB Chorus, Violin, and Piano, and the First Universalist Singers premiered it in June with John Hubert directing, Sarah Libert on piano, and me on violin. This was the third (summer) of my four pieces for this group on the four seasons.

Second, I finished my new piece Balance and Swing for the Boulder Symphony. They’ll premiere it on September 21. Since the piece is based on the American folk tradition of contra dance, caller Ed Hall and friends will present a pre-concert lecture and dance lesson (!) before the performance at the First Presbyterian Church in Denver. (Dance lesson at 6, concert at 7.)

Third, I finished One Leaf, the autumn piece for the First Universalist Singers. I was excited to collaborate on this with my husband, Kevin Garlow, who wrote a beautiful poem from the point of view of an autumn leaf. This piece will be premiered on November 17th at the First Universalist Church of Denver.

Really looking forward to these premieres and also my projects for fall and winter. Stay tuned…

Going to Illinois

I’m excited to be traveling to Bolingbrook, IL May 12-15 to hear the midwestern premiere of Spring Quiet by the Bolingbrook High School singers, under the direction of Lawrence Fisher. This follows the March world premiere of the piece in Denver by the First Universalist Singers, directed by John Hubert.

Spring Quiet is the second of four pieces I’m writing for the First Universalist Singers–one on each season. The winter piece is Wake, O Earth  (SATB/English Horn version). The summer and fall pieces are forthcoming. This has been an immensely gratifying project, as I love writing for musicians whom I know. Also, it’s been great to sing in the premieres. Particularly helpful in making revisions, since I’m part of the rehearsal process.

Article in the Denver Post

In July I was very happy to travel to Citta’ di Castello, Italy, to participate in the International Summer Arts Institute (thanks to generous funding from Regis University’s Faculty Development Committee). There my Liquid Sings was performed by Italian clarinetist Guido Arbonelli; I took a course in computer music with the inestimable Carlos Delgado; and I gave a lecture (in English and Italian) on my music. I also met a lot of great musicians and dancers, including the wonderful composers Charles Nichols, and Andrew Ardizzoia.

The Denver Post published an article  about the trip, which also provides links to notices in the Italian press about the event, where you can see the names of the other cool people involved.

The Walden School Creative Musicians Retreat

As the school year at Regis draws to a close, I’m increasingly thinking about The Walden School Creative Musicians Retreat, where I’ll be teaching in June. Sam Pluta, Caroline Mallonee, Marshall Bessieres, Shawn Crouch, Jim Mobberley, and Wet Ink will all be in residence. There will be improvisation, composition, musicianship, choral singing, master classes, hiking a mountain, composers forums…all the usual Walden goodness! It’s a one-week residency at Smith College in Northampton, MA–great little New England town.

The second (and last) application deadline is coming up soon. Check out the Walden website to download applications for admission and financial aid.

Duo Montagnard to play Two About Two

I just found out from Matt Slotkin, the guitarist of the guitar/sax duo Duo Montagnard (saxophonist is Joseph Murphy), that they’re going to play my new guitar/soprano sax version of Two About Two in several places in the coming months. He tells me the piece will be on most of the concerts listed here, with the exception of the Scotland and Portugal engagements. Matt sent me a rehearsal recording, and I’m really happy with this new version. I only wish I could travel to hear some of the performances!

The piece was originally a commission from the Mountain Music Duo, a guitar/oboe duo comprised of James Cline, guitar, and Tenly Williams, oboe. The recording for this version of the piece can be heard here.

Liquid Sings to be performed at the International Summer Arts Institute

A few days ago I was contacted by Italian clarinetist Arianna Tieghi. She plans to perform my clarinet piece Liquid Sings this July at the 2012 International Summer Arts Institute in Citta di Castello, Italy (see their website). This is part of an interesting project where she and her teacher Guido Arbonelli plan to collect a piece for clarinet from a composer in each of the 50 United States. I’m excited about this project and hope I can attend the performance!

Regis University Collegium 10th Anniversary

I’ve been commissioned to write a piece for the Regis University Collegium’s 10th anniversary concert, which will be this spring (April, I think). It’s going to be for SATB singers, recorders, dulcien (a precursor to the bassoon), and hand bells and will most likely be an arrangement and reinterpretation of “Sumer Is Icumen In,” the anonymous medieval round/partsong. It’s a fun challenge to think about how I want to make a piece for student and community volunteers that is both accessible and interesting. I really enjoy arranging earlier music, and this tune is particularly charming. Check out the original version: