Can you give us a general background for your piece?
For a long time I've been trying to figure out how to reconcile my official “pursuing Bachelor of Music in (Contemporary Classical) Composition” self with my less official “playing improvised rock, jazz, and experimental music with friends on guitar” self, and when Margaret McNeal and Slipstream separately approached me about writing pieces for them, I realized that this was the perfect chance to make this happen. I've worked with all five of the performers in various improvised music contexts over my time at school with them, and it was extremely freeing (and so much fun!) to write for my friends who happen to be extremely talented and versatile musicians, rather than hypothetical performers for each instrument.
What was your inspiration for the piece?
Like I said, working with other musicians familiar with both strictly notated and improvised music really inspired to find ways to combine these two idioms. Most of this piece works, to varying degrees, as guidelines for structured improvisation rather than telling the performers exactly when to play what notes. A lot of the individual sounds, techniques, or methods of developing material came out of knowing the musical backgrounds of the players and letting them do what they do best, like knowing that Ilan can do a killer rock squeal or that Matt likes to use small cells to build into more complex textures (but also likes punching the piano).
Coming up with the text was also an incredibly important part of the whole process and shaping the piece – on Margaret's suggestion, I went through some of her journal and poetry writings to find material which I then arranged as I saw fit. So the words are technically hers, but at the same time I'm the one who got to make the final call (and occasionally would intentionally take phrases out of context/chop off parts of words to emphasize this disconnect), and ultimately it's a little unclear how much each of us is responsible for the text, similar to the shifting power balance between my choices as composer and the performers choices as improvisers – hence the subtitle “Autonomy Study” - what sort of art results when we question the strict notions of creator and interpreter common in so much art? And then in one section Margaret is using a deck of cards to give her the phrases she can use, which then gets distributed to Slipstream, adding a non-human player to the mix, which opened up a lot of doors in my most recent works to start integrating randomly generated data from computers.