When I am creating music...

In my experiences with traditional musicians and their instruments I have come to understand that the starting point, the initial motivation, is to emulate as much as possible the human voice. What draws me to non-Western music and performance (and music with improvisation as a part of its expression) is the idea of immediacy; the inner impulse and the audible articulation are instantaneously connected. There is the sense that there is no filtering between the thought/feeling and the sound.

When I am creating music I enter into a state that is similar to this, in which I create sound and respond to it in a way that is like an improviser. The difference is that I will go in and out of this state every day for months when writing a new work. It is very much like improvising because the next sound grows out of the previous sound, one moment generates the next.

When writing my purpose is not to flinch from my understanding of the world and what is happening in it right now. Much of my music is positively charged and energetic - in truth more positive than it should be given the reality of this world. But I believe in the idea that music (art) has the capability of introducing new, positive energy into the world and this is important. It is important not to lose hope and succumb to futility.

It is always fascinating to hear what performers - who must go deeply inside a work in order to communicate it's meaning - find during their journey. At their best, performers, ensembles, and orchestras will reveal to the composer dimensions of their work that he or she was previously unaware of. I have had this happen a number of times, and it always the most profound of revelations..

One of the most important elements for me in any piece of music is the sense that it is going somewhere: that there is a direction, a purpose. This contributes to meaning. There are many ways of achieving this, but the approach I take is to create a balance between stability and momentum: to be secure in the moment while still managing to propel the music forward. This balance is always evolving and changing from moment to moment. In order to retain subtle control over this dimension in music I avoid repetition. Musical patterns in my pieces give the impression of being repeated but rhythmically they are elastic and malleable allowing me to control the ebb and flow in every beat of every bar, so there can be a dynamic and living relationship between this texture and the foreground melody. As the melody breathes in and out, so too can this background web of interweaving patterns.

More than anything it is an attempt to create a living, breathing feeling in the music. To make it human; to create a sense of the human voice.

This grows out my personal story of movement through time and geography as created by the immigrant experience. My family has been ‘in motion' for five generations now. It is almost part of my DNA, this idea of movement. Even on a daily basis I am challenged to balance living in the moment with thinking of, and working towards, what is ahead.

The nuts and bolts of the music are something I avoid talking about. I have been surrounded by musical analysis and deconstruction my entire life and I have an almost superstitious dread of destroying the magic of music by discussing the materials in any technical way. When I write it is a revelatory experience; I do not know in what way the piece will unfold as I begin the first few bars. I spend a great deal of time writing these first few bars, sometimes months. Somehow when I have finally found the first seeds of the piece I just know. Then I listen many times to this idea, and I try very hard not to think too far ahead. Just the next sound, the next gesture, the next utterance. This is enough for me, tiny steps. It is like nurturing an extremely fragile plant, working intensely and continuously, to sustain it and allow it to grow naturally and organically. From these first steps the language of the piece begins to emerge, and each time it is different. The most important role I play in the birth of these pieces is to listen, to the whisperings of the essence of the work, as this essence tries to communicate to me what it wants to become. It is a very fragile and fraught process. I have to be totally engaged, but I must not get in the way. There is a process going on that I do not fully understand; yet I must manage it and work out how to let it continue.

My greatest influences have always been those musicians who, through music, shine a positive light into the world. I listen to a lot of music and I am supremely grateful that I still have the same intense listening experience that I had when I was a child and teenager. Our relationship with music changes during our lifetime, but I am so lucky that I have not lost this mystical connection with human expression through sound. If I had to list the top three artists that have influenced me, they would be Beethoven, Keith Jarrett, and Pat Metheny, primarily because their first purpose is to introduce positivism into the world through music in a deep way.

But this is to discuss only music as an influence. The truth is music does not really come from music. It comes from life. So all of the many books I have read, the people I have come to know, the history I have witnessed (and am witnessing), my life as the child of immigrants in a distant land, my experiences as a husband, father, son, and brother, my idea of what the future will bring for us all, the staggeringly rapid expansion of our awareness of quantum physics, the origins of the universe, and the future of the cosmos, all of these things and many more are the deep influences on the music that I create. To create any kind of art is to be a lens through which the universe is diffracted, combined with the hope that there may be some common ground and points of connection with others, so that we may share and be strengthened by the sharing.

This is why concerts are so important. We share music at concerts, with each other in the audience, with the composer at a distance, with the performers on stage, and - hopefully - with the ineffable.