Nothing If Not

for woodwinds (2-2-2-2), percussion, piano, & double bass
duration: 12′
written for the American Modern Ensemble

Program Notes

Nothing If Not is a conscious departure from traditional woodwind writing (mine included). While writing this piece, some of the instruments’ artifacts—strange, unexpected sounds—were explored, and anything that even slightly resembled a pastorale was abandoned. In other words, I wanted the piece to sound as “non-woodwindy” as possible. (As a flutist/clarinetist, I say this with nothing but admiration for the instruments.)

The non-woodwindy influences are both visual and musical. The visual inspiration of the piece was the grainy haze of a television with no signal. The juxtaposition of this dense pixel pattern’s rugged qualities with the stark smoothness of a television’s glass façade informs the relentless opening of this piece, as coarse metallic sounds undulate under smoother, syrupy lines. Musically, the piece marries two disparate ideas: the dominant prolongation of the Andalusian Cadence (a research topic from my General Exams the year prior), and the quartertones that exist at the 11th and 13th partials of the overtone series. Finding common ground between these two ideas proved quite interesting, as I first wrote an Andalusian-inspired bass line and then considered the counterpoint between it and its overtones. I found that the overtones of the line’s descending chromatic pitches yielded an ascending quartertone scale, and that other adjacent notes of the line shared some overtones (give or take 10 cents). As the bass line is repeated throughout the piece in an almost passacaglia-like manner, certain overtones sound with these voice leading concepts in mind. All the aforementioned visual and musical concepts coalesce within the colorfully rich ensemble, as stacked and staggered monophonic lines create a persistent sense of tension that is nothing if not confident.

This work was composed for the American Modern Ensemble for their residency at Princeton University, where the piece was premiered by the ensemble on February 10, 2015. Heartfelt thanks to the ensemble (especially the flutists) and its conductor, Robert Paterson.