Notes on pieces

Barricades (1989)


I wrote Barricades in my last year of undergrad studying under Michael Longton. Written very systematically, I’m sure this work was influenced by his ideas as he was at this time composing  beautiful pieces using systems involving the use of markov chains to generate material. I worked out some kind of system – forgotten now – which determined the rise and fall of the melody, vibrato indications, the juxtapositions of pitches forming harmonies and the tempo (written by extending durations of pitches).  All the material is derived from Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses. The piece is played through in its entirety, note for note, without any alterations apart from tempo (regular tempo, ¾ speed, ½ speed and a very slow ¼ speed). While this work is not in any way informed by political events, the fact that the date of composition of this piece coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square protests suggests deeper adhoc interpretations . List of Works

Kawabata (2000)


These short pieces inspired by the early fiction of Yasunari Kawabata were written over the course of a year and later combined to form the 5 small pieces which make up this work.  Continuing with the concerns of most of my earlier work incorporating block construction, I experimented with the abrupt juxtaposition of short sections or "fields" of musical activity. One of the challenges I set for myself was to create musical connections between seemingly disparate musical elements. List of Works

Haba Traipse (2001)


Haba Traipse, a composition for 2 amplified guitars, violin and soprano is one of a number of works dealing with frequent meter shifts, glissando’s and alternative tunings.  The second guitar is tuned one quarter down and the violin and voice are required to sing in quarter tones The first half of the title refers to the work of the Czech composer Alois Haba who wrote 1/4, 1/3 and 1/6 tone works.  The second word “traipse” meaning to walk tiredly or wander refers to the rhythmic and melodic gestures of the work. List of Works

Frédéric (2001)


While most of my music is through-composed from note to note without the aid of systems, to compose without relying on decisions based on taste I occasionally use a mathematical process to generate a piece. The results are predictably uneven, but I am often surprised to discover unusual juxtapositions of material that I would never have imagined writing.  This piece is written using two simple processes of retrograde inversion of material in two sections, the first composed and the second made up of a rearrangement of a Chopin prelude. List of Works

Avinon II (2001)


If a clearly discernible musical object is placed against a different background it is heard in a completely different way.  Avinon deals with this kind of juxtaposition using simple elements such as the repetition of a single harpsichord figure gradually slowing down, a double bass glissando moving at an almost imperceptible rate and rolled harpsichord chords within a restricted range and the singing of long sustained tones. Through these odd musical juxtapositions, rather than guiding the listener, I was more interested in creating a surreal aural landscape in which the listener is encouraged to wander freely. List of Works

After Menu for Sunset (2005)


This collection of pieces was inspired by a wonderful collection of stories and drawings by Fred Douglas, a professor friend from undergraduate days; and the beautiful temples, shrines and gardens in Kyoto I was able to wander through in a leisurely way during a two year stay in the city.  From an earlier program note for the piece I wrote “Fred’s stories are tiny fragments suggestive of larger stories that could go in any direction. Their charm for me is their avoidance of any sense of closure.  They begin, form linkages and end in unexpected ways as if the events described were simply chosen and frozen for an instant from a continuous moving stream of possibilities". In like manner to Fred’s stories the temples and gardens of Kyoto are typified by an exquisite attention to detail and a clear formal sense. I was interested in creating some kind of musical analogy to this. List of Works

Louise (2006)


One of my fondest memories as a child living in Calgary, Canada is our family trips to the Rocky Mountains. Over the course of a two-hour drive, the mountain range in the distance, a mere outline on the horizon when setting out, gradually rises after entering the so called “foothills” and culminates in the beautiful snow-capped mountains surrounding the town of Banff.  One of the great attractions of this area which draws countless Japanese (and now perhaps more Chinese) tourists is the spectacular Lake Louise.  The lake’s beautiful color is formed from silt deposits from a massive glacier clearly visible behind the lake. We would hike towards the base of the glacier, eat lunch and return to our car. With our backs to the glacier on our return I remember being struck by the great change in scenery. Without the glacier looming in front of us the same terrain took on an entirely different atmosphere.  In this work the act of listening borrows from the experience of walking described above. This piece is a musical palindrome – a melody which reads the same backwards or forwards. All the material of the second half of the composition is exactly the same as the first but played in reverse. The piece was written for Ewald Henseler (recorders) and Shin-ichiro Nakano (harpsichord)

List of Works

Five Chinese Fables (2006)


Five Chinese Fables was triggered by a book I came across while surfing the net titled “Chinese Storytellers Life and Art in the Yangzhou Tradition” written by Vibeke Bordahl and Jeter Ross.  I was very impressed by Ms. Bordahl’s great scholarship and Ms. Ross’s very moving photos which trace the activities of Chinese storytellers over the last sixty years.  Along with the Chinese,  Japanese and Korean storytellers occasionally accompanied themselves with instruments to help delineate or add color to aspects of their epic stories.   This piece draws on this history in terms of the use of a spoken text with an instrumental accompaniment but in a more contemporary idiom.  The five texts are taken from a collection of classical Chinese fables.

