Until It Blazes

Until It Blazes is an amplified solo piece for piano, guitar or other plucked string instrument, harp, marimba, or vibes. The piece requires a stereo multi-tap digital delay for processing. You can also perform the piece using a MIDI keyboard or mallet controller. If you’re using a MIDI instrument, I can supply a Max patch that implements the delay as MIDI delay, if it’s easier to do that than to use an audio delay.

The piece’s duration is variable: I imagine it could work at any duration between six and twenty minutes. I have made a twelve minute version, but it is only one possible version of the piece: please don’t regard it as definitive.

The overall idea of the piece is to set up various repeating patterns and then gradually group the notes so that new melodies grow out of the accents. For example, when you are playing a three-note pattern, if you accent every fourth event, you will get one melody; if you accent every fifth event, you will get a different melody.

There are six patterns in Until It Blazes, each an outgrowth of the previous pattern. In each case, you will first want to establish the pattern very softly with no accents at all, and then very gradually begin to stress a grouping that creates a slower melody arcing across the pattern. This accenting happens gradually during a slow overall crescendo, reaches some high point, and then the accenting recedes as you diminuendo. The length of the piece will vary depending on how slowly you want the cross-melodies to build and recede. The most interesting place is where you can hear both the pattern and the melody that cuts across it.

Prior to beginning to play the piece, you can say the words: “I have cast fire upon the world, and watch, I am guarding it until it blazes.” This line is attributed to Jesus in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

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Cory Arcangel has created a video for the piece that can be played back in live performance. If you are interested in this aspect of the piece, please get in touch with me.

The stereo delay should be set up as follows: The left channel should have a delay time of 454 ms (equivalent to a dotted eighth at MM = 99) and should give three repeats. The right channel should have a delay time of 303 ms (equivalent to an eighth note delay at MM = 99) and have four repeats. The delay should be set to approximately 70% of the volume of the direct sound. The direct sound should come from the center of the stereo field.

Once you have reached the last pattern, you can begin to gradually bring in distortion or some other processing that gives the feeling of a watched fire beginning to blaze. Performers have handled this in a variety of ways, and I am open to all of them.

Until It Blazes is dedicated to Kathy Supové with love and thanks.

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There are three recordings of Until It Blazes currently available; all are performed on guitar. Here is Giacomo Fiori’s recording; here is Emanuele Forni’s; and here is Seth Josel’s. As you prepare to play the piece, you might also want to listen to my original keyboard version.

Until It Blazes is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to April 15th to watch Cory’s video and listen to an excellent live performance by Eric Mellencamp of the Robin Cox Ensemble on vibraphone.

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You can download a pdf of the score and information here. If you perform the piece, please let me know.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:



Well-Spent (2011) was written in response to a line in one of Leonardo’s notebooks that I came across soon after traveling down the Mississippi River by kayak and bicycle in 2009.

L’acqua che tochi de fiumi, è l’ultima di quella che andò, e la prima di quelle che viene; così il tempo presente. La vita bene spesa lunga è.
Leonardo: Notebook 1174

The water you touch in a river
is the last that has passed
and the first that is coming;
so with the present moment.

The well-spent life is long.
(evb translation)

The pre-recorded track of Well-Spent is made from Mary Rowell’s recording of the Muddy Waters 1942 tune You Got to Take Sick and Die Some of These Days. Well-Spent was commissioned by Ron Blessinger and the Third Angle Ensemble in memory of Donna Drummond. Many thanks to the Montalvo Arts Center, where I made the piece.

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Here is a solo live performance by Mary Rowell:

It’s also possible to perform Well-Spent with two live violins along with the pre-recorded track. You can hear the duo version performed by Ron Blessinger and Mary Rowell by visiting April 19  in my ongoing project A Book of Days.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

After you click the donation button below, you’ll get a link to download the pre-recorded track. If you’d like an Ableton Live session for easy click playback, just let me know.


The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a setting of three proverbs from William Blake’s book of the same name. The piece was commissioned and premiered by the Philadelphia ensemble Relâche in 1994.


opposition is true friendship

This proverb is the underlying concept for the first section of the piece: I’ve set up the standard son clave pattern of latin music, but offset metrically in a different way for each performer, so that the perceived downbeats of each person’s part are in opposition to one another.

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energy is eternal delight

This proverb is the underlying concept for the second section of the piece.

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you never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough

This proverb is the underlying concept and the sung text for the last section of the piece. {In fact, it is possible to perform this last section on its own: it was originally written for soprano, piano, and acoustic bass.} As you will notice, the piece devolves into the Bach chorale Es ist genug (it is enough) at the end. You can go here to hear about how I embedded a reference to this piece into my orchestra piece, The Continuous Life.

