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Work Samples

Wooden Walk (excerpt)

an excerpt of a piece on a work-in-progress instrumental cassette "No Place"

a cover.jpg

"Old Glow" Lp. Released in January 2023 with collaborator Wheatie Mattiasich. "This Way" a track from this record was written about on NPR's Now Playing.

moose (virtual performance excerpt

excerpt from a virtual performance video

Sunset at Owl's Head (animated performance of first section)

Since the pandemic has halted possibilities of live performances, I did a hand drawn animation for the first section of the title track, to replace what would have been a record release performance. I wanted to be physically present in the performance through the lines in the drawings, instead of doing a web performance. And instead of animating singing, I drew portraits of people that have influenced me to superimposed on the blank singing figure, when the voice is present.


About Stephen

Baltimore City

Stephen Santillan's picture
I am a Baltimore based musician, who was a Baker Artist Awards finalist in 2019. I have been performing music since 1995, and have been involved in many solo and collaborative projects (locally, as well as abroad) some of which have allowed me to tour throughout the United States and Europe. Outside of purely musical works, I have written music for films, theater and dance productions, art installations, and have also been a member of live DIY theater ensembles. With the helps of a BOPA grant, I've... more

Sunset at Owl's Head - music for solo performances

All the non-collaborative music I have written in the past required organizing groups of musicians to perform it. The current music trend of performing with backing tracks in a live setting was not something I intended to explore. However, the unustainable nature of hiring musicians for orchestral work, along with the opportunity to intermingle instruments that wouldn't normally be grouped together, have made the idea more intriguing. With this in mind, I started working on a perfomable solo project , which became "Sunset At Owl's Head." This approach also helped me bridge the gap between eastern and western music. Being born in the Philippines, I have always been interested in folk traditions in music. As a main performing vehicle for this project, I was exploring alternative guitar approaches that didn't use the strumming of chords, common in western pop music. Instead, I was interested in the use of eastern and western Asian techniques and modes, which I synthesized within pop structures. A guitar played this way helped me keep the live guitar elements completely enganged, to help keep balance with the non-liveness of the backing tracks.  But the use of  the backing tracks also allowed me to use ensemble passages to give the pieces a more modern western texture. Large group performances and non-western approaches to music are ongoing motivational factors for me, and this project is a culmination of both influences, as well as a culmination  of the various approaches I have been experimenting with in other projects. I am looking forward to playing more solo shows in the future and am currently working on new music for this project.

Wheatie Mattiasich

I started accompanying Wheatie for live shows in 2011, and naturally started writing songs with her. I recorded her 2013 record "Little Black Star" and co-wrote a few songs on that record. We just released an LP, "Old Glow" in January 2023 and plan on touring to support the album. One track "This Way" was recently spotlighted on NPR's Now Playing.

No Place

"No Place" will be the fourth in a series of solo cassettes I have been releasing. The title, as well as being the beginning of "no place like home" (the bulk of these pieces were written during the lockdown of 2020 and the beginning of 2021), also refers to the pieces in this collection not fitting within the confines of the other solo projects I have been working on. Most of the music I have written have been for live performances and with the halting of live music during the pandemic, I shifted my attention to experimenting with instrumental music, either written for it's own sake or informed by a visual narrative. All the other solo cassettes have included instrumental tracks, so working this way has always been part of my practice. But this collection is an expansion of the instrumental idea withoug limiting myself to specific approaches inherent to other projects.

  • Winter Surf (2023).mp3

    This will be the first track of the all instrumental cassette
  • foundling - excerpt (2022).mp3

    Excerpt from a piece written to a short film
  • Bacchus 2022.mp3

    New mix and edit from a longer score for the cassette
  • Ark

    Originally written in 2016 for an art installation by Zoe Friedman's "By Land or By Sea." This piece is a loop that goes on continuously, here represented by one cycle. The music is a 2 minute loop that plays continuously. There are 2 string ensemble entrances that change the the mood from a passive rhythm to a more suggestive tone, each variation changing the mood in different ways.
  • Hills

    This is an experiment with orchestrating one verse and one chorus of pre-existing song by Sybille Baier in an instrumental way
  • Walk

    This was written/orchestrated for an evening where Wheatie Mattiasich and I were asked to play records and perform a set of music. The idea was a conceptually blurring between djing and performing. I wanted to perform a song that was mostly un-performable due to the highly orchestrated nature of the piece. I joined in the performance by playing along with the guitar, starting with a few phrases in the middle, and eventually joining in fully at the end. I wanted to further blur the two ideas by using a pre-existing song, but also making it my own by drastically changing the feel and mood
  • No Place

    A work-in-progress instrumental track

Ceremony Drum

Ceremony Drum started off as a writing  exercise based on an image of a pop band in the dark. I imagined a group of musicians where the view of the lead vocalist, ususally the most visible in a pp group would be obscured by darkness and by his posotion in the back of the stage. I also imagined a drummer being front and center, and only having a floor tom instead of a full drum kit, and he would be the only person standing on stage. I liked the idea of the drummer's repetitive motion being the only visible element of the live performance. From this image, I imagined what this group would sound like. At first, I was just using this as an exercies to quickly write a song to help me take a break from the more involved pieces I was working on. But after some time, I realized I had accumulated a some good songs adn decided to take this project more seriously. I put together a group to perform this live in 2019 and hope to do more shows in the future. I am still writing new material for this project.