List of Works

Six Haiku (2008)


These relatively short, gestural pieces were originally written with an accompanying Chinese spoken text. I was interested in basing the rhythm of my piece on the inflection of the rising and falling tones of the spoken text. I decided on this instrumentation as I felt the use of the violin and mandolin (playing glissandi with the use of a glass slide) could most precisely mirror the speech rhythms. In most of the work the percussion part - one the few uses of variable pitched Asian percussion instruments in my music - has a coloristic role. The pieces are arranged into two sets of three pieces:  I, II and IV are more linearly conceived with a more or less continuous use of glissando technique throughout each piece.  III, V and VI are harmonically conceived with the mandolin playing arpeggiated chords throughout.

List of Works

Bereyter’s Emporium (2008)


Paul Bereyter’s is a character in W.G. Sebald’s novel “The Emigrants” which I happened to be reading while composing this work.   In one section of the novel when Paul is reminiscing about his childhood, he mentions his father’s Emporium, which contained the most fantastic and magical objects. This image suggested the overall form and tone of this composition, which is structured by combining blocks of sharply contrasting material which has some connection to music of the past, but with little concern for any sense of development or catharsis. List of Works 

Harmony (2008)


This composition is a palindrome with the second half of the work comprised of the same chords of the first half but lined up in reverse order.  Interestingly, to my ear, due to the different voice leadings between chords in the second half, I tend to experience the chords quite differently.  I decided on the very slow tempo of quarter note = 40 to encourage more attentive listening to small, subtle details such as the overall resonance of particular harmonies, the rhythmic beating of notes in very close range and the buzzing of harmonic clusters, all of which serve to create a changing of atmosphere form chord to chord. List of Works

Words (2009)


Consisting simply of a series of chords played by piano and obbligato instruments, Words was written to convey an atmosphere rather than to present any kind of musical argument.  The notes of the obbligato instruments are the same as those of the piano but played in any register with the stipulation that all notes begin or change in unison with the piano.  The spoken text consists of the first thirty-eight words my son Jeremy spoke. List of Works

Ten Songs (2011)

The words of these songs found on t-shirts, cups, stationary, billboards and children’s toys in Japan were collected over ten years. Whether written by human beings or translating machines is anyone’s guess, but either way, they are not without charm. As authorship proved too difficult to track down, they remain anonymous.

Written in memory of the humanity, graciousness and kindness of Robert Wise (1949 – 2010), visual artist, creator of wondrous kinetic objects; pulmonary devices; intricate utopist structures railing against failed utopist ideas; interactive, enigmatic, joyful, engaging machines.

List of Works

Three Places in New Caledonia (2016)


This work was written at the request of Yamasaki Daisuke for a chamber work for horn. The title of this piece is a play on Charles Ives' Three Places in New England, an orchestral medley written to reflect the mood and atmosphere of the composer's hometown area.  In the case of my work, having never visited New Caledonia, my impressions of the country are gleaned from photographs and a little reading about the three islands I have chosen to 'depict'. The first piece, L'Île-des-Pins, is shaped by a long meandering melody for viola and horn playing in unison with a gently flowing piano accompaniment. The second piece, Noumea, march-like and rhythmical, is characterized by abrupt juxtapositions of small musical cells.  The third piece, Poum returns to the tone of the first piece with viola and horn again playing in rhythmic unison but now with with a gentle Satie-esk piano accompaniment.  While formal aspects of this work were inspired by the beautiful topography of these islands its general dark tone reflects the great suffering the original inhabitants of these islands underwent through colonization.  New Caledonia has yet to achieve full independence from France. List of Works

Recording information

Composition: The Eye of Santiago (2018)

Recording Date: June 29, 2018

Event: Gaku Yamada Guitar Recital (dress rehearsal)

Location: Higashi Kumin Bunka Center, Hiroshima

Recording Engineer: John Cole

Performers: Gaku Yamada (guitar)

Composition: Three Places in New Caledonia (2016)

Recording Date: January 24, 2018

Event: Elisabeth University Sonic Laboratory (dress rehearsal)

Location: Elisabeth University of Music, Hiroshima

Recording Engineer: John Cole

Performers: Daisuke Yamasaki (horn), Hiromi Chikuma, Noritaka Ito (piano)

Composition: The Material is Not the Thing (2011)

Recording Date: May 10, 2012

Event: Recording Session

Location: Tokyo

Producer: Taku Sakakibara

Performers: Martin Stanzeleit (conductor)

Composition: Harmony (2008)

Recording Date: May 10, 2012

Event: Recording Session

Location: Tokyo

Producer: Taku Sakakibara

Performers: Martin Stanzeleit (conductor)

Composition: Lao Tsu IV (2009)

Recording Date: July 1, 2009

Event: Recording Session

Location: Elisabeth University of Music Xavier Hall

Recording Engineers: Kunio Fujii, Tomohisa Moriya

Performers: Takinojo Mochizuki (otsuzumi), John Cole (guitar), Duan Yi Fan (male voice), Ma Su (female voice),

Taiki Sayama (percussion),

Composition: After Menu for Sunset (2005)

Recording Date: March 31, 2005

Event: Graduation recital "Sakkyokuka John Cole no Sekkai"

Location: Elisabeth University of Music, Cecilia Hall

Recording Engineer: John Cole

Performers: Elisabeth University of Music students performances

Composition: Barricades (1989)

Recording Date: November 3, 1991

Event: Vancouver New Music "Twenty Years New" concert

Location: Vancouver East Cultural Center

Recording Engineer: Matt Rogalsky

Performers: Michael Strutt (guitar), Andrew Brown (viola), Leo Aquino (accordion), Edward Norman (harpsichord), Owen Underhill (conductor)

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