On this page are samples of my music in several genres and stylesmy written compositions, experimental music, and solo improvisational pieces, and also the work I've done with others in collaborative improvrepresentative of the broad range of musical activities in which I engage. I've been playing music since I was six years old, and eventually ended up with a Bachelor's of Music in Composition from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (1982), as well as an unfinished Master's in Ethnomusicology from UWMadison some years later. Music is the core of who I am. Although I've won national and regional awards for compositions in the past (mostly chamber music), and have had performances of almost everything I've ever composed (no special trick to thatjust write for your friends who are performers), at heart I'm an improvisor. Notating music can be hard work, although very rewarding. In these days of digital recording, on the other hand, it's very easy to record your ideas and immediately transmit them to listeners. You're free to let the music pour out of you and capture it in the moment, without having to write it down; my notated music was often notated improv, anyway.
Many of the musical ensembles I've been involved with since 1990 create spontaneous music: live improvisation, with little or no planning. Playing without a safety net. No rehearsal, just music. The secret to success in this sort of venture is to pick the right people to play with: there's no deeper musical thrill than creating in the moment with people who listen to each other, and respond from the heart as well as the head. Walking the tightrope without a safety net is only part of the thrill.
I also do graphic design, photography and illustration for musicians. Some samples of that work can be found here.
Dragon's Weyr Studio is my computer-based recording and mastering studio. Online since October of 2001, the studio is a PC-based all-digital multitrack studio. Recent projects have included mastering the Wind, Sand & Stars CD, and composing and recording two environmental/ambient music CDs for a Minneapolis alternative health training institute. Further commissioned work is on the agenda, as well as soundtrack and sound design work. Email me for details.
Here is a PDF printable version of my music resumé available for download.
The Infinite Sustain Feedback System, developed by Al Jewer and myself, has its own explanation and features page, due to popular demand.
||Everybody Falling, in memoriam shuttle Columbia and crew, is a new piece for Stick and countertenor, available as a downloadable MP3.
Solo Chapman Stick
"Kanjo" and "Rumi's Tambourine" are new solo pieces for Stick and frame drums. Both tracks were released in 2003 on the Frame Drummer's Group compilation CD; I also contributed some artwork to the project.
Below is a track from the first release of my new collaborative improvisational band, Wind, Sand & Stars. The band is the duo of myself on Chapman Stick and Eddie Estrin on electronic and acoustic drums. The CD is now completed and available for purchase. Please email me for details.
I have seen it from midsea for solo Chapman Stick with loops
This next track is just solo Stick venting, hence the title. It showcases one aspect of my musical thinking, namely, I tend to think in layers rather than harmonies, heterophony rather than polyphony. Music can be gestural and tell a story, regardless of whether to your ears it is "dissonant" or not.
Spleen for solo Chapman Stick with loops
From my first solo Stick CD, The Western Lands, 19941996, here are some sample tracks, including the title track. By "solo" I mean, I wrote all the pieces and produced the album; some tracks were composed, and some were structured improvs. The CD also features Al Jewer on flutes and Biff Blumfumgagnge on violin and drums. I played Stick, bass guitars, frame drums, and a few other items.
Describing A Circle (excerpt)
The Western Lands
Dry Sea/Farthest Shore (excerpt)
Another solo track, from my next solo CD project, Road Journal, still a compilation in progress. This is a first-take recording of a certain emotional state, with no overdubs and only minimal editing. (Recorded by Eddie Estrin and AD.)
20 minutes short of a year for solo Chapman Stick with loops
Experimental & Electro-acoustic Music
These next pieces exemplify some of my experimental music background, which began at an early age, then was nourished by my years at the Electronic Music Studio at Michigan, and simultaneously by the permissive and supportive atmosphere found in community radio stations such as WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, Michigan, and WORT-FM Madison, Wisconsin. I've done volunteer prgoraming for community radio, on and off, since 1980. (And I still have my FCC license!) Having a late-night radio slot gave me the chance to inflict difficult listening on lots of unsuspecting listeners. Do I have to mention the Chainsaw Capriccio or the Drywall Fantasia? Or the time I mixed Allen Ginsberg reading his poem Howl with live, howling feedback created on my Stick with the Infinite Sustain Feedback System? Life is good.
