Recording Session with IonSound Project

I’m so far behind on my blogging, but only because of being so productive! Here’s a quick update (with pix) and look for more soon, because there’s much good news to share with you.

I spent September 22-23 at the spectacular Audible Images Studio with IonSound Project. By the time we were finished up, we had the whole album in the can. I’m in the process of editing and mixing and expect to deliver the audio to PARMA before Christmas. Once the PARMA mastering team has the audio, we’ll be able to set a release date. and I promise I’ll update you as soon as we have that.

Working with IonSound Project is always the best. They know my music inside and out and give such committed performances. As a creative artist, I just can’t put a price on this sort of long term collaboration.

Anyway, here are some shots from the session.

IonSound-Studio, 1

L-R: Elisa, Kathleen, Peggy, Laura, and Rob

IonSound studio-2

Listening to takes in the control room with Laura, Elisa, Kathleen, Peggy, and Jack.

Ryan working on the perfect drum sound.

Ryan working on the perfect drum sound.

The incomparable Hollis Greenhouse at the board.

The incomparable Hollis Greathouse at the board.


I’m very pleased to announce that I received an Individual Artist Grant through Investing in Professional Artists, a partnership of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. The $10,000 award is in support of the recording project I announced this fall in collaboration with IonSound Project and PARMA Recordings that will explore my visual arts-inspired chamber music. Of course, everyone involved in this complex project is thrilled and, in keeping with the whole “This may not be a pipe dream after all” theme, I’ve scheduled two days of studio time at Audible Images in September.

The large chunk of cash is definitely a huge step toward completing this recording and multimedia project, but I’m also extremely grateful for the professional recognition that comes from the rigorous application process. According to the official press release,

“…applications to the Investing in Professional Artists program were received from 161 individuals and organizations from 22 cities and towns across six counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. A peer review process with regional and national experts from a variety of artistic disciplines considered applications and recommended grants to 10 artists and three organizations based on work quality and the potential of the proposed project to advance an artist’s career. Grantees include established and emerging artists working in visual arts, multimedia, dance, music, theater and literature.”

So this is a big deal at many levels and without a doubt, a very significant milestone in my professional life. It’s encouraging that The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation have partnered for this important program that recognizes the vitality of Pittsburgh’s arts scene. This is an exciting time to be an artist in Pittsburgh as the region’s identity as a center for innovation in technology and the arts seems to be both taking root and taking off. And the album we are planning embodies this moment in many ways. In fact, one of the things I find most exciting about the planned program is how the different pieces emerged organically from a vibrant creative community.

And speaking of the album, we still have a lot of money to raise in order to get the project over the finish line. Happily, you can continue to make tax deductible donations through my Fractured Atlas project page. Every little bit helps us get closer to reaching our artistic goals, so please consider making a donation, and thanks in advance.

Gioco Project Presents Nocturnes

November 21, 2014
8:00 pm

Union Project

gioco project

So happy to let you know that Gioco Project will be performing my Nocturnes at the Union Project on November 21. Gioco Project is a new effort by former Black Orchid String Trio members Rachel Smith and Jennifer Sternick. They’ve enlisted the help of a number of Pittsburgh’s excellent chamber musicians to present music by Ryan McMasters, Daniel Perttu, Evan Ziporyn, and myself.

I’m really thrilled that Nocturnes will get another hearing so soon, and like the Rotunda of the University Art Gallery where the work premiered, Union Project is a big space that will allow the resonances and silences to merge into each other gently.

Please come out and hear these terrific musicians play Nocturnes, and bring your friends!

My New Recording Project!

IonSound Project

A studio recording with these guys? Yes, please!

I am very pleased to announce my newest assault on the bulwark of moderate success! I’m partnering with IonSound Project and PARMA Recordings to release a CD and super-special Web content highlighting my collaborations with film and visual artists Will Zavala, Ryan Day, Garth Zeglin, and Michael Morrill. I’ve created a new Web page to explain this in all its glorious detail. Please read all about it, tell your friends, and support the project with a deliciously tax deductible donation through Fractured Atlas.

