Performance of Closet Full of Demons for Sinfonietta with the Northwestern University Contemporary Music Ensemble, Timothy J. Robblee, conductor. Other works on the program include Joseph Schwantner's Music of Amber and Sparrows (with Amanda DeBoer, soprano) along with Patrick Burke’s Everything Else.
As a child, I remember being very afraid of my closet at night. I was sure that scary things were hiding in the back corner and that my closet was really a nighttime portal to a world of demons and monsters. A bracing, horrible dream I had one night as an adult reminded me of these childhood fears and hastened my writing this piece.
What kinds of sounds do demons and monsters make? What would they sound like crammed together in a gargantuan, pitch black, closet at night? I envisioned screaming, chaos, and violent infighting between the creatures. Sometimes these hellish monsters fight amongst themselves, as I would imagine they would do in a sort of morbid, eternal "monster hell," but once in a blue moon they burst out of the closet and start flying around the bedroom in a chaotic free-for-all, cackling and laughing and spitting and drooling, banging into walls and furniture like a bunch of loose, demonic bats.
Technically, this work is a vehicle for exploring a variety of exotic sound possibilities within a large chamber group. I imagine monsters of different shapes and sizes, similar to characters you might find in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (the right wings of The Hay Wain and the Garden of Delights triptychs would be good examples), but much more abstract, cubist and multi-shaped, such as the images found in the cubist works by Pablo Picasso (i.e. the Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler painting or the Head of a Woman sculpture). If you took Picasso’s cubist people and "morphed" them with Bosch’s un-earthly creatures, or filtered Bosch’s creatures through a cubist filter and airbrushed the final images with hell, then that would be my goal.
Other images in particular provided inspiration, such as the famous painting The Nightmare by the Swiss-English artist Henry Fuseli. In this work, an ugly demon is seated on the dreamer’s chest and a frightening white horse with glowing eyes is in the background. My work is further inspired by the diverse collage works—digital or not—being created by contemporary visual artists.