photo by Dina Bova


for string quartet
duration: 6'
first performance: 14 April 2009; Taplin Auditorium, Princeton, NJ; The Formalist Quartet
availability: for sale
recording: non-commercial
detailed instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

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I have never thought of myself as a "modernist," but I'm not entirely sure what that means, either. In an article published in the February 23, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, literary critic Louis Menand made the following statement regarding modernism:

"How... did people like Picasso and Joyce change the game? They did it by shifting interest from the what to the how of art, from the things represented in a painting or a novel to the business of representation itself. Modern art didn't abandon the world, but it made art-making part of the subject matter of art."

I strongly agree with this—and several more—of Mr. Menard's assessments about modernism, especially as how they can be applied to music. Modernist music is largely considered to have begun with the advent of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School, from whence it spawned several succeeding generations of disciples, some admittedly more dogmatic than others. Many of these composers would go on to become luminaries, several of whom are my personal, creative idols.

Regardless, I have personally never been able to shift gears from a more "romantic" approach to composition into a more "modernist" approach. That is to say, one that is more stream-of-consciousness oriented and based on "in the moment" impulses rather than complexly fabricated systems or self-generating formal structures. I am, however, often deeply drawn to the sound of much modernist music — if not its mechanisms — and my attempts to capture the grit and tension that so often prevails in these works has often been the source of inspiration for many of my works, among them Sunrise from the Bottom of the Sea.

That being said, Cracks in the Ice is actually an experimental transcription of the first five minutes of Sunrise, which is a work for solo electric guitar and pre-recorded accompaniment (i.e. "tape") consisting of a multitude of other instruments, including recorders, crystal glasses, viola, glockenspiel, etc. While the piece was largely preconceived on paper, its final production was arrived at primarily through improvisation and multi-track recording.

Cracks In the Ice is an attempt to try and capture some of these more freely created ideas and represent them in standard notation for a more conventional ensemble. The idea is to see if my improvisations can retain their overall musical effect in a different instrumental and performance context. While I assume something will inevitably be lost in the translation, I nonetheless hope that something else might be gained.

In hindsight, it seems that Cracks In the Ice gained somewhat of modernist patina, although its structure is still the offspring of a creative process based on improvisation. Occasional echoes of the blues à la Jimi Hendrix also further serve to shatter the illusion of a "modernist" at work.