At this point we’re hoping to record in late July, mostly due to the schedules of all the players. In the mean time, my creative work will be focused on finding creative ways to raise funds for the project. Unless of course, someone comes along with a big, juicy commission that would cover the costs. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Speaking of which, as I was researching funding sources for alt-classical music recording I came across this 2009 article in New Music Box about the economics of the business. This bit was particularly eye-opening.

Yet scraping together the money to produce each new title and more often than not looking to the artists to help with that process—whether from family wealth, university research grants, or credit card debt—is standard operating procedure at almost every independent contemporary music label.

Seems like there’s no one offering a four-record deal based on that hot new Pierrot plus percussion piece, so I’ve got my work cut out for me to be sure, but all of us as independent composers have a tough road. If you want to write music that you really, really believe in, well now… But I’ve always felt my music could find an audience with the right exposure and this new recording project is a big step in that direction. Check in often to find about the progress we’re making, and if you find it in your heart and your heart finds it in your wallet, I’d appreciate it if you lent a hand.

Galileo Celebration Update

string trio playing Nocturnes

Jennifer Strernick (vln.), Erin Araujo (vla.), and Eric Grata (vc.) performing Nocturnes in the Rotunda of the University Art Gallery. Photo credit: Emily O’Donnell.

Saturday, February 15, 2014 was a snowy day in Pittsburgh, just like seemingly every other day this past winter. The snow was falling hard enough in the morning that I wondered whether the celebration of Galileo’s 450th birthday would have to be cancelled, but the front passed through and the skies cleared up, so that afternoon I made my way over to Pitt’s University Art Gallery to meet the trio and go over a few final places in Nocturnes. Honestly though, there wasn’t much for me to do until people showed up. And show up they did, over a hundred or so representing many different sectors of the University and community.

UAG curator Isabelle Chartier, the driving force behind the whole event, introduced all the participants who had gathered in the front gallery where Aaron Henderson’s video montage played. Professor Paolo Palmieri, from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science gave a brief talk on Galileo, highlighting Galileo’s interest and skill in art and music as well as his contributions to astronomy.

After Dr. Palmieri’s talk, attendees were invited into the Rotunda to view Michael Morrill’s Linea Terminale paintings as the the string trio (Jennifer Sternick, violin; Erin Araujo, viola; and Eric Grata, cello) premiered Nocturnes, twelve miniatures to frame each of Michael’s twelve paintings. My hope was that people would turn toward the painting, but I think it’s very difficult  to turn away from seeing a chamber ensemble do its thing. I tried to set a good example myself though, moving through the circle of paintings, studying each one for about the space of one nocturne.

From my entirely biased perspective, I think Linea Terminale and Nocturnes worked well together. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is how music can alter our perception of the passage of time. When I set a text for vocal music, I’m doing nothing so much as slowing down the pace at which the text is declaimed, allowing the words to unfold more clearly, often repeating words or phrases to focus our attention. “Setting” Michael’s paintings to music was a similar sort of thing—an effort to help focus our awareness and maybe slow down time a little.

I’m so happy to have been a part of the Celebration of Galileo’s 450th Birthday. It was a very positive and successful event! I’m particularly grateful for all the hard work Isabelle Chartier did to make the event happen and to Michael for his enthusiasm and support for Nocturnes.

A Celebration of Galileo’s 450th Birthday, Premiere of Nocturnes

February 15, 2014
3:00 pm

 Frick Fine Arts Auditorium, Free


University of Pittsburgh Departments of Music and Studio Arts and the University Art Gallery have organized a commemoration of Galileo’s 450th birthday. The interdisciplinary event will take place from 3-5 p.m. in the Rotunda of the University Art Gallery.

