New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships: Composers List
Pheeroan Aklaff is a percussionist whose recent compositions are an attempt to develop a cross-cultural synthesis, combining in one work the rhythmic influences of Japanese Haiku and Tanka verses with the melakarta scales of India, and in another, the ryo and ritsu scales of Japan with jazz solos. Within these compositions Aklaff creates “an arena for the improvisor to explore folkloric imagery, be it lyrical, diffuse or cacophonous.”
Michael Attias writes jazz that is composed out of the myriad influences in his life. He was born in Israel of Moroccan parents, spent his childhood in Paris, his adolescence in the Midwest, and his professional life throughout the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. Certain melodic tropes of the Torah as well as Sun Ra, Ethiopian Pop, and Gnawa music have inspired his work, as has tenor saxophonist Bill Barron. All of these influences play a role in different compositions, but as he says, “I have to begin anew each time. The question is always how to get the voice and the body to inscribe themselves in the sound, manifest a singular experience of time, make a signature.”
Newman Taylor Baker
Newman Taylor Baker received his first drum set when he was two. As a child he played his drums to a wide range of recordings, including those featuring Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Charlie Parker. As he grew up, he simultaneously pursued music “in the classroom” and “in the street,” as part of his “life-long desire to have the drum set accepted as a solo instrument.” He designed his drum set (Singin’ Drums) “as a diatonically-tuned instrument, currently seven pitches.” His compositions refer to such forms as blues, gospel, marching band, dance, symphonic, and vocal music. In addition to his own compositions, he adapts others’ works and seeks others to compose for his drums.
Elizabeth Brown composes intimate acoustic chamber music that often includes unusual instruments- shakuhachi, koto, viola d’amore, glass harmonica, or the original instruments of the 20th century American instrument-maker Harry Partch. Deeply influenced by both traditional Japanese music and birdsong, she uses unusual timbres and microtones in a predominantly tonal language. An active professional performer, Brown often plays flute or shakuhachi in her own compositions.
Marty Ehrlich is a jazzman who composes for small groups: duos, trios, quartets “of various stripes,” and saxophone sextets. This year he began collaborating with the painter Oliver Jackson on an installation. “There are so many musical methods and styles at our disposal, and this wealth of great improvisers/interpreters. Doors to walk through and walls to break down. And as always, the creative well of the blues.”
Photo by Sirus W. Pakzad
“In my work…l attempt to stay true to my muse, disregarding as much as possible the trends, fashions and momentary obsessions of the marketplace. On the other hand…I do not consider one of my compositions a failure if people like it.” James Emery, a founding member of the String Trio of New York, writes music in which melody, harmony, rhythm, and form “contribute equally to a balanced expression of both the composed and improvised elements.”
Annie Gosfield‘s work includes both acoustic and electronic music, and frequently uses “detuned,” prepared, and electronically altered pianos. Much of her work is “inspired by nonmusical sources, such as machine sounds, deteriorating musical instruments and the surface noise of a 78 RPM record.” She draws on “traditional notation and improvisational techniques” which she combines with “almost unisons and microtonal scordatura, which gives performers the freedom to interpret compositions within an unpredictable and often detuned harmonic framework.” She writes for chamber groups, instrumentalists, and her own ensemble. Among her recent compositions are a site-specific piece for a Nuremberg factory and a work for video and music that “evokes an imaginary orchestra of aged mechanical instruments.”
Born in Macao, Bun-Ching Lam composes a wide variety of works for both Chinese and western instruments. One of the Chinese instruments in which he seeks to discover new sounds and expression is the pipa, a four-stringed lute, “one of the most technically developed and virtuosic Chinese instruments.” To use the pipa, Lam has incorporated fingerings from such western instruments as the guitar, lute and banjo. In his works he attempts to combine “my Chinese sensibility with western compositional technique, creating a music that is innovative and contemporary.”
Born in Beijing, Zhou Long‘s compositions have been influenced by traditional Chinese folk melodies as well as western chamber and orchestral music. In his sextet, The Ineffable, he uses both western and eastern instruments to explore the “abstract, unworldly and idealistic tendency in medieval Chinese thought.” A work for orchestra was inspired by poems from the Tang Dynasty and focused on the merging of Eastern and Western cultures through music. His new Rites of Chimes employs an array of ancient Chinese instruments and will premiere at the Smithsonian with Yo Yo Ma on cello, as narrator, “tracing back to the musical silk road.”
