The Twelve Tones of Christmas

[Update below] The last thing I should be thinking about right now is teaching, following my release from it last Friday. But I'm designing, for next fall, a course that I've threatened to teach for years: 12-tone Analysis. I've been recycling the same courses (Renaissance counterpoint, 18th-century sonata, 19th-century harmony, 20th-century analysis) for years, and if I don't come up with something new I'll bore myself to death. I even had a vivid dream that I was teaching a serialism course, and woke up excited about it, until I started … [Read more...]

A Snapshot of Life Circa 2009

I've kept you too long in suspense about the upshot of Saturday night's thingNY concert, which took place during a momentous blizzard that must have cut heavily into its audience. The evening consisted, not of pieces by all the composers on the program, but of just about everything the group got back in response to their mass e-mail, including a few "unsubscribe" messages, a Halloween greeting, some jpegs, a description of a piece submitted with way too large an instrumentation, some mp3s, and about half a dozen pieces, like mine, written for … [Read more...]


Several weeks ago I got an e-mail from some ensemble called thingNY purporting to offer a farflung, general spam commission for works to perform. The ensemble was listed as clarinet, saxophone, percussion, voice, violin, and cello. Now, you may recall that on my Amsterdam sabbatical I had the pants charmed off me by a local street-music group of clarinets, accordions, sax, and drum, and ever since then I've been itching to write something loud and fast for that combination. With its clarinet, sax, and drum, thingNY was close enough. I checked … [Read more...]

Thawing the Scale

Someone has finally come up with an easily retunable piano. Looks (and sounds) a little more like a clavichord, actually, and while I'm pleased about the retuning, each string appears to have only about a whole tone's leeway. You're still more or less limited to 12 pitches to the octave, but there's a lot you can do with that: not only meantone and other historical temperaments, but the tunings of most of the standard pieces for retuned piano: Ben Johnston's Suite for Microtonal Piano, The Well-Tuned Piano, The Harp of New Albion, and so on. … [Read more...]