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You are welcome to download a copy of the score of the piece. while it was originally written for the instrumentation of Relâche, it’s pretty adaptable to re-orchestrations.

A recording of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is available on my New World CD, Tell the Birds, which you can get at all the usual places.

I welcome you to click the button to get a set of performance materials for The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

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[All the graphics on these pages are from william blake’s illustrations forThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell, although I messed with them a bit. I figure if he hand-colored each copy, I’m free to color these copies, no?!]


The Flood

The Flood is a setting of a poem Robert Frost wrote in 1928, in response to the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River that destroyed a million homes, drove hundreds of thousands of people – mostly poor and African-American – north, and transformed America.

The Flood (1928)
Blood has been harder to dam back than water.
Just when we think we have it impounded safe
Behind new barrier walls (and let it chafe!),
It breaks away in some new kind of slaughter.
We choose to say it is let loose by the devil;
But power of blood itself releases blood.
It goes by might of being such a flood
Held high at so unnatural a level.
It will have outlet, brave and not so brave.
Weapons of war and implements of peace
Are but the points at which it finds release.
And now it is once more the tidal wave
That when it has swept by leaves summits stained.
Oh, blood will out. It cannot be contained.

My land in Vermont is just a few miles from where Frost lived for many years, and I felt what I imagine to be a parallel rage and impotence in response to Katrina.

The Flood is one piece in a projected evening-length project about floods and transformation, which will also respond to the ongoing tragedy of Katrina, the Biblical flood, and the Mississippi River and its place in American culture.

The Flood is October 22nd in my ongoing project A Book of Days. The premiere recording of the piece is on Songs from the River Project, Volume 1.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. I’m open to you arranging it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind. I can supply you with a backing track for your specific needs.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:


Take Your Joy

Take Your Joy is a piece for SATB mixed chorus (minimum 6-6-3-3 singers, but the bigger the better) and electronics. The piece is a response to an organ piece by Olivier Messiaen called Puer natus est nobis, which is part of the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The choral part is a canon made from Messiaen’s harmonization of the traditional Christmas day introit. I have also incorporated an excerpt from John 16:21-23:

When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you will have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

The electronic part, both the pain and the joy, is made using transformations of a recording of the olive-tree warbler (hippolais olivetorum). This birdcall appears transcribed for organ in Messiaen’s piece. The olive-tree warbler uses Palestine/Israel as a stopover in its winter migration between the Balkans and southern Africa.

Take Your Joy was commissioned by the Amherst College Choir, Mallorie Chernin, conductor, and written in October 2004 while in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Take Your Joy is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear a demo recorded by Corey Dargel, Joseph Hallman, and me at the Atlantic Center, please visit April 6th.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. For the pre-recorded track needed to perform the piece, please click the button:


No Delight in Sacrifice

No Delight in Sacrifice is a short response to my least favorite masterpiece, The Rite of Spring. I’ve taken materials from Stravinsky’s dazzling work and re-shaped them to stand against the glamorization of killing in the name of higher powers and for the joy of renewal and rebirth that spring embodies. The bassoon begins the piece with a plainchant version of Psalm 51 that was my guide in this re-composition: “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.”

No Delight in Sacrifice was commissioned by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra in celebration of their 80th Anniversary Season, and was premiered in Burlington on 6 December 2014 on a concert that included The Rite of Spring.

No Delight in Sacrifice is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a recording of the premiere by visiting May 29th.
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You can download a score of the piece here. You can purchase performance materials by clicking the link below.

And thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!


Making Hey

Making Hey, for spoken voice, piano four-hands, bass, and as many percussionists as you’d like, was written for a festschrift published by Open Space Magazine celebrating my composition teacher, JK Randall.

The text for Making Hey is a gratuitously excellent piece of anonymous work that arrived in an email offering to increase my penis size or refinance my mortgage. I no longer remember which, since I lack both. (This method for confusing spam filters is called Bayesian poisoning, and there’s some pretty cool math involved, I recommend checking it out.)

I have set the text (unchanged except for punctuation) to an adaptation of a two-piano piece called Making Hay, which I wrote in 1980 and dedicated to Jim at that time. This new piece starts out with the same student piece, but gradually clarifies and simplifies it in response to the bass and percussion line I have added all these years later.

The bass and percussion are an adaptation of a Gnawa performance I’ve totally fallen in love with. You can listen to it at this Youtube link:

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Making Hey is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a recording of the piece by visiting June 16th.

You can download a score of the piece here. The percussionist(s) should come up with their own interpretation of Gnawa rhythm when performing the piece. You can purchase performance materials for the other instruments by clicking the link below.

And thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!