Midyear Music

While a clichéd sentiment to express, it never ceases to astound me (nor anyone else, for that matter) how fast time passes. As I write this, we are already past the 2022 midyear mark. For me, this year has been quite interesting professionally – working on a variety of projects in a number of genres.

NEW ELECTRONIC MUSIC ALBUMS

Among other projects, the year began with my working mostly in electronic music. My most recent electronic music albums (released since the last newsletter) include Clues & Sublimation and Mystery Music IV.

(Clues & Sublimation – front and back cover art)
(Mystery Music IV – front and back cover art)

Both albums are musical puzzles, or mysteries. The very title Clues & Sublimation ought to give the listener a sense that what they hear on the album has layers of meaning and significance, both musical and extra-musical.

Clues & Sublimation is one of my most important works, and the most technically/musically advanced of my electronic music albums. Unfortunately, to my disappointment, the album has not been popular. In fact, when I posted an excerpt of the album (Feminine Types, the album’s opening track) on Facebook, I lost four subscribers within a matter of a day or two. Their unsubscribing could be sheer coincidence, but I don’t believe so. The music is weird – and, apparently, a bit too weird for for some!

Like the Mystery Music album that preceded it, Mystery Music IV consists of a collection of works that, for one reason or another, had to be presented in ways other than those in which I originally intended. Like Clues & Sublimation, Mystery Music IV has autobiographical elements. Anyone who knows me personally will immediately pick up on this, when they examine the album’s cover art – particularly the back cover, which is the first time I’ve used a photo of myself on the covers of one of my albums.

I design the artwork for my own albums, and I’m particularly fond of collage. Collage facilitates the use of symbolism; a technique of communication very dear to me. Most of the albums I’ve released this year (including Clues & Sublimation) feature highly symbolic/suggestive collage cover art.

For reasons that are probably absolutely clear, I chose to use two of my favorite classic paintings for the Clues & Sublimation artwork. These include “Nude” (1873), by Vito d’Ancona (1825 – 1884),

and “Pharaoh’s Handmaidens” (1883), by John Collier (1850 – 1934).

It should come as no surprise to those familiar with my work that the front covers of both albums feature photos of the beautiful Mata Hari (1876 – 1917).

STAR-CROSSED: SONG WITHOUT WORDS FOR PIANO AND ROCK MUSIC

Recently I received some feedback from people who enjoy my music. None of these people are musicians – professional or amateur. However, they are loyal listeners to my (often challenging) music, and their feedback meant a lot to me.

One person told me that they had increasing difficulty following the new electronic works. Another person was frank enough to tell me that – while he had not tried it himself – he felt that taking LSD would facilitate listening to Clues & Sublimation.

Clues & Sublimation proved a challenging album for many, it seems.

The feedback basically amounted to encouraging me to release some more recordings of solo piano compositions and improvisations, since many of these works are quite accessible, and some are among my most popular videos on YouTube.

While people really seem to joy my solo piano works in and of themselves, the ones they tend to like the most are those inspired by the ups and downs of romantic love. My piano improvisation, Going, Going, Gone, in particular received a wonderfully positive response.

I therefore put together Star-Crossed: Songs without Words for Piano, a collection of both some of my most popular piano improvisations, as well as several older love/heartbreak-related piano/keyboard compositions.

(Star-Crossed: Love Songs without Words for Piano front cover artwork)

The album also features a couple piano arrangements. The title track, Star-Crossed (2019), was originally a work for clavichord. Daydreaming (2021) is an organ composition, Carson Cooman’s recording of which opens the Organ Works (Volume IV) album.

While putting together Star-Crossed, I decided to return to promoting another album that is quite accessible – Rock Music. Hopefully more people will check out my music, via these more accessible albums.

(Rock Music – front and back cover artwork)

HARMONIUM MUSIC

Of the recent recordings made of my music, among those about which I am most excited are Carson Cooman’s recent recordings of my harmonium works.

Under the August Night Sky
Far Away From Me
Painted Leaves
A Short Offertory
Vespers

All five pieces were composed last year (2021). For practical reasons, these compositions are scored for either harmonium or organ. By “practical” I mean that it’s more likely that these works will be performed on an organ than on an harmonium.

The first musical instrument I played – many decades ago, when I was a young boy – was a reed organ, and I’ve loved reeds organ ever since. It’s great to now have the opportunity to present recordings of these works performed on the instrument which I had in mind when I composed them. A thousand thanks to Carson for these great recordings!

