Friday, October 1, 2010

We've been busy...

Sympho has been busy cooking something up over the past, oh, 5 months. Co-conspirators Paul Fowler, Bora Yoon, and I have been dreaming up something on a previously unimagined scale. Picture, if you will, a performing space that takes up an entire city block, with multiple performing levels and galleries. Now, add to that an orchestra twice the size of any Sympho has ever used before. That's all I'm going to say for now, but this is going to be tremendous. We cannot wait to share this with you. Stay tuned...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Cubes

From Paul Fowler: This year I'm using my new favorite toy for the laptop work that I'm doing. They're called Audiocubes and they're made by Percussa - They're an extremely intuitive performance interface for the computer. Through the use of infrared sensors on 4 of the sides, controller information and note information are sent to the computer. There's much more to it, but this is the gist of how I'm using them in the concert.

I sought these out after doing a fair amount of live laptop work in which the performance aspect, when compared to a violinist's or percussionist's movement, was extremely weak — if not completely uninteresting — "Yeah, I play faderbox!" Ha! With the cubes, the audience can see how the sound is being shaped while they hear it... For example, if I strike one side of the cube and then move my hand back, a sound is triggered and then gets quieter and the color of the cube becomes lighter. It's as if one could carry around a computer screen with all the sound wave and volume graphics and then use their hands to shape the sound.

Despite the parlor trick attractiveness, I am astounded by the usefulness of these little cubes and look forward to exploring more ways of playing with them....

Friday, May 21, 2010

At Last

From Paul Fowler: Once the contest songs were in, I chose to arrange At know, the Etta James tune that Beyonce performed at our president's inauguration, and Christina Aguilera performed regularly during one of her tours. That song that gets hollered through a Martini laden mic at karaoke — just about every torch singer on the planet has done it. It's one of those tunes that everyone knows, even if they don't know: they know. And that sort of cultural saturation is the beauty of the "standard." We've all got some emotional history with the song, and it makes for a richer, more saturated, communal experience.

In my years as a jazz pianist I'm sure I've played this tune hundreds of times and it's been requested way too often. I can count on the audience singing along, or the mental vinyl spinning the original recording. So I didn't want to obscure the melody. And due to the fact that it's nestled between the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto and an amazing aria by Monteverdi, it seemed most fitting to take advantage of it's became a mashup of sorts. The final chord of Verdi's quartet is resampled throughout the piece, as a kind of memory that forces it's way into the sentiment. The bassoon "sings" the famous aria during the trumpet's second statement of the tune. When the bridge hits, the arrangement weasels it's way out of the Verdi and the final recap of the tune is strong and perhaps too bold, with the classic 12/8 piano riff a la 1950 played by the winds and thick arpeggios from the strings. I hope the piece has a kind of humor and richness.... As that seems to be my experience with standards. We mustn't take ourselves too seriously for too long.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

WNYC Soundcheck on Thursday!

Paul Haas and Emeline Michel will be interviewed in advance of the Tweetheart concert this Thursday, May 20 at 3pm by John Schaefer on WNYC's Soundcheck program. Emeline will also sing with members of her band - check it out!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

It's heavy...

The magic moment has arrived. I'm holding the full score for Tweetheart in my hands, just printed. It's 11x15 inches, about 3/4 inch thick. Weighs a pound, maybe a pound and a half. Very exciting. 24 pieces in total, the longest of which are 7-8 minutes in duration. Most are shorter.

The singers and I started working together about a week ago. The orchestra meets for the first time this Wednesday, which is the day that all the lighting and video production equipment gets delivered to Church For All Nations. Special thanks to the Park Avenue Armory for letting us rehearse there.

It's a 32-piece orchestra, which is fairly standard for us. Unique instruments abound, including a bass theorbo and multiple laptops. Harp too.

Can't wait for the performance. Get your tickets by clicking here.

Student Tickets Available

Student tickets for Tweetheart are now on sale - $10 each. You can buy them here. Please note: you will be asked to show your valid student ID at the door.

Monday, May 3, 2010


OK, sorry for the slight hiatus there. We are back in contact! For the past month and a half, my co-conspirators and I have been composing new works for the Tweetheart concert. For my part, I've written a 10-minute work called "Coming Home", as well as multiple arrangements of pieces by composers as diverse as Monteverdi and Jonathan Coulton. Wynne Bennett has written "Swimming for Johnny" and arranged Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" (that's right, Sinead O'Connor made it popular). Paul Fowler wrote "On Compassion" and arranged Etta James' "At Last", and Grayson Sanders wrote "Shards" and arranged Bjork's "Cover Me".

Some trivia:

All of our pieces use laptop, sometimes to sample and process live what the orchestra is playing, sometimes to insert pre-recorded/manipulated material.

