for Piano and Cued Samples

When I was in college, I always liked to practice late at night. Sometimes, when no one else was there, and it was just me and the piano, it would feel a bit like start-gazing. The sound world of the piano felt like a vast, uncharted territory.

Image of the newly christened supercluster Laniakea. Its delicacy and vast inscrutability seem somehow fitting with this piece. Check out the article on it in Nature magazine.

On one such night, distracted from what I ought to have been practicing, I found myself exploring some soft, slowly evolving sonorities on the keyboard while scraping my house keys against the upper strings and the pegs. In that late-night context, the combination felt delicate, almost sacred. I jotted it down as best I could, but in the ensuing years I could never quite figure out what to do with it.

Some years later, as a graduate student, needing to complete a piece for a festival, I decided to take another look at the material. I began by writing several very short gestures at the piano, derived from the harmonies I had been playing with. Having collected a sufficiently diverse assortment of gestures, I proceeded to combine them together in various orders and transpositions to form longer gestures. These longer, compound gestures I then combined to form short phrases. Finally, I combined those phrases into sections, and those sections into an overarching form.

As for the quiet key-scrapings, I knew that they would not work so well in the larger space of a concert hall. So instead of playing them live, I recorded them and set things up so that they could be cued by a MIDI-footpedal. In performace, the goal is for the recorded samples and the live piano to fuse into a single instrument.

It took a long time, but I hope that I captured some element of the sense of vastness that I felt that one night in college.

You can take a look at the score here.


More recently, through a collaboration with pianist Juliann Ma and the SEAS (Sustainable Environment through the Arts and Sciences) project, a choreography was created for Formations, inspired by the concept of Isostasy and the dramatic changes that are occuring to our glaciers due to climate change. The dance and the music together are entitled "Isostasy".

Take a look at the video below (music/dance starts at 4:30):

(At the moment, there seems to be something wrong with the sound; the piano is too loud relative to the recorded samples, and cracks a bit.)


Many thanks to my teacher, Joel Feigin, with whom I had many fruitful conversations about the form this piece might take. Thanks also to Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) for allowing me to record with their piano and microphones. The openness with which people at CCRMA offer their resources and expertise, even to someone who graduated years ago, is pretty remarkable, and I owe them a great debt of gratitude for more than just this piece.