Emergence (for Flute Quartet, with prerecorded audio and video projection)

for four flutists, prerecorded audio and video projection (2010) ca. 28′

Commissioned by the Latvian Culture Capital Fund for the Riga-based Flute Quartet 4-tune. Premiered at the Ave Sol Concert Hall in Riga, Latvia, on April 7, 2010.

Flutes: Dace Bičkovska, Lolita Oša, Anna Petraškeviča, Daina Treimane
Video Projection: Uģis Brikmanis (Movements 1-3) & Charles Griffin (Movement 4)
Choreography: Sandra Vītola & Māris Pūris
Dancers: Einārs Lazdiņš, Agnese Pūre, Toms Sandors, Sergejs Zeļeskis


Purchase a PDF of the score & parts, audio & video files for $75 via PayPal:















Emergence Program Notes

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” – Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 1859

For the past 15 years, my reading of scientific literature has affected my worldview, brought me solace, and sparked my imagination. The job of science, as I see it, has always been twofold: to rationally peer behind the veil of reality and discover what is there, and also to imagine future possibilities. I find it fascinating how fantastical reality can actually be, and that so many connections exist amongst ourselves and with our world once we actually look.

The science of Emergence, which has no direct translation in Latvian, is the study of how complexity emerges from essentially simple component parts.

King Solomon urged us to look to the ants, “consider her ways and be wise; which having no guide, overseer or ruler, provides her meat in the summer and gathers her food in the harvest.” Scientists and businesses now use Ant Colony Optimization algorithms and other Swarm Intelligence methods for problem solving. Bees, birds, fish and locusts follow essentially three simple rules of movement in groups, and it turns out, humans follow the same rules when walking in a crowded urban environment. The first movement is a structured improvisation for the flute quartet where they use swarming rules to create their music.

The human brain, with its modular structure weaved together by roughly 30 billion neurons electrically firing chemicals across synapses in synchronous waves that produce measurable electronic current up to 12 Hz, is the ultimate example of complexity. Understanding our brains is yet another way of understanding our own evolution as a species: at the deepest level is the emotionless reptilian brain stem, controlling our metabolic system and incapable of anything we would call thought; then comes the limbic system, from which comes our primary emotions and which we share with most other mammals, enabling us to form powerful bonds with each other and with them; stacked on top are the two hemispheres of the neocortex, from which we get abstract and analytical thought, language, and of course, art. As Steven Johnson says in his book Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, “ The more you learn about the brain, the more you understand how exquisitely crafted it is to record the unique contours of your own life in those unthinkably interconnected neurons and their firing patterns.”
For this movement I sampled a recording of a symphony by the Baroque composer William Boyce, which was used in an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study of how the brain organizes segmented events. The flute quartet part is largely based on rhythms borrowed from gamelan music, where multiple players create a complex interlocking structure based on simpler rhythmic units.

Researchers into artificial intelligence are using the human brain as a model of learning. While estimates vary of exactly when a completely new form of life will be created by us, inorganic but self-aware, I have no doubt that it is inevitable. And that will naturally force us to question the nature of existence and sentience, and given enough time, might even become a new pathway for human evolution. You can decide for yourself the moral or ethical implications. For this movement, I sampled/quoted two orchestral pieces: Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question, in which the trumpet part asks “The Perennial Question of Existence,” and the Hymn section of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, “Veni Creator Spiritus.”

I decided to go a less serious route with the fourth movement, and create a piece that is somewhat spontaneously created by the flute quartet and the audience. I learned how to use Adobe After Effects to create an animated graphic score, where shapes or graphics of four colors, red, blue, green and yellow are each interpreted by a different flutist, and text or symbol cues are given to the audience to shout, sing or speak. After about a minute, an electronic score enters underneath, comprised mostly of prerecorded human speech and sounds.

Fischiettando – Arrangement for Piccolo, Violin, Cello, and Tambourine (optional)

An arrangement for Piccolo, Violin, Cello, and optional Tambourine of a traditional Sicilian melody. (2008) ca. 1’30”

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Live performance by Uncle Joe members Liene Denisjuka, piccolo, Iveta Dejus, violin, Ursula Jurjana, cello, and Charles Griffin, tambourine, live at the University of Liepaja in Liepaja, Latvia. This was part of Akti Nakti, an evening of performances by several groups throughout the city of Liepaja.

Panta Rei (Saxophone Quartet or Clarinet Quartet)

Saxophone Quartet or Clarinet Quartet (1997, rev. 2007) One movement, ca. 8’
Premiered by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet in Buffalo, New York.

“The other premiere was Charles Griffin’s Panta Rei, a pulsing, fast, free-flowing piece of tight, dense textures and few open spaces, save for an island of rather uneasy repose in the middle.” – The Buffalo News (9/19/99)

Here’s a video of Quattro Differente, from their recent performance at Rigas Jaunais Teatris in Riga, Latvia:

Program Note:

Panta Rei is a Greek expression attributed to Heraclitus, a philosopher who lived from 536 to 470 BC. The expression is meant to capture the experience of the flow of time. He argued that “One cannot step into the same stream twice, for other waters and yet others go ever flowing on;” that everything is constantly changing, from the smallest grain of sand to the stars in the sky. This description is also appropriate for a great deal of music, the art form most dependent on the flow of time and our experience of that flow. I came upon this quote and the idea for this piece after reading James Gleick’s “Chaos: Making a New Science.”

