22 May 2015

Even paranoids…

ENEMIES_Press_8a 600px

I am very excited to finally be able to announce our next big project: a multimedia work co-created by writer/director Isaac Butler, media artist Peter Nigrini, and me, and produced by Beth Morrison Projects. It’s called Real Enemies and it’s a multimedia piece about conspiracy theories. It premieres at BAM’s Next Wave Festival this fall (Nov. 18-22), with a workshop preview at Virginia Tech on Sept. 10. We will also perform the score in a music-only performance at Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall on Friday, October 2.

Belief in conspiracies is one of the defining aspects of modern culture. It transcends political, economic, and other divides. Conservative or liberal, rich or poor, across all races and backgrounds there exists a conspiratorial strain of thought that believes there are forces secretly plotting against us. Conspiracy theories often take hold because they provide an explanation for disturbing realties. They tell a story about why the world is the way it is. Paradoxically, it’s often more comforting to believe that bad things happen because they are part of a hidden agenda than it is to believe that they came about as a result of mistakes, ineptitude, or random chance.

Conspiracy theories tend to flourish at times when we have genuine cause to distrust those in power. When we learn that the NSA has been monitoring all of our emails and cataloging all of our phone calls, that the Department of Defense proposed carrying out false flag terrorist attacks against U.S. civilians in order to justify going to war, or that the CIA secretly dosed mental agents, prisoners, drug addicts, and prostitutes with LSD as part of its mind control program, the only natural response is: “What else are they hiding from us?”

Real Enemies is the product of extensive research into a broad range of conspiracies, from the familiar and well-documented to the speculative to the outlandish. It traces their historical roots, their iconography, and the language they use to persuade, and examines conspiratorial thinking as a distinct political ideology. It chronicles a shadow history of postwar America, touching on everything from COINTELPRO to the the CIA-Contra cocaine trafficking ring to secret weather control machines to reptilian shape-shifters from Alpha Draconis infiltrating our government at the highest level. Over the course of 60+ minutes of live music and multichannel video, Real Enemies spins a web of paranoia and distrust, where the truth becomes increasingly elusive.

The music for Real Enemies will be performed live by Secret Society. As befitting a journey into postwar paranoia, the work draws heavily on 12-tone techniques — if not always conventional notions about how those techniques are supposed to be employed. Other musical touchstones include the film scores of Michael Small (The Parallax View, Marathon Man), Nicaraguan singer-songwriter Carlos Mejía Godoy, early 1980’s LA electrofunk-influenced hip hop, and much more. This isn’t the first time I’ve written music that contains 12-tone elements — “Tensile Curves” which we premiered at the Newport Jazz Festival last year, also made liberal (if subtle) use of serial techniques — but in the case of Real Enemies, the 12-tone row becomes a deep structural device, not just for the music but the formal and visual development of the entire work. It’s going to be an intense musical and sensory experience and I’m very much looking forward to unveiling it this fall.

10 Sept 2015 @ Virginia Tech
2 Oct 2015 @ Stanford Live
18-22 Nov 2015 @ BAM Next Wave Festival

03 September 2015

Back to Babylon


On September 4, we will be launching the 2015-2016 performing arts season at a beautiful new venue, Virginia Tech’s Center for the Arts, with a full multimedia performance of  the work I co-created with artist Danijel ZezeljBrooklyn Babylon — the first full performance in the US since its premiere at BAM in 2011. We will also be bringing the work, which uses live music, live painting, and projected animation to tell an urban fable of construction and destruction, to the Krannert Center in Urbana, Illionis on November 13, 2015.

Brooklyn Babylon is a big, ambitious piece and one very dear to my heart — I’m beyond thrilled to be performing it again this season.

4 Sept 2015 @ Virginia Tech Center for the Arts
13 Nov 2015 @ Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana IL

14 April 2015

This time I’m gonna get it right


It’s an indescribable honor for me to join my inspiring colleagues Etienne Charles, Steve Lehman, and George Lewis (and many others besides, in many disciplines) as a 2015 Guggenheim Fellow.

