Note: This is a special page where I have collected materials for my application to the doctoral program at Princeton. It is hosted through my public website, but is hidden from the main menu. The links on the menu above are not a part of this application, but merely the regular website I use for my musical projects.
Scores and Recordings
Blue Aurora (2018)
Empty Spirals (2018)
Statement of Purpose
I love creating music, teaching, and learning. The latter in many ways underlies everything else I do. As I engage with these tasks, I find it thrilling to gradually discover more about myself and the world around me. I can identify what resonates with me, and discovering new layers of topics I thought I had mastered, renewing my love and fascination in an ever-going cycle.
Music has been of interest to me since I was capable of having interests, but it didn't assume any special status until I was about 14. Up until then, I was primarily interested in science and wanted to be an astrophysicist. This all changed when I took up the bass and guitar and started writing music with bands in high school. I was trying to compose before I knew what a score was, creating one part at a time using tabs. One day, when I was listening to Black Flag, my mom told me the dissonance reminded her of Alban Berg, who I decided to check out. Soon I was extremely interested in 20th century music, and trying to compose myself. Within a year of completing my first piece, I switched to Interlochen for high school where I began studying music formally in 2007. I won't run you through the rest of my career, but this origin story is extremely important to me. The thrill of connecting hardcore punk to the Second Viennese School, and the freedom to draw from both, or whatever else may interest me, is something I will always carry.
My music is never programmatic in a literal sense (unless involving text), but the overall vibe is heavily informed by an array of related interests. These are drawn from different fields, and spring from a kernel of fascination with extreme time depth, remoteness, and incompletion. Such interests include historical linguistics, classics, geology, astronomy, science fiction, and historical music. My strongest extra-musical interest is historical linguistics, primarily the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European. I seriously considered switching focus to this field as a graduate student. It became clear to me, however, that I have things to say with music that I can't say with linguistics, but the reasons I love historical linguistics can be expressed through music.
I discovered my love for historical linguistics when taking German in college. I was struck with the world-shattering (to me at the time) realization that the shared features between German and English are systematic and allow us to reconstruct early stages of their common ancestor that are otherwise lost (more on this in my thesis paper if interested). I soon zoomed in on reconstructed Proto-Indo-European as the earliest node in this linguistic family, and maniacally set about learning as many Indo-European languages as I could in order to understand the details of its reconstruction. By the time I graduated, I was taking Hittite, Russian, Polish, and French simultaneously, and had studied German and Old English in other semesters. I was also teaching myself Latin, Norwegian, Gothic, and Sanskrit. I have maintained all of these languages actively in the years since, and added a few others. I often operate in this way, becoming fixated on a topic and devoting most of my free time to it. As I studied, I was driven by a beautiful image of the sunken proto-language, lost in the fog of time, but visible nonetheless. By asking the right questions of the threads it left behind, I could glimpse it, 6000 years below, and trace many features. A similar vision arises when I consider the detection of exoplanets or listen to the music of Perotin. This feeling is often in my music.
I often employ techniques from various historical musics, which to me are overflowing with symbolic weight. This semantic richness flows not only from allusion to earlier music, but the inherent properties I see in these techniques. For instance, I strongly associate canons with dilation of time. It is as if the same instant is attempting to prolong and duplicate itself, indefinitely stretching out of focus into the the past and future all at once. It is the paradox of the unity of the subject and the fracture of staggered entrances. I find this effect especially heightened with prolation canons, and get a similar image from serial permutations such as inversions and retrogrades. Furthermore, their status as an arcane form, themselves dredged from the sea of time is a key component in this network of associations. Additionally, my anachronistic juxtaposition of historical and present-day musical elements relates to my interest in the kaleidoscoping of time.
