Working with Baltimore-based ensembles
"Mountain Piques" is a composition I wrote for the Pique Collective, a Baltimore-based contemporary music ensemble. It was premiered on October 18, 2018 at the Black Cherry Puppet Theatre, who crafted abstract shapes and choreographed their movement to the music.
The work is a quartet for three acoustic instruments (guitar, flute, and cello) and a fourth musician who, using a laptop computer's trackpad, controls a range of sounds just like a normal instrument.
"Mountain Piques" embraces many classical music archetypes. Before electronics, composers used the flute’s flutter, the cello’s warmth, and the guitar’s intimacy to convey imagery of nature. I add a psychedelic quality to the work's pastoralism with audio samples of birds, frogs, and ambience. Like much classical music, the piece also explores rhythmic complexity, polyphony, and uses four contrasting movements as an expressive canvass.
The slow first movement, "The Rainforest," ends with the metaphor of a ticking clock. "Bursting at the Brim," the title of the second, scherzo-like movement, comes from a line from “Ode to a Nightingale,” by John Keats. Electronics this time bring in the sounds of birds, again creating a musical metaphor.
"The Heaven of Animals" and "Waterfall" are longer and more experimental. In these movements, sounds of the forest become erie, with undulating pitched rhythms, and an aggressive electronic part. These movements also contain virtuosic solos in the cello, guitar and flute parts. One section features a drum with the flute, guitar, and cello perform much like their ancestor instruments from the Middle Ages. While the flute is normally considered a high pitched instrument, the third movement uses an alto flute to explore a darker, more melancholy side to the flute.
This project took about a year to complete. I spent seven months writing it, and the Pique Collective spent an additional four months learning to play it. The Pique Collective, whose vision is to bring new music to alternative venues, reached out to Black Cherry Puppet Theatre to create visuals for the piece. Puppeteers Michael Lamason, Jeanine Padgett, Emily Schubert, and Alissa Glenn crafted large, abstract shapes and choreographed them to the music.