This first piece is representative of the text/sound poetry I have been experimenting with since 1980. In pieces such as this, layered voices and readings form compositional gestures and shapes such as in more traditional musical forms, but with the human voice as sound-source rather than traditional instruments. This piece is based on a visionary poem I wrote in 1984. The reader is Stuart Hinds.
in another world
This next group of pieces utilize a digital music technique called granular synthesis to tear apart and reconstruct sound files into new musical structures. Granular synthesis is a technique that samples the "grains" of a digitized sound-file, at a very fine level, then applies various algorithms to stretch the time, change pitch, and so forth, creating a new piece out of a very short excerpt of the source sound-file. The final effect can range anywhere from sublimely transcendant to utterly chaotic noise. I like both ends of the spectrum, myself.
This first piece uses the bossa nova polar lander (excerpt) from the Wind, Sand & Stars section below, as its seed source.
Twittering Machine (bossa nova mars polar lander remix)
I occasionally subject entries from my Road Journal podcast to granular system techniques as well, for example:
RJ055gs or RJ039gs
Next is a granular synthesis reshaping of an ambient recording of two neighborhood kids playing back-alley basketball in Chicago. At one point one of the boys yelled at his giggling friend, "Play normal!" Several different granular synthesis passes of the original sound-file are layered and mixed together here, to make the new piece. This was an absolutely fun little piece to assemble.
A threnody is a piece of memorial music: an ode or a song of lamentation. The piece below was created by using granular synthesis processes on a slice of the Wind, Sand & Stars piece coconspirator of dreams. It is from a series of slow-moving, trancelike pieces that I am working on as time permits, using granular synthesis techniques to create "space music." I hope to compile this series into a CD later. I offer it here as a memorial for the victims of 11 September 2001, of whom we have yet to see the end.
A memorial piece for one of my musical mentors, experimental composer and co-founding member of the ONCE Group in Ann Arbor, George Cacioppo. This was constructed from recording a solo piece of piano music I wrote on reel-to-reel tape, then reversing the tape and playing the piece backwards; I added voice and flute over the top, using very long delays and reverbs. This was all originally done analog, with tape.
elegy for George
a stone flute. A long piece for processed voice and other sound elements, essentially my first big tape piece, assembled at the production facilties of WCBN-FM Ann Arbor, and at the Electronic Music Studio of the University of Michigan. This represents my first real attempt at a large tape piece, duration 30 minutes; later on, I used what I learned here to create several more long tape pieces for radio performance, ranging in length from 45 mintues to 6 hours. Much of this work was done in collaboration with Stuart Hinds, who is also the voice performer on this piece. In many ways very minimalistic and conceptual, and inspired by readings of metaphysical and mystical texts, a stone flute uses texts from shamanic and tribal sources.
a stone flute
Transit II. A piece of abstract difficult listening, consisting of several tracks of bamboo, wood, and concert flutes being played in layers and together. Art Durkee & Al Jewer, flutes. Play this at very loud volume, and listen for the subtones generated by close-frequency interface patterns. This and Exception Error D000 below were the only times we got complaints from the neighbors about what we were doing in the recording studio, and had to shut down. I feel so proud.
Light, for voices and tape, was an ambitious piece for text/sound poetry. I used only the human voice, speaking live against a background of the same voices reading on tape, and composed in layers, with musical gestures; I think the piece shows that one can use voice as the only musical material to generate a complete musical experience. The linguistic information, the meaning of the words in the texts, is subservient to the musical phrasing of the voice, the layers and rhythms and tones. Light exists in three versions: the original version for radio performance; a second version for live performance and tape; and a third version for five voices all performing live. The foreground texts are my own poems. The background, pattern-reading texts are assembled from various sources, and treated in a cyclic manner similar to gradual-process or so-called minimalist music. (The version presented here is a studio rendering of version 2.)
