Monthly Archives: May 2012

Mulligan Overture

1+2/p.2.1+2/asx.2 – – 2 perc – hp – pno [opt] – str

This piece began life as the opening titles for the score I wrote for Will Slocombe’s picture Mulligan. I thought it might work well as a concert closer with my youth orchestra, so I gave it the orchestral treatment. Since then it has proven my most popular piece, having been heard across the United States, in Asia and in Europe.

Mulligan Overture is also available in a version for concert band.

The Next Picture Show

I’ve snuck away to Los Angeles for something like 56 hours in order to hang out on the set of my friend Will Slocombe‘s new movie, Pasadena. Will is one of the most talented and hard-working artists that I know; there’s a lot of so-called “filmmakers” out here in L.A., but Will keeps plugging away, pounding the pavement, and getting movies made.  I would recommend that everyone watch the entirety of his web series RECEPTION if you want to get some insight into his brilliance in combining funny + sad (or if you just want an entertaining way to spend 20 minutes).

Will at work

Pasadena stars no less a titan than Peter Bogdanavich, and let me tell you, this is a command performance.  This will be the second of Will’s pictures that I’ve scored, and I already know it’s going to be much harder, because it walks a very fine dramedic tightrope.  The emotional content of each and every scene has to be perfectly calibrated.  I’m thinking flutes.

While we’re on the subject of me being in L.A., we also need to talk about my friend Caitlin, not just because she’s another fascinating, successful person, but because her apartment, in which she has so generously allowed me to stay while she’s gone, is one of the most fastidiously curated living spaces I’ve ever encountered.

Caitlin’s life is centered around Death.  She works as a funeral director, but in her free time she’s an internet celebrity and bloggeuse.  I think the overarching thesis of Caitlin’s life and work is that since we’re all going to die, it’s probably better that we understand death and develop a healthy attitude towards it rather than relying on the collection of irrational fears our society has foisted upon us.  People spend a lot of money to keep the very idea of death at bay, and the funeral industry reaps the benefits from our psychoses.

But anyway, back to Caitlin’s apartment, it’s pretty incredible what she’s done with the place.  Every available inch is filled with the photos, mementos, or very remains of someone who is no longer with us (there are at least two human skulls, one alligator skull and a large trophy bust of a deer scattered throughout her apartment.)

Some of Caitlin's actual stuff

There are also several things that seem like they could kill me, including a variety of talismans and religious icons, a snake, and this cat, who I think is a cross between a Siamese and a vampire bat (and who, let the record show, just farted and promptly left the room.)

It should come as no surprise that last night I had a riveting, all-night long dream about the zombie apocalypse.

Tonight I’ll get to catch an echt-Rattelian program at the LA Phil consisting of Ligeti’s Atmosphères, the Act I prelude from Lohengrin, Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder and Bruckner 9.  Then back to Cincinnati first thing tomorrow where it will all of a sudden be crazytown due to this wild extravaganza called the May Festival, after which I may be embracing death more than ever!

The Dwarf Planets

for brass quintet, timpani, and organ

I wrote this piece over the course of April and May, 2012.  How it ever dawned on me to compose a set of tone poems in the mould of Holst’s The Planets featuring the deities assigned to the most distant celestial bodies I do not now remember.  What I do remember thinking is “really?” and that the idea grew on me as I mulled it over.

The currently recognized Dwarf Planets are: Haumea, Pluto, Ceres, Eris, and Makemake.  There are something like 50 other candidates, which may necessitate a second suite at some point in the future.

Three of these planets are named for European gods and goddesses: Pluto, Ceres, and Eris, but the ones that really got my juices flowing were the Polynesians: Haumea, the Hawaiian goddess of fertility and childbirth, and Makemake, the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) god of the bird-man cult (about which, see more below.)

This piece was composed for the Gargoyle Brass Quintet and was commissioned by the group’s founder, tubist Rodney Holmes. It was toured as part of the quintet’s 2014 season and recorded for the MSR Classics label.

1. Haumea

Haumea is the Hawaiian goddess of fertility and childbirth.  Nearly all the Hawaiian gods and goddesses count her as their mother; she is a profoundly incestuous figure, bearing the offspring of her own sons and grandsons.  The music is primordial and noble, and the main melody (a sort of chant) continues with variation throughout the piece.

2. Pluto

Both the most famous dwarf planet and the most famous god on the list, Pluto is the Roman ruler of the underworld.  The scene depicted in this movement is the abduction of Persephone, Pluto’s young bride.  Often depicted as a violent abduction, here the music never rises above piano, portraying the scene as a mysterious disappearance.  The opening melody depicts Persephone herself.

3. Ceres

Like many ancient gods and goddesses, Ceres represents several ideas.  The two most important are: agriculture and motherly relationships.  Hence, the movement opens with a joyous harvest dance, the melody of which is then slowed down and turned into a lullaby in the central section.  This is followed by a reprise of the festival dance and a coda.

4. Eris

Eris is the Greek goddess of strife and discord.  This movement, a solo for the organ, presents a series of consonant chords that are disturbed by the addition of foreign notes.  The dissonances grow greater and greater.  An ostinato is played throughout by the middle C on the pedal board.

5. Makemake

Makemake comes from the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island, and is both the creator of humanity and the chief god of the bird-man cult.  Each year, the youths of Easter Island were pitted against one another in a dangerous race, swimming out to sea to try to capture the eggs of the Sooty Tern, a bird that nested on rocks several kilometers out at sea.  Many of the participants were devoured by sharks, but the winner earned god-like status for the rest of the year.  This movement depicts the call to the race, the race itself, and the victory.

[Now.  Something must be said about the poster image below.  The graphic designer (whom I know not) was inspired by my concept to create this insane, Game-of-Thrones-fan-art phantasmagoria, and when I saw it at the premiere I demanded a copy; the poster is now proudly displayed on my studio wall.  To whomever served as the model for Eris, the goddess of chaos, strife, and discord: I salute you, good lady.]