Lurking Beyond Thought

Lurking Beyond Thought (2016) for soprano voice, flute, violin, bass clarinet, and percussion (7′)

Live performance 01/13/17 by TAK Ensemble
I/O Festival of New Music, Williams College

This piece employs an excerpt from a fragmentary and evocative novel written entirely in the first person by the Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector entitled Água Viva (sometimes referred to in English as “Live Water”). In this excerpt, the speaker repeatedly draws a picture of intensely felt desires. I was drawn to this passage for the way it turns on a dime from the most abstract psychology to the most concrete details of personal history. Each sentence drives at the same urgent desire, albeit one difficult to state precisely.

Stating that desire with absolute clarity might actually defeat the point of summoning each of these moods. Instead, with this music I’m trying to draw out the urgency of what is being confessed with each new sentence, each new attempt to get closer to the singer’s meaning. The words are sometimes torn apart in the voice or fragmented or echoed in the instruments so that the struggle evident in the written word is also evident in the sung word. Other times they are treated as plainly and directly as they function on the page. Throughout, the musical treatment suggests a way for these conflicting registers to join the same fundamental expression.

The NYC-based TAK Ensemble did a tremendous job with this premiere. Thanks are also owed to the musicians of the 2016 soundSCAPE Festival (Italy) that performed an earlier version for soprano, flute, and double bass.


Yes, I want the last word which is also so primary that it gets tangled up with the unattainable part of the real. I’m still afraid to move away from logic because I fall into instinct and directness, and into the future: the invention of today is the only way to usher in the future. Then it’s the future, and any hour is your allotted hour. So what’s the harm of moving away from logic?
I deal in raw materials. I’m after whatever is lurking beyond thought.

It’s like moments I had with you, when I would love you, moments I couldn’t go past because I descended into their depths. It’s a state of touching the surrounding energy and I shudder. Some mad, mad harmony. I know that my gaze must be that of a primitive person surrendered completely to the world, primitive like the gods who only allow the broad strokes of good and evil and don’t want to know about good tangled up like hair in evil, evil that is good.

By Clarice Lispector, translated by Stefan Tobler, from AGUA VIVA, copyright ©1973 by the Heirs of Clarice Lispector,
Translation copyright © 2012 by Stefan Tobler,
Introduction copyright © 2012 by Benjamin Moser.
Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Defeat Device

Defeat Device (2016) for piano, electric bass, and percussion (6′)

Live performance 11/16/16 by Bearthoven
Penn Composers Guild


In 2015 Volkswagen was caught fitting their vehicles with “defeat devices” in order to evade emissions tests. One email to engineers as litigation approached revealed an executive desperate for any plausible explanation for what was still taking place:
“Come up with the story, please!”

At the outset of this piece, a simple process of insertions quickly defeats the sense of upbeat and downbeat. Throughout the piece I’m interested in developing these mechanically interlocking materials so that they “target” other elements of the music for “defeat.” I’m also interested in having these mechanical materials accrue lyricism in the way their elements assemble in new configurations. I want these mechanical materials to be entangled, desperately trying to come up with the story.

It was a joy to work with Bearthoven to bring this piece to life.

bad flickers

bad flickers (2016) for flute/alto flute, horn, viola, cello, bass (4′)

Live performance 06/29/16 by Sound of Late, feat. Jeffrey Zeigler, cello.

bad flickers contains numerous dying gestures such as falls and ricochets. Almost like something flickering before your view.

The Pacific Northwest-based chamber ensemble Sound of Late did a tremendous job with this premiere.