Extended-Technique Vocal Music
These three pieces were composed and performed by the group SH/AD, consisting of Arthur Durkee and Stuart Hinds. They were recorded in early August 1985, at Moody Auditorium in Lubbock, TX, and performed as tape pieces for a concert entitled Worlds, held in Lubbock that same month, and produced by Stuart Hinds.
Each piece featured different extended vocal techniques, in structured improvisational forms, and were recorded to 4-track reel tape in the acoustically resonant space of the large atrium of Moody Auditorium. Several other longer pieces were also recorded in this space during the same period, featuring for example tuned glass bowls, percussion, song, and other elements. (I will be releasing some of these other, much longer pieces at a later date.)
Both Stuart Hinds and myself did mixes of the multitrack recordings; these versions are my mixes. I have only recently begun to digitize several of my older works in this way; since these pieces were originally recorded on tape, please forgive a little unavoidable tape hiss.
The first piece, Mantra, uses harmonic singing, or overtone singing, as its foundation. Its mood is introspective, meditative, static, transcendant. The second piece, Chant, utilizes a shamanic text from an Ojibway medicine lodge ritual. This is indeed shamanic, dramatic music: when we began recording, I found myself singing a lead line, all unplanned, that became the central melody of the piece, and around which we built all the other elements in multitrack; I can't tell you where this came from, it just seemed to appear, and take over the entire process. Listening to Chant again, after several years, I find myself feeling as though a numinous door had been opened to other worlds. The third piece in the set, Hamatsa, featuring guest vocalist Paul McMillion, is based around the myth of the Kwakiutl cannibal-spirit performed in the winter sacred riitual dances. The voices call to the hamatsa figure, and also in the voice of the cannibal spirit, making for a dramatic narrative piece of music theater.
Twenty years after co-creating these pieces, I still get a chill up my spine listening to them. I am pleased to present them here, publicly available for the first time.
Note: Stuart Hinds has continued to develop his skills as an overtone singer, and has become a solo performer and composer with a unique style of polyphonic overtone singing. Please visit his excellent website here.
Algorithmic Computer Music
Since 2002, I have been returning to my roots in the electronic music studio and experimental music ventures that occupied my days in Ann Arbor, MI. Only now, instead of splicing tape, I am working with software synthesis and vintage analog synthesizers, of which Dragon's Weyr Studio has built a small collection.
Generative algorithmic music is created using mathematical and data-processing software. I have been working with software that generates music using fractal algorithms, so that the music becomes recursive and self-similar on several pitch- and time-scales, analogous to the self-similar forms seen in fractal graphics when you zoom in and out. Other pieces are based on numerical data sets that can be derived from any set of numbers: electrical meter readings, DNA code sequences, and the stock market are all possible sources.
Composed Chamber Music
Of all genres of contemporary classical music that still survive in the modern (or post-modern) contemporary era, I love chamber music the best. I've written for full orchestra, but I like the intimacy of chamber ensembles, which also require playing in concert rather than following a conductor. I've won a few awards for my chamber pieces, including a percussion quartet, a duo for viola and clarinet, and others. I mostly write on commission, I admit; many pieces were requests by the performers who premiered the works, or for specific concert occasions.
Scores for all of my composed chamber music are available upon request, at nominal cost.
Partial scores of several works will soon be available on this page for download in PDF format, as samples. Full scores may be purchased directly by contacting me via email.
Below is an edited MP3 of excerpts from one of my longer chamber music pieces, Walk the Good Red Road (Minimal Dub Quartet). The music owes debts to Steve Reich, Robbie Robertson, and Jah Wobble. It is gradual process music, for piano quartet. This was premiered in 1995.