The centerpiece of the event will be an interdisciplinary installation I’ve had the privilege of collaborating on with Pitt Studio Arts faculty members Michael Morrill and Aaron Henderson. The installation is built around Michael’s Linea Terminale paintings, themselves inspired by Galileo’s moon drawings. Aaron’s video and my brand new composition for string trio were created as a response both to Linea Terminale and the broader idea of celebrating Galileo’s life and scientific contributions.

Linea Terminale consists of twelve paintings in four groups of three. I structured my music along the same lines — four sets of three miniatures, averaging around a minute each. About the time I was finishing up the twelfth section, it occurred to me that the common character of all the movements was that of a nocturne so that’s what I’ve titled it: Nocturnes. I realized that the whole time I was composing the piece, the image of Galileo peering through his telescope at the moon was in the back of my mind. It makes sense because night time is still the best time to observe the moon.


Special guest Paolo Palmieri, from Pitt’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science, will give a brief talk on Galileo and his contributions prior to the performance.

This interdisciplinary celebration of Galileo’s 450th birthday is cosponsored by the Departments of Studio Arts and Music, the University Art Gallery, and the Departments of History and Philosophy of Science, Physics, and Astronomy and Philosophy. The event is free and open to the public.

Pittsburgh School for the Choral Arts CD Now Available

TranseamusThe Christmas CD I produced for Pittsburgh School for the Choral is now available. I am so  grateful for the privilege of working with such an outstanding organization. There is something special about being at a live performance when you feel like all the musicians rise to the occasion and give it their best. To not only be present at that kind of moment (which happens over and over again with these young musicians) but to also be able to capture it on audio is an extra rush for me.

To get your copy, contact

Emily Swora, Choral School Administrator
Phone: (412) 267-7707

 The cost is $15 plus $2 for shipping. You can pay by paypal or mail a check to

PO Box 82563
Pittsburgh, PA 15218

I know you’ll enjoy it.

Watch: Video Excerpt from Separate Self, Movement III

Separate Self (Movement III excerpt) from Garth Zeglin on Vimeo.

Here’s a little longer video excerpt from the third movement of Separate Self. It will give you an idea of just how elegant Garth Zeglin’s kinetic fabric sculptures are in action.

I like to think of the essence of counterpoint as multiple parts having their own interest and yet never banging into each other. In the third movement of Separate Self, I took very clearly defined materials and worked on having the lines constantly shift in their relationships to each other. The end result is a soundscape that has a high degree of both stability and fluidity. I’m really happy about how the musical and visual gestures work together for this movement.

Separate Self: Excerpt from Movement II

A good friend once asked me why I write the kind of alt-classical music I write. It wasn’t a snarky question in any sense and I was touched that he had bothered to listen to my music at all. My answer was simply that there were things that I could do from within the classical tradition that I couldn’t imagine doing in any other genre. The slow movement—the adagio—is one of those things.

One of the pieces of music that probably helped me realize I was a composer at heart is Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. As a high school trombonist whose primary aspiration was to play in the Chicago Symphony, I was obsessed with Mahler and Bruckner. One day I had driven to the record story to add Mahler 4 to my collection. I expected it to have the same massive brass gestures that Symphonies 1–3 had. I listened to the whole thing, waiting for the inevitable explosion, but it never came. No trombones at all. That’s where something funny happened. Instead of being disappointed, I fell in love with the Adagio, which I still consider one of the best moments in all of Mahler’s symphonic output.

The slow movement in Separate Self embodies a lot of what fascinates me about the classical (in the broadest sense) slow movement: using sound to create quietness, stillness through motion, stretching time, the feeling that words would be inadequate to the task of what you are trying to express… But not only inadequate; it’s the feeling that words would actually do violence the idea. Or course, we wouldn’t want that to happen, so here’s the music, performed here by IonSound Project.

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Separate Self Audio Excerpts

Finally posting some audio excerpts from IonSound’s premiere of Separate Self back in March. What can I say? I lead a full life! Find out all about Separate Self and listen to excerpts from all three movements. The clip below features brilliant playing by violinist Laura Motchalov, pianist Jack Kurutz, and drummer Dan Zawodniak.

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