let the machines do it for us

by Nick Vasallo

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    Released in 2011. Extreme music for the piano. (OUT OF PRINT)

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#1-3 – Evanescent Revolutions (2008)*
I. Implosion
I came across a composition competition that caught my eye; it called for exactly 60 seconds of music. I was intrigued and decided to write a set of three one- minute etudes. Each of these etudes is inspired by a different idea; this one is an implosion of a fractal process.

II. Bhaskara
Bhaskara II was a 12th century mathematician who, in addition to several contributions to mathematics, astronomy, and engineering, was the first person to describe perpetual motion: in 1150 he described a machine that would make a wheel run forever. Listen for the explicit use of a famous hymn rotating throughout the piece.

III. Happiness Only Real When Shared
After seeing the movie “Into the Wild,” I was so moved and felt such a strong musical connection to the message of the movie. In response to the movie, I composed a very strict mensural canon based on a single melodic line. (extended version: 1:00 to 1:43)
*Honors: 60x60 Project Pacific Rim Selection 2008-2009

#4 – Explosions in the Sky (2009)*
This piece takes as its title the name of an instrumental post-rock band from Texas. The instrumentation of this band is very standard (2 guitars, bass, and drums) yet their sound is so captivating. The heavy use of delay, loop, and reverb pedals create layers of overlapping patterns; resulting in a hypnotic wall of sound. It’s this effect that I wanted to achieve in my piece: bringing post-rock into a chamber music setting. Although the actual music (notes) I wrote sound nothing like what the band would have written, I did inherit the basic aesthetics of what they create within their music. There are sections in this piece when the music is very hypnotic and will make you feel like you are floating; if you focus you can latch onto several different pulses simultaneously. I also wanted to pay tribute to Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in which the harpsichordist breaks free from the ensemble and performs a flamboyantly deviant display of virtuosity in the cadenza.
In my piece the pianist attempts to break free at the outset but is overtaken by the incessant patterns in the strings. Eventually the pianist detaches from the
ensemble and performs a cadenza that starts off as a Bachian/Ligeti invention but evolves into a post-romantic technical display of passion. Bach’s revolutionary idea of musicians being independent artistic individuals is reflected in the essential idea behind rock n’ roll: rebellion. Overall in this piece I used two complimentary pitch collections (each with its own theme) that have contrasting colors. Musical explosions and sectional pitch collections create the form but eventually collide at climatic moments. There are golden sections within golden sections throughout and the material is very teleological: you are constantly propelled forward. (I wanted the piece to "rock".)
*Honors: April in Santa Cruz Official Selection 2009

#5 – Shades of December (2010)
This piece is a study of both overtones and complimentary whole tones scales - influenced by Ligeti’s idea of “quasi-equidistant” scalar illusions which, in his mind, created the illusion of non-temperament in an equal tempered setting. The piece oscillates between these two main ideas and in some instances converge momentarily. The title reflects the time in which the piece was composed and dedicated to a close friend.

#6-8 – Transient Reflections (2007)*
I. Intertwine...unwind
With this piece I explored my interests in chaos theory and polymeter. The piece is all based upon a single idea: one voice is the leader and in canonic fashion (simultaneous inversion) the second follows asymmetrically. Two layers turn into six distinct layers but with this multi-dimensional interaction you start hearing a seventh layer (with the cross-layer accentuations). These finely threaded lines intertwine and as they purge I introduce a small change which creates a butterfly effect upon all the other inter-dependent members and eventually the piece — like a tightly rolled ball of twine —unwinds itself; hence, the title for the piece.
II. The Abyss
Remove any one of our traditional five human senses, and consequently another sense is amplified. This is the sound of infinite darkness…

III. Stained Glass Window
I discovered in my undergraduate studies that I have color synesthesia with music. People ask if I "see" a color every time I hear a pitch. However, it's more complex than that. I "feel" colors that move within the music, and they are subjective, based upon the phenomenological musical moment at hand. With this piece, I wrote a talea (rhythmic cycle), color (melodic cycle), and then simply transposed the same image onto different color palettes; like looking at the same picture through a rotating stain glass window.
*Honors: 2008 Seattle Pianists Collective Composition Winner

#9-12 – The Crown Canon Variations (2009)
I. A Canon Crown Lorn
II. or Clown Ran Canon
III. No Canon nor Crawl
IV. Crown a Canon Lorn
Canons have always fascinated me and I often use canons as a compositional device rather than a perceptible feature. All four movements are based on the same canon and have been blended together as one but you can hear where each variation begins and ends. Each movement is an anagram of Conlon Nancarrow, 20th century composer of irrational ratio mensuration canons.

#13 – Splitting Circles (2009)
There are three distinct processes occurring in this short etude. The upper line repeats a melodic series in a constantly accelerating rhythmic pattern while the bottom line is playing the same line in retrograde inversion. There is a diverging – converging – diverging relationship between these two lines as one line speeds up the other slows down. The middle line performs its own crab canon (a.k.a. palindromic canon). All three of these echo the techniques exhibited in the height of early polyphonic writing during the Ars Nova period and further developed in the works of Conlon Nancarrow.

#14-15 – Five (2011)
Five consists of 2 movements, each using only 5 rules:
I. Overtones
The bass (fundamental) melody is A Bb A D Db C. I build the overtone series (approx.) until the 16th overtone is reached (5 octaves above bass note) with each overtone rhythmically related (approx.) to the fundamental by it's ratio (octave is a 2:1, etc.). I then progress to the next melodic (bass) note and reflect that with a transposition in tempo and its related overtones.
II. I Vent In On
This movement is a distortion of a famous 17th century contrapuntal keyboard work.

#16-19 – The Fifth World (2009)
I. Cynosure: A New Phase
II. The Rise of Blue
III. Purification Time
IV. Messengers From the Sky
In 2012, the Maya calendar ends. The Sun will climb the axis mundi and open the door of Cynosure—and the Fourth World will end (sometime near the December solstice in 2012). The native traditions refer to a slow gradual rise of the human population to a period of widely-shared cultural and technological high civilization. The implications of these indigenous teachings are staggering. For this means that we humans have gone through three previous Worlds, in which our ancestors rose to a peak of civilized living, only to crash back to a primitive level. Some refer to this period of change as "Purification Time." During this period of purification, time is said to change where we must choose between the natural time we have now upon our Earth (meant for us) and an unnatural time structure which removes us from Nature and our opportunity to reach the Fifth World. It is told that everyone will have to choose between the two time frames-- one leading to the Fifth World with our Earth, and the other (which will be very alluring, deceiving many) which will remove us from our Earth, taking us to oblivion.
The entire piece is structured and built from the 10 note melody explicitly stated near the beginning of the second movement 'The Rise of Blue.' I have lived my whole life in plain white rooms. In April I moved and now live in a sky blue bedroom; this definitely has an effect on my music; I composed the 10 melody first after waking up with this new color and this melody (for me) evokes sky blue.

*Recorded and engineered by Nick Vasallo from April 19-20, 2011 at UC Santa Cruz. using a Yamaha Disklavier upright. Thank you David Evan Jones and Bill Coulter.

Dedicated to the memory of Jody Handy (1982-2009).
For more info visit nickvasallo.com


released May 2, 2011



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Nick Vasallo

Award-winning composer, teacher, vocalist and guitarist, Nick Vasallo is "a composer on a mission and one possessed of a distinctive voice" - Michael Quinn, 2012 (The Classical Review). His music exhibits "strokes of genius that blend the density of heavy metal with the harmonics of gamelan, the polyrhythms of taiko, and atonality." - François Couture, 2012 (Monsieur Délire) ... more

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