Nightsongs (Clarinet Quintet – Clar. & String Quartet)

Clarinet and String Quartet (2007), One Movement, 11’
Premiered by The Griffin Ensemble at Liepāja Symphony Concert Hall, May 2007.

Nightsongs     

Program Note:

This piece was originally a setting for baritone and string quartet of five short poems by the American poet, Langston Hughes, in one continuous movement. The majority of the piece is based on various transformations of a three-note, bluesy figure. I rearranged and also revised the set in late 2006 in preparation for a five-concert tour in Latvia with my ensemble in May and June 2007. Here are the original poems, in the order of their original appearance:

Night: Four Songs
Night of the two moons
And the seventeen stars,
Night of the day before yesterday
And the day after tomorrow,
Night of the four songs unsung:
Sorrow! Sorrow!
Sorrow! Sorrow!

Border Line
I used to wonder
About living and dying –
I think the difference lies
Between tears and crying.

I used to wonder
About here and there –
I think the distance
Is nowhere.

Drum
Bear in mind
That death is a drum
Beating forever
Till the last worms come
To answer its call,
Till the last stars fall,
Until the last atom
Is no atom at all,
Until time is lost
And there is no air
And space itself
Is nothing nowhere,
Death is a drum
A signal drum,
Calling life
To come!
Come!
Come!

Suicide’s Note
The calm,
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.

End
There are
No clocks on the wall,
And no time,
No shadows that move
From dawn to dusk
Across the floor.

There is neither light
Nor dark
Outside the door.

There is no door!

Kusanganisa (Flute and Marimba 4-hands)

Flute and Marimba Four-Hands, one movement (2003) ca. 6’30”
Commissioned by Queens Council on the Arts for the ensemble Percussia, Ingrid Gordon, director.

Listen to an excerpt performed by Nicole Camacho, flute, with Chris Bonacorsa and Cesare Papetti, marimba:

Kusanganisa excerpt     

Score and parts available for hard-copy purchase from Steve Weiss Music, or purchase a PDF of the score and parts via PayPal for $9:














Program Note:

Kusanganisa is a Shona word, which describes the idea of ‘mixture’. This piece is an arrangement of a work originally written for Flute, Violin, Cello, Percussion and Mbira, a sort of thumb piano of Zimbabwean origin. I chose the title to reflect the mixture of instruments from different cultures and the mixture of cultural influences I hope you’ll hear in the piece; the mbira passages translated to the upper register of the marimba in the middle of the piece, for example. Kusanganisa was commissioned by the Queens Council for the Arts for Ingrid Gordon and her ensemble, Percussia. I rearranged the piece at the request of three of my (now former) students at Hofstra University.

for the straight way was lost

Viola or Cello with Clarinet or Bass Clarinet or Alto Saxophone, 1 movement, (2002) ca. 8’
Commissioned and premiered by the Darkwood Consort, Boise, Idaho.

Here’s a video with Uldis Lipskis, clarinet, and Dina Puķite, Cello, from their performance with my ensemble at Rigas Jaunais Teatris in Riga, Latvia:


Program Note:

For the straight way was lost was commissioned and premiered by The Darkwood Consort in Boise, Idaho. The title became unintentionally more and more appropriate over time, as the work has undergone multiple revisions and tweakings and experiments. The title comes from a passage in Dante’s The Divine Comedy, and I chose it because, first, it includes the name of the ensemble that commissioned it from me, but second, it also seems a good description of how the compositional process sometimes goes; sometimes a piece takes unexpected turns (almost of its own volition) that then must be dealt with:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi retrovai per una selva oscura,
che la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
for the straight way was lost.

-Dante, from The Divine Comedy

How Do I Love Thee? (High Voice, Clarinet or Violin & Piano)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, text.
High Voice, Clarinet or Violin & Piano. (2000) 4’30”

A co-commission and premiere by The Lark Ascending, Nancy Bogen, director, and the Lyric Arts Trio.

Listen to a performance by Marcelle Duarte (Soprano), Dennis Jospeh (Clarinet) & Lin Lee (Piano):

How Do I Love Thee?     

SONNET #43, FROM THE PORTUGUESE
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

So, We’ll Go No More A-Roving (High Voice & Piano, opt. Clarinet)

Lord Byron, text.
for High Voice & Piano, with or without Clarinet (1999), ca. 3’30”

Commissioned and premiered by The Lark Ascending, Nancy Bogen, director.

Listen to a performance by Elizabeth Farnum (Soprano) & Peter Vinograde (Piano):

Roving     

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Select Instrumentaion Version



So, we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

Lord George Gordon Byron, 1788-1824