Each of us took about a quarter of the concert (using the pre-existing works on the program as a skeleton) and composed material to "sculpt the flow" of the experience.

This was pretty insane - so much material to complete in a VERY limited timeframe (we started composing in mid-March). However, the end result is astonishing, if we do say so ourselves, in really works. We set out to traverse an entire lifetime musically, viewed through the lens of love, in its many and varied forms. The result is absolutely, and organically, that. A big thank you to Wynne, Paul F, and Grayson - very excited to hear the results somewhere other than in my mind!

Monday, April 5, 2010


I just did something I hate - I deleted someone's comment. I deleted it because I didn't know whether it was spam or a legitimate comment. It was in a language I do not speak or understand. From here on out, here are the rules for comments:

1) please write them in English if possible
2) if not possible, then write them in German, French, Italian, or Spanish
3) if none of that is possible, please get someone to translate for you
4) if a comment is in a language other than those listed above, it will be deleted

Thank you, and I'm sorry for deleting that comment. It killed me to do it, but we have to make sure we're all playing by the same rules. Whoever wrote it, feel free to do so again in English.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

How cool is this?

So here I am, arranging Jonathan Coulton's "You Ruined Everything" for Tweetheart. I have to connect Bjork's "Cover Me", which Grayson Sanders is arranging, to the Coulton...somehow. I'm thinking about re-arranging the order of the program, because the "Gloria Patri" by Monteverdi fits in beautifully between Bjork and Coulton. It's also excerpted from the Magnificat of Monteverdi's Vespers of the Virgin Mary, which - for those of you not up on your Catholic liturgy - is all about Mary thanking God for her son, Jesus. Since "You Ruined Everything" celebrates the love of a parent for his child, it seems wholly appropriate to pair the two together. And Bjork's "Cover Me" seems to me to be an exhortation from one lover to another to prepare for the beauty and wonders (and dangers) of the unknown. Being a recent father myself, it's easy for me to experience that song and think back to the days just before my daughter was born. Not that Bjork was intending that to be the meaning, but - like all great works of art - it can mean something different to each observer.

To me, this is part of the joy of Sympho: to have a forum where these totally different works from different ages and cultures can bounce off each other, and where we can contextualize great art using far broader parameters than those to which we have become accustomed.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Emeline Michel

I've just finished working with Emeline Michel - an incredibly rewarding experience. She and I had a session at her apartment (we are neighbors, it turns out!) where she serenaded me with Haitian songs, both old and new. We decided which ones would be perfect for Tweetheart, and I recorded them on Garage Band (plug for Apple!). Even using the built-in mic, it sounds phenomenal. Such an unbelievable time. She sang about Haitian "boat people", neighbors who sing out invective against their neighbors (not to their faces, but to the wind, which they hope will carry the message to the rightful recipient...), and old voodoo priests explaining mysteries. Hard to summarize in a post, but I hope you get a sense of the magical time we shared. To get more of a sense, come to Tweetheart! There you'll hear the songs we chose, sung by the incomparable Emeline Michel - one of the great living Haitian artists.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tweetheart Tickets on Sale

Tickets for Sympho's Tweetheart concert (NYC on May 22) go on sale today at 12 noon Eastern Time. Click here to purchase.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


To our readership: one thing about creating Sympho concerts is that it gets crazy during the process. I'll do my best to keep you up-to-date as we go, but please be understanding if there are holes in the communication. First priority has to be creating the work! All of us can't wait to share Tweetheart with you on May 22.

Tweetheart: The Game Plan

A brief update - I've been working with composers Wynne Bennett, Paul Fowler, and Grayson Sanders to figure out exactly how to "create the flow" of Tweetheart. Each of us are taking a love song (winners of our social networking contest earlier in January 2010) and creating an orchestral arrangement. We'll also each create original works for the concert, based on one or more aspects of the concept of love. Then - as if that weren't enough - we'll work together to create material that connects all of the pieces together. The result will be an eclectic yet organic experience, one we're all very excited to hear (and perform!).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Upcoming "Tweetheart" Concert

Sympho unveils its newest concert concept on May 22, 2010 in New York City.

In a collaborative spirit, Sympho is teaming up with multimedia dream team Aytia | Matia, as well as a group of stellar artists and singers, to present the premiere of "Tweetheart". Singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton and Haitian pop star Emeline Michel to perform cameos.

Paul Haas | Artistic Director and Conductor -- Wynne Bennett, Paul Fowler, and Grayson Sanders | Composers -- SymphoNYC | Orchestra -- Aytia Matia | Lighting and Video Design

An evening unlike any other - blending art, music, and space. A limited number of tickets will go on sale in the near future. Stay tuned for more information.