Ghost Life

Ghost Life was an ensemble project based on mostly small rhtythmic instruments .  When it first started, I wanted to combine my love of pop and ethnic music with ensemble organization.  The instrumentation allowed me to put percussion up front to form its own narrative.  At an age where anybody can play a single instrument and fill up a room completely with sound, I wanted all the individual sounds of the group to be tiny.  I also tried to avoid any use of chord progressions, relying instead on the constanly shifting rhythmic elements and combinations to sustain interest in the pieces.   I made some virtual ensemble performances to highlight the physical elements of the sound.  That element is an important factor in this music and might be lost on just a listen through.   After years of performances with little documentation, I wanted to have some representation that would highlight the sound generating process of the physical action.  

  • Ghost Life - Moose

    2nd virtual ensemble video for Ghost Life
  • Ghost Life - Hands (2018)

    virtual ensemble performance video
  • Ghost Life cassette

    Cassette release of Ghost Life and Relay project together. Release date pending due to problems with the tape transfer of the recording. But it should be out by late winter 2021.
  • Morning Roosters (2018)

    First part of a projected cylce of 8 parts.
  • a3

    ghost life performance at floristree. february, 2014. filmed by thomas kessler.
  • ghostbeat4

    ghost life performance at floristree. february, 2014. filmed by thomas kessler.

Miscellaneous pieces

The constant search for inspiration leads to experimenting with ideas that don't necessarily fit in within the confines of existing project. Some pieces were written just to be its own thing project with an end.

  • Looking Glass River (2021)

    A setting of Robert Louis Stevensons's "Looking Glass River" for organ and chorus (here represented by MIDI sounds)
  • Alan Moore 2021

    After working with the Officer! track, Jared Paolini, Jeff Mcgrath, and myself decided to work on a couple more tracks in the studio.
  • Apse Coo 2020

    This was an experiment in writing a serial piece using a set of dyads to generate the composition
  • Relay song cycle

    While working on the Ghost Life project, I started working on a drum machine driven experiment that wasn't hindered by the idea of having to perform it live. It also gave me the freedom to work outside the confines I had set for myself with Ghost Life, while using techniques I had learned from that projects. The idea is that a constantly shifting drum machine idea eventually gives way to more melodic instruments sprouting out of its rhythmic bed. There are 4 movements. Movement 1 and 2 start instrumentally, and eventually vocals come in towards the end of those sections.

Music for other people's projects

Music written for other people's projects

  • Night Jungle (2022).mp3

    Music written for an animated installation by Zoe Friedman
  • 2018 exquite corpse soundtrack- The Adventures of Prince Achmed

    On October 13, 2108, I took part in 2 live performances of an exquisite corpse soundtrack. New music was written for different sections of the film by different artists, and was performed at the Parkway Theatre. This section was written in collaboration with Emmanuel Nicolaidis playing vibraphone and floor tom. This was a home draft our section, so the vibraphone and drum is not present in this version. The video footage is still being put together at the time of this post.
  • Amores Hallaras (2016)

    An arrangment of a Peruvian song for a wedding ceremony.
  • Novoline- track40 w piano (2013)

    I was asked to contribute extra piano tracks by Berlin based musician, Novoline
  • Ishi's Brain (2012)

    Music written for travelling puppet performance of Ishi's Brain, used to promote book by Eamon Espey, of the same name.
  • Children in Heat (rough mix) (2009)

    Song written in collaboration with Emmanuel for "Children in Heat" a video by Deitra Thompson, based on a song by the Misfits.

Past collaborative music projects

  • Oh Hang 2013-2016

    Oh Hang was a collaboration with Emmanuel Nicolaidis (drums, vocals) and myself (keyboards, drum machine). Pre-programmed drum machines and samples against live drums and keyboards were used to generate the music for this project. We released an album of Friends Records in 2015.
  • Permanent Waves 2016-2017

    This was a collaboration between Emmanuel Nicolaidis (bass), Jeff Mcgrath (guitar), Christina B (vocals) and myself on drums. We recorded an album in El Paso, Tx in 2017.
  • Cole Tut 2014-2015

    Collaborative project with Jeff Mcgrath (guitar), Lesser Gonzales (vocals), Chris Day (bass) and myself on drums. We released a cassette in 2016. Cover art by Chris Day
  • Thank You live photo from London in 2011

    I joined pre-existing band Thank You in 2011. I toured and released a single with them on Thrill Jockey Records
  • "Night Now Is Sleeping Soundly" (2007)

    Movement 1 of 4 from the Golden Age. Golden Age was a collaborative song cycle written with Emmanuel Nicolaidis for an art opening at the Current Gallery for "Inside/Out" in 2007. It was written to find the intersection between pop songs and classical song cycles. It was performed again in 2008 as part of Whartscape.
  • "Western" (2007)

    Movement 4 of 4 from Golden Age. Golden Age was a collaborative song cycle written with Emmanuel Nicolaidis for an art opening at the Current Gallery for "Inside/Out" in 2007. It was written to find the intersection between pop songs and classical song cycles. It was performed again in 2008 as part of Whartscape.
  • More Dogs 2000-2006

    A studio project collaboration which turned into a live performance trio. We released 2 albums S?T (2003) and "Never Let Them Catch You Crying" (2005) on Monitor Records. We toured throughout the United States and Canada.

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