A Few Comments on My Music
I think it is often dangerous to attempt to describe your own musical language. Inevitably, most composers — including myself — not only seem to have a warped sense of what their own music sounds like, but their music is also constantly developing. Nevertheless, here are a few general thoughts on my music and compositional philosophy, at least as it stands right now.
Most of my music tends to have a noticeable pulse. Some contemporary, American composers seem to embrace the concept of pulse-less music as if eliminating pulse is virtuous or more "artistic." I disagree: I think the use of pulse enables composers to create engaging music that has what I think is a central tenet in great music, goal-directed motion. This is one of my central goals with most of my recent music. Music is a linear, time-oriented art form and I think pulse is a tool that should not be ignored. I am not saying that all music must have a noticeable pulse, only that to do away with it completely is doing away with one of the greatest musical tools available. I think to use it well and not be trite is very difficult; this is why I think some contemporary composers choose not to use it.
My music also usually tends to be somewhat virtuostic, but hopefully also performer-friendly. Although I often use extended techniques, uncommon instruments and exotic modes of playing in my writing, I do this only if I think I can use them tastefully, creatively and with elegance. In contrast to some other contemporary composers, I place a great deal of emphasis on playability of my music when writing. I try to first invent what I want to hear and then figure out the easiest way of directing performers to do it.
One of my primary goals is to make sure all performances sound as similar as possible so that any one person who attends multiple performances of a piece of my music will know that it is the same piece. Because of this, I want the conductor and performers to have set limits for interpretation. Therefore, I usually do not choose to ask performers to improvise, but I do hope that they will give themselves the freedom to interpret and personalize my music. Great performers and conductors are a valuable resource: composers often fail to realize that seasoned performers and conductors can potentially add a great deal to a piece of music if they have the freedom to do so.
Musical Language and Style
For me, everything is fair game when writing music. If I need to use it, I will. I have no guilt regarding quoting, stealing, changing style, etc., although I am more concerned with using sound for its own sake than I am with whether I am quoting something (i.e. stealing) or using traditional techniques in my music.
Although I often use a variety of techniques and materials in my music, I strive for an aesthetic and overall language that is uniquely my own. I believe in using whatever material or style is appropriate for what I want to hear. I freely use whatever techniques will achieve the artistic end I am seeking; the whole world of music is here for the taking.
I have no fixed allegiance to a system. I am more concerned with having a mature, convincing artistic intent. I am concerned with the structural flow of ideas and with the ideas themselves and how they relate musically, not with stylistic consistency. I love throwing disparate elements together as a tool for creating beautiful art, not for the sake of experimentation. I believe that most of the methods, material and traditions already extensively used are still viable.
I try to cover the widest range of emotions possible in my music. Of all of the aspects of writing that seem to intrigue people regarding my work, my embracing humor is probably the most contentious: some people like, it, some do not. Many composers admit that they do not care to write "funny" music. It seems as if they think they are in danger of being considered trivial or not serious if they embrace humor. With or without humorous intentions, I am essentially interested in unifying all musical elements—and many non-musical elements (i.e. "noise")—into a cohesive whole.
Another goal of mine is to move beyond functional tonality by redefining its meaning, not by rejecting it altogether. I do not believe that tonality is dead, and I do not believe that to write tonally one must intimately know the past for fear of repeating it. The act of living in our modern world makes that possibility null and void since we have access to an enormous body of music outside of traditional, Western tonal music that will inevitably alter our perception of traditional tonality.
I often strive to express traditional, often tonal concepts through the addition of new and advanced techniques, new instruments and my trying to have a fresh, modern view of tonality. I try to merge tonal techniques with other harmonic systems, such as harmony based on non-Western scales and chord structures.
Regarding form, one particular goal I have is to make sure that, as with traditional, functionally tonal works, extended spans of my music have clearly defined, goal-directed motion, whether with large or small ensembles.
I am interested in merging various concepts into my own style: Romantic ideals, Classical techniques, extreme virtuosity and extremely clear but unconventional forms. I am not interested in certain forms such as theoretically defined "sonata" forms, but I am interested in standard multi-movement forms (fast, slow, medium, and fast) and traditional groupings such as string quartets.
Stravinsky once said "in borrowing a form already established consecrated, the creative artist is not in the least bit restricting manifestation of his own personality. On the contrary, it is more detached and stands out better when it moves within the definite limits of a convention." I could apply this statement to many of my own works, including the Symphony in Three Movements, Sextet, etc. Although my forms are often through composed, I consciously bring back materials in order to create a sense of cohesion.
As with most composers, my influences are constantly changing. Overall, my general influences come from nature and natural phenomenon, artists that use collage techniques, composers that use physical space in unique ways, cycles, innovative technology, machines and vibrant colors, both visual and aural.
Specifically, some of my recent influences have come from large works by Romantic composers such as Mahler and Strauss. I also very much like certain composers that are generally universally liked: Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky to name a few. Some of my current, favorite contemporary composers are John Adams, Luciano Berio, Elliot Carter, H.K. Gruber, Giya Kancheli, Aaron Kernis, György Ligeti, Magnus Lindberg, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich and Christopher Rouse. However, I am also greatly inspired by some of the "old masters" such as J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Dufay and Haydn. All of my past teachers have inspired and influenced me, without question, even if their aesthetic is different than my own. I definitely think there are bits and pieces of all of them in my music.
Innovation for the sake of inventing is of no interest to me in a finished piece of music. I look at music the other way around: I will invent if I need to in order to carry out my ideas, and I would hope that my ideas would be interesting enough to warrant the need to be innovative.
Innovation is primarily incidental rather than fundamental to my compositional process and is definitely secondary to my artistic intent. Whether my music is acoustic or electro-acoustic, I am concerned with using sounds in ways that are highly effective, whether I invent them or not.
I think the 20th century polluted many composers into thinking that they must focus on inventing rather than on creating music that moves people. I think that invention is important, but not at the sake of creating music that is cold and lifeless. Music without invention is shallow to me, but at the same time music that is only about invention is also shallow, but in a different way.
I think there are a large number of contemporary composers who do not have anything new to say and so they continue to express what has already been expressed using old tools and cliché techniques. These composers are not inventive, and perhaps innovation is not their focus. There are also composers who do not know how to move people, so they think inventing something new will be sufficient. I think that the key is to do both at the same time: to write moving music but also to be an innovator as necessary.