It is also my great privilege to be the recipient of a 2015 Doris Duke Artist Award alongside such exceptional and influential musicians: Steve ColemanMuhal Richard Abrams, Ambrose Akinmusire, Okkyung Lee, and Yosvany Terry.

I am grateful beyond measure — especially to all of my comrades in the Society — and will strive to make the most of this exceptional opportunity.

08 April 2015

Ten Years Gone, Holdin’ On, Ten Years Gone


Digital photography tech has improved somewhat since 2005.

+Nadje Noordhuis Quintet
Sunday, 10 May 2015
The Bell House
149 7th St., Brooklyn, New York 11215 (map)
8:30 PM (doors 7:30 PM)
Tickets: $16 in advance/$20 day of show

Comrades — can it be true? Could ten years have passed since my co-conspirators and I first unveiled ourselves to the world? Was it a full decade heretofore that we assembled, deep in the bowels of the CBGB Lounge, to present our inaugural evening of Musical Intrigue and Euphonious Spectacle?

Many things have come to pass since then, things far beyond my wildest imaginings. On that first night at CB’s, had you offered to wager me that the Society would still be performing ten years hence, I would have laughed in your face. In truth, I did not expect the ensemble to last a single year. The notion that a new jazz bigband performing entirely original compositions could be even remotely sustainable in a postmillennial musical economy struck me as utterly ludicrous. And yet… here we are.

I looked back to what I wrote when I announced that first performance — not quite Ninety-Five Theses nailed to the church door, but still, a statement of purpose for our fledgling Society:

A lot of people think that bigbands are dinosaurs. But who doesn’t love dinosaurs? Sure, they can be big and loud and fierce — your canonical giant lizard — and that’s great. But there are small, swift dinosaurs, too, and birdlike flying dinosaurs. And contrary to what everyone says, I don’t believe that bigbands are doomed to extinction, either — not when they have so much untapped evolutionary potential. I want Secret Society to defy everyone’s expectations of what a bigband can do.

Ten years later, our mission remains the same.

Join us as we celebrate on Sunday, May 10th at The Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn. There will be Secret Society music old and new, including a sneak preview of music from our upcoming multimedia project, Real Enemies (of which more later). The opening set comes courtesy of longtime co-conspirator Nadje Nordhuis and her sublime quintet. Advance tickets may be had here.

Dave Pietro
Rob Wilkerson
Sam Sadigursky
Quinsin Nachoff
Carl Maraghi

Seneca Black
Jonathan Powell
David Smith
Nadje Noordhuis
Ingrid Jensen

Mike Fahie
Darius Christian Jones
Jacob Garchik
Jennifer Wharton

Sebastian Noelle, guitar
Adam Birnbaum, piano
Matt Clohesy, bass
Jon Wikan, drums

05 March 2015

Hello Brooklyn, what’s your story?


It has been a long time coming, but the complete score to Brooklyn Babylon — all 277 pages — is now available for you to view or download from the Sheet Music section of this website. As with all of my published scores, I’m offering it without charge.

For ensembles interested in performing the work, parts for the individual chapters will be available for purchase soon. (Parts for Chapter 1, “The Neighborhood,” are already available.)

If, after looking at the score, you would like to ask me any questions about it, please go ahead and leave a comment below this post and I’ll do my best to respond.

My own working score for the original performances of Brooklyn Babylon was, I’m not ashamed to admit, full of collisions and poor spacing and typos and all manner of travesties that would never be remotely acceptable in professionally published music. When I’m gearing up to perform new work with Secret Society, my first priority is always decent parts for the musicians: they need to be clear, legible, attractive, and sensibly laid out with viable page turns. Since I am the conductor, I don’t care if my own score is a total mess, because I am the only one who has to look at it. I usually have other priorities — like, say, rehearsing the band. Proofing, editing, and consolidating the score, then cleaning it up for publication is a big job — in the case of this piece, a dauntingly massive undertaking, actually — which is why it hasn’t been available before now.

I’m very happy to be able offer the score to Brooklyn Babylon for free, as I always appreciate it when other composers make their scores accessible. That said, if having this score helps you out and you’d like to show your appreciation, you can always make a tax-deductible contribution to Secret Society here.