Minimal Dub Quartet (excerpts)
Song of Unfolding (Complements). A duo composition for viola and clarinet, two of my favorite orchestral instruments. I play clarinet very badly, and viola not at all, but I love the sound of both of them, so this piece was a natural labor of love. This piece has been performed several times since its premiere, and been popular with audiences. I have since written other scores for solo violist.
Song of Unfolding (Complements) excerpts
My percussion quartet, Gendhing Mandala, is in two movements, and won the 1980 Drexel/ATMOS Percussion Quartet contest sponsored by the Percussive Arts Society of America. I flew to Philadelphia for the premiere, a peak experience for a young student composer. This is a recording from the work's second performance, made the following year, at Northwestern University in Illinois.
The abstract first movement is partially inspired by Tibetan Buddhist chant, with its slow, subterranean cadences. The second movement is in a fast 5/8, and gradually rises to a climax consisting of clangorous noise; the tension never lets up, and the ending is not a resolution of tension but a suspension of action.
I have always had a strong interest in Medieval and Renaissance music; in fact, I minored in music history and ethnomusicology for my Bachelor's in Composition at Michigan. In 1981 I composed a suite of pieces for recorder consort, titled Aeolus after the Greek god of winds. The second of three movements is featured here, an elegiac piece, whereas the other two movements are more abstract and experimental, respectively. There has been a small but steady stream of contemporary music for early instruments since the early 1970s revival of interest in early music, and this was my contribution.
Elegy from Aeolus for recorder consort
From 1979, a four-movement suite for solo piano, using extended techniques including playing inside on the strings, placing objects on the strings to bounce as they will, and the extreme ranges of the keyboard. This piece, Constellation, is the fourth movement of the suite, Visions. Constellation was composed in part using chance methods: since the melody line is composed in the six-note whole-tone scale, I rolled dice to choose pitches to assemble the melody.
In other piano compositions, I have developed a notational style that uses three staves instead of the usual two, as I continue to explore the extreme ranges of the piano's sonic possiblities.
Constellation from Visions for solo piano
riverrun, for solo flute (Julie Harr), alto flute, and piccolo, in four movements. I began this piece in my student years, then completed it sometime later at the urging of several of my flute-playing friends, including Al Jewer. Each movement uses a different flute, and is in a different mood and style. Writing for solo flute means writing pure melody; everything arises from the breath, and returns to the breath. Here are the second and third movements, for alto flute and C flute respectively. The third movement is, in my opinoon, one of the purest things I've ever written.
rivererun 2 from riverrun for solo flute
rivererun 3 from riverrun for solo flute
Jade, 1981, for english horn (Deb Hinderer) and vibraphone (David Colson). Not your usual chamber music combination, this was a commission from The Current and Modern Consort. I ended up drawing on Javanese gamelan and Japanese folk melodies, in order to knit together the very disparate instruments into a complementary dialogue.
Jade for english horn and vibraphone
Solo Piano Improvisations
From time to time, I've recorded solo piano improvisations. These are rooted in my love of the instrument, which dates to my first piano lessons at age 6, and by my mother having been a professional pianist and teacher. I've always been around pianos, and I've always played them. I was never interested in being a piano performer, though, so I never practiced enough. What I loved to do was sit down and play. I taught myself jazz improv on piano after graduating from music school; the truth was, I needed to do something other than what I had been doing. For several years, this aspect of my musical life was on hold, but it goes in waves. Every so often, I feel the desire to play solo piano again, and sometimes I record it. In 2006 I started recording piano improvs again, and I've continued to do so, off and on, ever since.
