Like sleeping giants, hardly breathing (2013)

for trombone quartet
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Like sleeping giants, hardly breathing is what Morton Feldman once said about Jasper Johns’ larger canvases, which were found “asleep” in the artist’s studio. Maybe it’s appropriate that this piece took me four years to write. For so long it existed as the dream of an actual piece. This was the first piece I envisioned myself writing in 2009 after I began to deal with the concepts of image, memory, and history put forth by Walter Benjamin. The trombone seemed like the perfect instrument to embody the concepts offered in Benjamin’s Arcades Project. So much of the trombone’s sonic identity is tied up in what it has represented throughout its course of history, the roles it plays in various musical contexts, not to mention the ways we, as modern listeners, relate to the sound of the trombone. By composing this piece I aim to capture what Benjamin might call the dialectical image of the trombone at various moments in its life: sonic pictures of familiarity, where past fuzes with present and “blasts” the trombone out of its historical embeddedness.

This method of composing offers a new orientation toward collage works. The sometimes gradual, sometimes rapid jump cutting and splicing unfolds as its own kind of musical voice; a third dimension of the music whose movement is felt as the fluctuation among fragments, quotes, and styles. “Legitimate” styles of the Western classical canon are then pitted against the “illegitimate,” those far too often overlooked by the academy (everything from East-European gypsy folk music to noise to American white-bred “space age bachelor” music, quazi-Esquivel, etc.). Similar dialectical (antithetic) axes can be constructed around quickly- vs. gradually-shifting textures, acoustic vs. electronic compositional techniques, and other parameters. In this piece many such electronic processes are at work. For example, pairs of melodies are often ring modulated with each other, with the two side-bands notated in the other two parts.

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