Photo by Jim Hair
Howard Tahakierente Lyons
Howard Tahakierente Lyons is a Mohawk composer who combines traditional drums, rattles, and flutes with contemporary musical instruments. His lyrics express the philosophy and stories of Native American peoples, and his music has grown out of traditional songs and chants. “I use my music as a form of communication to educate and introduce non-Native people of all ages to the Native American experience.”
For Maria McAuliffe, composing music is about a process of discovery, “a remarkable way to learn about the world.” In Mechanical Difficulties, McAuliffe wrote a humorous reaction to the frustration that arises when machines unexpectedly stop working. In contrast, Hospital Corners is an elegy for a friend who died of AIDS. The “kernel” of its musical theme came to her as she rode back and forth to the hospital on the subway, repeatedly hearing the two-notes that sound as the subway doors close. Inspiration for her work now includes perceptual models that go beyond sound to involve all of the senses. Her newest work is on video and contains music, time, sound, and light.
Robert A. Miller
Robert Miller’s goal is to create music that is “listenable, enjoyable and fun as well as intellectually and viscerally stimulating for both musicians and audience.” He finds that meter, texture and color are underused in jazz and American creative music. In his compositions he often combines the classical music of Northern India with other world music, influenced by his extensive travels through 46 countries and six continents. Believing life to be integration, Miller tries to be patient and to allow his worldwide studying and performing experiences to “seep organically” into his self and “in some way see fruition” in his compositions.
Roy Nathanson (Gregory Millard Fellow)
Roy Nathanson’s passion for music emerged from listening to Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Monk in his late teens; at the same time he was introduced to avant-garde theater of the period. From those two forms has come a reconciliation of storytelling and sound, combined with “a desire to understand composition as a complete idea.”
Manly L. Romero
Manly Romero‘s work centers on spirituality, spiritual transformation, and self-knowledge, but “questions of mortality and afterlife are asked not of God, but of the self.” In his setting of four poems by Edgar Allen Poe, In Search of El Dorado, “an understanding and acceptance of mortality transcends fear of death.” Other of Romero’s works question the place of spirit in a contemporary society characterized by urban chaos and fear of violence.
Kim D. Sherman
In writing her songs, Kim Sherman seeks to convey the truthfulness and emotional state of the character who sings the words and the physical setting in which the songs are sung. For her, “composing a song is not simply a matter of creating a tune or a harmonic progression, it is creating the complex moment in which these elements exist.” She is currently working on three musicals: The Boxcar Children, from the classic book of the same title; Heart Land, from a contemporary story of three sisters returning to Northern Idaho; and The Two Orphans, based on a French melodrama. In The Heartland, the music combines classical contemporary with popular and country music, while in The Two Orphans the music addresses the audience directly and comments on the story.
David J. Simons
When David Simons begins a new musical work, he usually seeks out new and unusual sound sources, ranging from Asian instruments to self-made instruments and digitally-sampled sounds. He is interested in “microtonal tunings, often with complex rhythmic counterpoints, sonic and cultural juxtapositions.” He has researched and performed music from many cultures, and has studied in Bali, Bangkok, and Seoul. In addition to the many sources for the music itself, he is also interested in collaborations across disciplines and has composed music for theater, dance, film, installations, and opera as well as pure music concerts.
Abou Sylla‘s music is “deeply rooted” in the traditional music of Guinea, West Africa. With such ancient instruments as the balafon, djembe and doun doun, he combines elements of traditional griot and folkloric works with jazz, funk, and reggae. “I try to convey the importance of recognizing and preserving cultural history while expanding the boundaries of musical expression.”
Abou Sylla (left) Moustapha Bangoura (right)
Norman E. Yamada
Norman Yamada is a classically trained composer, “fascinated by time and tempo.” In On the Fetish-Character in Music and the Regression of Listening, his piece for two electric guitars, bass clarinet, amplified string bass, and two percussionists, each musician is given the chance to lead, but within wildly fluctuating tempos. In other, less radical works, musicians may be independent of the beat, but still relate to each other as an ensemble. “When I’m harsh with myself, I admit that I don’t understand how it’s relevant to be a composer in our culture…. Then I sit down and try to write and try to make my work relevant to the noises and sounds all around.”