MATERIALS

Below are links to PDFs of some scores that provide somewhat of a cross-section of the music I have made over the past 11 years. It's a work in progress. I will try add more as I go through things. It has always been my goal to choose the best process for the circumstance. This also means that sometimes with CP Unit--a band that has worked together for several years--sometimes it was most effective to just dictate the music aurally and build a form together collaboratively. Naturally, there are no tangible materials associated with this process. On the other side, the "Chris Pitsiokos Quartet" had charts that were mostly worked before the first rehearsal, and in the piece Base Ten, for organ, 100% of pitch and rhythm material is notated (although even in this, the organist has the freedom to choose which stops to use). As stated on the page on this website about my music, I don't really find this "improvisation v. composition" discussion interesting in the slightest. Music is the point, and we find the most efficient means of producing what we desire. One can "think compositionally" while improvising, and one can improvise a fully notated score. It's all just a totally boring discussion. What's interesting is processes and strategies, all of which are fair game. As the first step when writing a piece, every composer should think of which strategy is most effective for the given circumstance, rather than just take it for granted that he/she is a "notes on a page" composer or an "improviser" or a jazz musician. People who haven't thoroughly thought about this are failing to grasp the fundamental principles of what it means to make music.

 

UTOPIAN MUSIC

Finite State Machine

The Finite State Machine pieces were the first things I wrote that I felt were "mature." Well, now they don't feel very mature to me honestly, because they involve some corny things like hand gestures, etc., that I think are quite dated, and owe a bit too much to the game piece innovations of John Zorn, but anyway, they are functionally different, and are the first chapter in what I would later come to understand as my Utopian Pieces--pieces that try to discover some sort of structure that allows for the involvement of each musician in providing not only unique content, but unique structure. Each musician has some agency to pick the next structural block. I wrote about these pieces a bit in my Arcana VIII essay. Here's a quotation:

"Starting with my Finite State Machine pieces, which I wrote in 2012, I began exploring alternative strategies in composition. The Finite State Machine pieces were inspired by the structure of finite state automata and certain tactics of John Zorn’s game pieces. In these pieces the participating musicians not only engage in the construction of the structure of the compositions in real time, but work together in rehearsal to create the meta-structure to be followed in performance.

Each circle represents a musical scene. The arrows show which direction the piece can move. In rehearsal any musician can propose a scene, which could be anything from playing a notated piece of music, to a feeling, to silence, to free improvisation, to conducted long tones—in fact a person once suggested a scene that required all the performers to laugh out loud. Then the group discusses where on the score the scene should go, which other scenes it should be connected to, and how so (which direction the arrow should go). Finally, a visual or aural cue is decided upon that represents that scene. Each scene has a different leader, and that leader would be responsible for: a) taking the group to the next scene with the aural or visual cue, and b) conducting, if that particular scene requires a conductor. In this way, the series was defined by a set of rules to be navigated as a group. The rules were intended to encourage maximum participation by each member of the ensemble on a structural (legislative), an interpretive (judicial), and a performative (executive) level, without defining particular roles in any of those domains. In practice, the piece required multiple modes of participation: acts of individuality on both the compositional level (in the proposition of musical scenes) and in performance; engagement in discussions as a whole group about how the piece should be structured; and in leadership, that was traded off in the process of performance."

Finite State Machine

Combination Locks

As these pieces were part of my Master's thesis, there is a pretty thorough description at the beginning. It is the second, and in my opinion much more mature chapter in my utopian music series.

Combination Locks 1

Combination Locks 2

MUSIC FOR JAZZ/ROCK INSTRUMENTATION

Chris Pitsiokos Quartet

This music was written in 2014 and 2015, rehearsed in 2015 and early 2016, and recorded in early 2016. Below are three examples. This band included the most complex notation I have used so far. Droll Noon originally employed irrational time signatures moving from 4/4 to 2/5. Ultimately it made more sense for the band to feel things as oscillating between two time signatures--100 and 120 bpm. When I wrote this music I was thinking about how we "hear things as improvised" and "hear things as composed." I discovered that if you have a phrase that is very complex and contrapuntal like the beginning of Fried, things are "heard as improvised" but then if you repeat the phrase exactly, the listener retroactively "hears" the phrase as composed. Other phrases have enough synchronicity to be "heard as composed" upon first hearing, but only just barely. Of course this is a highly subjective--I imagine someone not familiar with new music might hear this all as random chaos and noise, and perhaps to some musical geniuses it might all be obviously composed, but anyway, I was playing with this psychoacoustic phenomenon of how we "hear" things, and trying to toy with that psychology. At the same time, aesthetically, I was trying to create a language that was highly complex but still employing the functional roles of the instruments. The bass is often playing some sort of ostinato, and the drums are playing something like beats often. The guitar and sax are more often taking solo or melodic roles than the bass and drums. However, this boundary is also pushed on occasion, and, taking inspiration from baroque music, the independence of the lines is important. Each part should be interesting in and of itself.

Dogwood

Fried

Droll Noon

CP Unit

My mode of composition with CP Unit has evolved over the years, and has basically gotten looser and looser with time. The first album involved "charts" basically, with fully written out unique parts, different sections that specified who was to improvise at a given point, etc. As things progressed, I got looser and sometimes only dictated a couple of melodies and left the bandmates to build structures in real time. Other pieces like "The Tower" have a written part, but then some process is applied, in this case a subtractive process (the musical phrases keep getting cut off the beginning, until we are just left with the final phrases).

Death in the Afternoon

Quantized

THROUGH COMPOSITION

Occasionally I have written more or less "through-comosed" pieces. Below is a piece I wrote for Splinter Reeds in 2020. It's in rotation for them, so maybe if you see them they will perform it. The piece is called "Four Unisons" and is a meditation on what the concept of "unison" means and pushes the boundaries of the concept in different ways. The first movement expands the idea vertically--an unison melody is expanded in a quarter tone parallel cluster. The second and third movements are more or less "textural" unisons--that is, although they are not at all unisons in the traditional way, the band is more or less playing the same texture. The third movement is actually a canon. The Fourth movement is conceptually similar to the first, only it moves things horizontally. Slowly the repeated music phrase moves apart by 32nd notes.

Four Unisons

Base Ten is a piece for organ I wrote also in 2020. I have realized a couple of different versions of it--one for synthesizer (produced through MIDI) and one using the MIDI organ at Wesleyan University. It is possible, though challenging for an organist to play this. I think it would also be interesting played on any keyboard instrument--harpsichord would be nice. One can simply eschew the forgo the pedal manual part.While writing this piece I wanted to write something that was completely not timbre-specific. Some of my favorite music (many pieces by Bach for instance) can be played and rearranged for many different instruments and still maintain its interest and integrity. I hope this piece is the same.

Base Ten

OTHER STUFF

At least half of my music hasn't been written down in any way at all. Some of it was extemporized, some of it was created laboriously over months with overdubs and collage, some of it was committed to memory and never written down.