child is my attempt to examine certain experiences as I remember (and misremember) them from my childhood. Each of the individual moments is in some way a memory of how I learned how to do something. Because I was taught (as most children are) that one learns how to perceive the world by making up rules, it has been possible to apply these rules to musical environments.
I am not nostalgic for childhood, mine or anyone else's. It is not a point of child to show either how childhood is a time of great excitement of great disturbance, or that I miss it or that I suffered through it. What is most interesting to me, especially now that I have children of my own, is that childhood is the time when one learns how to think, how to feel, how to move forward. Because each piece of music in some way needs to teach its listener its own rules for how it works, it is a comparison I have found meaningful.
The phrase ''my very empty mouth'' is part of a sentence I was taught to help remember the order of the planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, etc. Now I no longer remember the whole sentence, and the rest of the solar system has been lost.
During a trip to the dentist my oldest son Isaac was given laughing gas. The dentist called it sweet air, a gentle name to take the fear out of having a cavity filled. It worked. My son experienced something—a drug—so comforting that it made him ignore all signs of unpleasantness. This seemed somehow musical to me. One of music's traditional roles has always been to soothe the uneasy. I must say I have never been that interested in exploring this role. It is much easier to comfort the listener than to show why the listener might need to be comforted. My piece ''sweet air'' tries to show a little bit of both. In ''sweet air,'' simple, gentle musical fragments float by, leaving a faint haze of dissonance in their wake.
''sweet air'' was written for the ensemble Sentieri Selvaggi for premiere at the Settembre Musica Festival in Torino, Italy, 9 September 1999. It is intended as a birthday present for Louis Andriessen - Happy sixtieth birthday, Louis!
I wanted to write a piece in which a large amount of effort was expended to go a very small distance. ''short fall'' is that piece. Underneath all the activity in ''short fall'' the actual notes fall only very slightly. It is as if the surface is so active that the subtle effects of gravity pass (almost) unnoticed.
''short fall'' was written for the Pearls Before Swine Experience.
A child learns to draw by drawing lines. In the hands of a child a person is a stick figure, a skeletal intersection of stark lines, stripped of flesh, without subtle details. Only later does a child learn to add things—some hair, a dress, some shoes. Watching my children go through this stage has made me realize that my music is moving in the opposite direction. With every piece a little bit of flesh is removed, a little more skeleton is uncovered.
Small children get bored easily when traveling long distances by car. One way to distract them is to play the game I spy with my little eye, in which you look out the window and describe something you have noticed. In my experience this does work, not in a very subdued way—it is not the most exciting way to pass the time. Eventually, however, time does pass.