NEW ORGAN MUSIC

As I mentioned earlier in this newsletter, much of my work during the first half of this year was in electronic music. There is a very practical reason for this. If I were to compose, say, a string trio, the likelihood it would ever be performed, let alone recorded, is not great, to say the least. Since composing is not a hobby for me, but is actually part of how I earn my living, I have to invest my time in creating work for which I know I have a market. Even advanced/”weird” albums like Clues & Sublimation have an audience. It’s not a large audience, but it’s a faithful audience, and I appreciate their interest in following my work in increasingly sophisticated/complex electronic music.

My original plan for this year was to return to organ and choral music, since most of my compositional/recording work during the last ten or so months has been almost exclusively in electronic music. However, prior to several weeks ago, I had only published one organ work this year: Prelude for Valentine’s Day.

I had been working on several organ compositions throughout this year, but I wasn’t satisfied with any of them. One in particular proved surprisingly challenging – a prelude on an traditional Armenian “Kyrie” chant.

Around the time I completed recording the Night Paths album, I decided to put aside these liturgical organ works for a bit and approach things from an entirely different angle. It was at this point that the ideas for the new organ works came to me. The struggle ceased!

I decided I might like to compose a few shorter pieces for organists who have been particularly loyal in performing my organ music. The first work in this series that I completed was Tiento Frigio, a work I dedicated to Pietro Cattaneo.

Tiento Frigio is an interesting transitional work. In it, one not only hears the characteristics of my older organ compositions, but one also gets a bit of a taste of the unusual/weird elements that were to come in the newer works.

The first of these newer works to be recorded was Nightmare Materials I.

This piece seems to have caused some confusion. Despite its title and ominous character, Nightmare Materials I was not at all intended to be horror-film-like music. On the contrary, the inspiration behind this piece couldn’t be more serious and profoundly tragic.

Nightmare Materials I is a programmatic work about experiencing the onset of symptoms of mental illness. To assist the performer in conveying this to listeners who may have no experience with mental illness – and to assist the average listener in understanding this piece – I used the analogy of a mental landscape.

From the score’s program notes:

“When discussing or considering the subject of mental illness, the behavior of the afflicted person is usually what is given most – and often sole – consideration. What is often overlooked is the fact that a mental illness is still an illness, and the person afflicted with these kinds of illnesses experience suffering – oftentimes unbelievably intense suffering – as a result of them. Given the illusive and, as yet, mysterious and unknown causes, their seat, as it were, in one’s central nervous system, and the unpredictable ways and times in which symptoms may manifest themselves, the suffering that results from a mental illness can be a truly tormenting, even hellish, experience. If this intense suffering, and the emotional and cognitive exhaustion that often results, were physically manifested in a landscape, Nightmare Materials I might be considered a musical soundtrack to the exploration of that landscape.”

Of the newer organ works, Nightmare Materials I was not the one I intended to publish first. However, it is the one I completed first.

On social media, I posted a visual clue as to the nature/background of the work I intended to be published first. The clue was William Blake’s Ancient of Days (1794).

For now, the only other thing I’ll say about that piece is that it’s not liturgical, though it could be considered rather theological – in a certain sense. I hope to have this composition completed within the next week or so. More about this soon!

OTHER NEW COMPOSITIONS

While working on the above-mentioned compositions, I took some time here and there to compose a few other works.

The first is a new harmonic labyrinth, for solo piano.

The second is a new computer music piece – another work inspired by the pioneers of early electronic music.

I also finally got around to completing Tonight, a pop instrumental which opens the Mystery Music IV album.

Finally, while this is not a new composition, I decided to completely remix a heavy metal track I recorded last spring for Segundo de Chomón’s 1912 short, L’iris fantastique. I re-titled the track Iris. Along with Tonight, this newly remixed track is included on Mystery Music VI.

This is a far superior version of this recording than the original recording heard on Electronic Music Film Scores (Volume II).

WHAT’S NEXT?

My plan for July is to focus on two compositions in particular: one for organ (mentioned previously – the one for which William Blake’s Ancient of Days serves as a visual clue), and the other for harmonium. I also have at least one new (non-keyboard) composition ready to be published, but more about that in next month’s newsletter.

I’m sure that I’ll also compose music other than organ music, and almost certainly I will record some keyboard improvisations. However, again, my primary goal is to complete the organ and harmonium works – or, at least, to complete as much of them as possible.

ONE FINAL NOTE

If you have not yet followed me on social media, I hope you will do so. I’d really like to grow my Facebook and Instagram pages in particular. Please like and subscribe to these and/or my other social media pages. Subscribe to my YouTube channel, or follow me on Spotify or SoundCloud. I really appreciate your support of my work.


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