Letters to My Future Self
Original Sounds for violas
My new album is out and I am proud to share it with you! This self-produced, composed, and recorded work breaks preconceived notions of what a viola can do.
This project was entirely self-funded without the help of crowd funding. If you enjoyed listening to the album and feel moved to make a donation to help defer the production costs, you would be my hero. Thank you!
with Hamilton Berry, cello
with Dave Veslocki, guitar
with Nora Krohn, viola
Astor Piazzolla, Arranged Nick Revel
A piece peppered with anti-Trump statements in Morse Code
About the Album
I had the idea to make a solo album in the middle of my honeymoon on a train from Paris to the Loire Valley for a wine tasting and chateau tour. As a member of the composer's collective De Snakes I had been building up musical material for two years and thought to myself it was finally time to stamp it into a record. The tracks on this album vary greatly in genre and mood. I like the idea of sending these tracks into the future like a letter in a bottle, for my own future self, imagining what I might be like and what I might think of this work in decades from now.
Growing up, I took summer trips to Europe to see my cousin Jan de Hoog, who is my age. We would go on crazy adventures together and spend a lot of time drawing. Even as a kid, he was exceptionally talented and showed me the ropes of pencil and paper. When I got in touch with him in 2016 for the first time in many years, I saw his current work and realized he's a real artist; a genius. On first glance, one can see a beautiful, washy view out a window. On further inspection, one starts to feel the depth of field through the crispness in the curtain to the right and the blurry suggestion of trees and clouds out the window. The crow gives me chills. Is it an innocent bird or a messenger of darkness?
My writing process
Members of De Snakes must submit either a recording or part of a score every two weeks. If you don't submit, you get a strike. Three strikes and you're out. It's the perfect environment for me to experiment with different methods of writing because there is no critical ear in the group and no quality control. It isn't about writing a masterpiece, it's about writing something and submitting it publicly. I've gotten more writing done here in the last two years than in any other time in my life (so far), and most of it for pleasure.
I've found that my best writing comes from improvising into a microphone then improvising a second track while listening to the first one through headphones. Repeating this process generates layers of sounds creating atmospheres, a rhythmic grooves, or a harmonic patterns. This skeleton frame evolves through more recording, cutting and moving audio around in the session, eventually producing a coherent musical flow.
My Recording Process
Aside from Ham Jam 5, In DayDream, and Nick n' Nora, all of the tracks on the album are versions of me creating sounds on the viola. One of my goals was to extend the viola palette past what was initially possible (for me). So for example all of the sounds in Pulse Noise were made on the viola, tapping and drumming included. I doubt my luthier would be happy... The bass sounds were created by electronically manipulating viola's pitch down by an octave or two.
Many of the tracks have a first version made for De Snakes. I chose to transcribe all of the parts in those songs and re-record each part for better sound quality and viola playing. In DayDream was recorded at Raw Recording, Landscape and Nick n Nora were recorded in our bedroom, Ham Jam 5 was recorded at Hamilton Berry's place, and all others were recorded at my parents basement.
1. Icebreaker: It's a play on the fact that most of the performers on the album are me, myself, and I. Thought I would poke fun at this unusual recording process. Also, I don't mind displaying a typical internal conversation with myself.
2. Mirage: It feels dusty, hot, and dry, like a desert. As the viola(s) alternate between chord tones and fast scalar embellishments the texture becomes both clear and blurry at the same time. Also, the beat drops, so that's always fun.
3. Five Ways to Eat Acorns: One day in fall of 2015, I noticed how many acorns I was crushing while playing tennis. I wondered if I was wasting a potential food source and so I looked it up. Google gave me this article. The words in the track are quotes from this article, which in my opinion takes itself just a little too seriously.
4. Pulse Noise: All the sounds on this track, even the drumming, are done on viola. I wanted to create as many extended techniques as possible and set it to groove. Rozhan, my mixing engineer over at Riro Muzik, had the idea of intentionally keeping this track bone dry as if it were recorded in an anechoic chamber. It brings a certain....discomfort....with it.
5. Ham Jam 5: Hamilton Berry is an amazing cellist in NYC doing wonderful projects. I wanted to have some live improvisation on the album in addition to improvisations within planned-out tracks. This track is entirely improvised. Our prompt was "that tip-toe sound" from Looney Tunes.
6. In DayDream (2017) for viola and guitar: Unlike most of the other tracks on the album, this piece was entirely notated before performance. Dave Veslocki commissioned me to write this piece for his Carnegie Weill Hall Debut on April 10th, 2017. The tone of the classical guitar always inspired me to daydream. In this programatic piece, the viola and the guitar visit many different places, interacting as two facets of the same creature/thought, often times soaring, laughing, jumping, or arguing with each other.
7. Landscape: Along the same lines as Pulse Noise, I wanted to create new combinations of viola sounds. The wind was created by blowing past a microphone. The snake-drag sound was done by dragging a mic across a bed. All of the other sounds were created on viola, including the crickets.
8. Viola Cake: For some reason, I'm just not content with a nice, simple, pleasant-sounding track. It seems I must always add a little crazy or weirdness to the mix.
9. Worthy of Love: This is actually the first half of J.S. Bach's Prelude in C minor from the Fifth Solo Cello Suite. I hear so much pain in this piece. I found myself connecting to a deep internal pain that we all have when we don't feel loved, or to be blunt, when we don't love ourselves.
10. Nick n' Nora: For several years Nora and I performed together in Folie à Deux, our contemporary viola duo. In that configuration, we experimented with many contemporary sounds and improvisations, so I wanted to have our sound on this album. This is also fully improvised.
11. Libertango: Originally composed by Astor Piazzolla, the chord changes, textures and rhythms that I used have nothing to do with the original.
12. Megablip: This song was inspired by an old space-shooter auto-scrolling SNES video game favorite of mine called Gradius III. Particularly, the Crystal Core boss battle song from the boss rush towards the end of the game always gave me pause.
13. DotDash (2017) for string quartet: In early 2017 I had a strong emotional reaction to the Trump Administration's attempt to limit free press. I wanted to create a piece sprinkled with secret messages that could be decoded. Naturally, Morse Code came to mind, so I started transcribing all manner of words from Morse Code into rhythms. Embedded into the rhythm of the music are statements in Morse Code about Donald Trump. Here are the codes’ translations and timestamps:
0:00 ... --- ... SOS
1:49 .... . .-.. .--. HELP
2:29 .... . / .-- --- -. HE WON
3:26 .... . / .. ... HE IS
3:28 .... .- - . HATE
.-.. .. . ... LIES
... .. -.-. -.- SICK
. ...- .. .-.. EVIL
3:32 .... . / .. ... HE IS
3:34 --. .-. . . -.. -.-- GREEDY
-.-. --- .-- .- .-. -.. COWARD
-.-. --- .-. .-. ..- .--. - CORRUPT
.--. . .-. ...- . .-. - PERVERT
3:42 .... . / .. ... / ... .... .. - HE IS SHIT
8:03 .... --- .--. HOPE
If you are curious about my music or process and have questions, please get in touch on the Contact page.