Recently, I have also become interested in alternate tunings, with my masters thesis exploring ancient Greek and Indian tunings and scales, analyzing them with methods from historical linguistics. This is something I intend to incorporate in my music going forward, and I would especially like to work with Donnacha on this topic. I attribute this interest in part to watching the recording of Tessallatum at Greenhouse Studios in Iceland, as that was one of the first times I watched musicians work with such specific tunings up close. This also made me realize how handy studio technology can be for bringing such specific ideas to life.
These are examples of what I mean when I say that learning is the fundamental process behind my creative work. Usually, when I take an interest in something, I begin thinking of how to represent it musically. In return, this process of creating helps me to learn more about the world around me, myself and the things I am drawn to, and to synthesize these ideas and share them with others.
As a teacher, I have primarily worked tutoring music theory, with some composition and foreign language students. I find teaching students at any level of ability or interest tremendously satisfying. Helping highly-motivated young musicians develop and begin to answer the questions that continue to enthrall me can be almost as fulfilling as creating music myself. I also genuinely enjoy working with students who are not as engaged with the material; even if I can slightly enhance their appreciation of music, or simply help them to pass a class, I enjoy the feeling of using my specialized knowledge to help others. Many of my fascinations are solitary projects and can feel isolating. Teaching is a wonderful way to remain more engaged socially and use my interests to make a direct impact in other peoples' lives. I am enticed by the opportunity to hone my pedagogical skills at Princeton, without being so overburdened that my creative work would suffer, as I imagine it would at many other institutions.
I very much enjoy collaborating and playing in bands (I play bass in two bands and also have an electronic pop project). Occasionally, I play bass or piano in pieces by other composer friends or myself (especially in the NYU composer’s ensemble). I also play in Consensus, a group-listening-based improv collective founded with other NYU composers. These are additional ways that I enjoy balancing out the cerebral and solitary aspects of my work. Around Halloween, I played bass in a cover show. I look back on playing Shaggy's It Wasn't Me and looking out at a whole room of smiling, dancing people and thinking that this is as important and beautiful as anything else I do.
Academic Writing Sample
Here is my masters thesis from NYU: It deals with reconstructing Proto-Indo-European music, a topic which I hope to explore further in my dissertation. Below is the PDF, as well as audio examples for the scales presented in figures 3 and 4 on page 9. The audio examples feature ascending and descending scales in sine waves, with and without a drone on the fundamental tone, as well as brief improvisations over the drone. Both scales are arbitrarily presented with D as the fundamental tone in order to facilitate comparison.
ACRAEA - Ions
(written and recorded 2017-2018 to be released 2019)
This is a nearly-finalized mix of a track I produced and co-wrote as part of my electronic pop duo, ACRAEA. This collaboration is the result of years of close work with singer/songwriter Leora Mandel; beginning when we were students at Interlochen over a decade ago. This single is to be released in advance of an EP consisting of five songs. Several of the other songs feature saxophone parts recorded by Shelley Washington, although this single is the only example I feel is complete enough to present.
Bach Party - Gradus ad Parnassum: Curse of the Ninth
If you are strapped for time, this is the least important item on the page. If you just want a taste of something different, I would skip to c. 2'55" to see my character and the costume I designed (I'm the purple guy).
This short film is a collaboration with my film-making collective Bach Party. The three of us met in music school at the University of Michigan, and share writing, acting, directing, scoring, and post-production work on small budgets of a few hundred per film, which we have financed either out of pocket or thought crowd funding. In addition to acting and script writing, I was responsible for the soundtrack and sound design, and did about half of the editing for this project. I am very interested in film making, and while this is a wacky short comedy, I also plan to create multi-media dramatic works combining film and music (the form of"visual albums" and Lisa Bielawa's Vireo are general examples of the sort of work I imagine).
One such project I would love to work on while at Princeton is a serialized film built around my cycle of Latin poetry set from Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, with spoken English dialogue between musical numbers (imitating the prosimetric structure of the source material). I completed most of this music (c. 40' for two singers, string quartet, flute, bassoon, and electronics) between 2016 and -18, but am not able to create studio recordings or the film without more financial backing and time to work on it.