Excuse the barely adequate descriptive titles. Most of these pieces don't have actual names. Maybe they will, if I collect them together and edit them for actual release.
c# minor patterns. This is a piece I first started playing in the early 1980s. It's actually a structured improv, a chordal system with note changes happening in a sysematic but not pre-determined way. Modal rather than tonal. This pattern is also the basis for the piece linked to above, elegy for George. Recorded Jume 2006, Chicago, IL.
Piano solo no. 9. A minor modal mood. Recorded June 2006, Chicago, IL.
(Just for fun, here's a version of the previous piece run through digital processing that emulates Frippertronics.)
Abstract (no. 4). Something atonal and abstract that moves towards something quiet and contemplative. Rcorded June 2006, Chicago, IL.
F Major pleasures (no. 5). Recorded June 2006, Chicago, IL.
Two pieces recorded just before All Hallow's Eve 2007, in Beloit, WI. The first uses several processing techniques to structure improvised piano fragments into an otherworldly, evocative electroacuostic piece. The second is a straightforward elegy for the recently dead.
Afternoon. The spring afternoon sunlight spilling into the room, the first piece played on my late mother's freshly-tuned piano. Recorded April 2008, Beloit, WI.
Rain. A rainyand windy day, the wind throwing the rain hard against the big windows on the east side of the house. It rains all day long. Recorded April 2008, Beloit, WI.
Rain (with rain). Remix of Rain, layering it with more sounds of heavy rain against the windows from that same afternoon. Recorded April 2008, Beloit, WI.
Music for Javanese Gamelan
In 1985 to 1986, I spent a year living and studying in Surakarta, Central Java, Indonesia, as a Fulbright Student grantee. I worked closely with gamelan musicians for many months, learning and recording, and towards the end of my stay was able to set up a recording session for three new pieces for gamelan I had composed during the year. The piece below, NightWaters, was recorded just after sunset, and you can hear the night sounds of the region in the background. This was performed and reocrded at STSI-Solo, Central Java, 19 September 1986.
NightWaters for Javanese gamelan
During a visit to the Banyumas region of western Java, I was able to go out into the ricefields one night and record the frogs, insects and other night sounds. The interlocking sounds of croaking frogs were, in Javanese and Balinese mythology, the origin and inspiration for gamelan music, with its layered cyclic melodies. Kodok ngorek means "croaking frogs," and is also the title for a piece in the traditional gamelan repertoire; it also refers to a way of playing gamelan wherein two players play interlocking parts to create an additive melody, a direct evocation of the mythological origin of the music itself. Here is an excerpt of frogs in the rice paddy fields in the early morning hours, Purwokerto, Banyumas, Central java, Indonesia, 1986:
Wind, Sand & Stars
Here are two other short pieces from Wind, Sand & Stars, in various styles. Everything we do is either purely spontaneous or somewhat-structured improv, recorded live with no overdubs. People sometimes ask us how many people are in the band, because of the full textures: there are two.
when seafloor is ceiling
not having mirrors
Here are two excerpts from longer WS&S pieces:
coconspirator of dreams
bossa nova polar lander excerpt
11 February 2006, San Francisco
Arthur Durkee, Chapman Stick, loops
Mika Pontecorvo, guitar, samples, software
Improvised world-fusion music. San Francisco Bay Area, CA. I've been playing with them since spring of 2005. We also do live improvised soundtrack music for silent films.
Al-i Nahfs sample tracks page
High-energy improvised jazz/rock fusion. El Cerrito, CA. A new project for me since spring 2005.
Fuse Demo CD tracks
Dangerous Odds was for many years my main outlet for performance. We formally gave our first live improvised concert show in 1991 in Chicago. We had an ongoing monthly live radio show on WORT-FM Madison for many years. This was an incentive to be constantly doing new material; our back-catalog is huge, and needs sorting through. We released a compilation CD, but there's enough quality performance recordings for several more. We still do the occasional gig, too.
Dangerous Odds specialized in poetry performance with spontaneous music. Playing music with Odds was great fun, because of the unpredictability: we were sometimes quite serious, and often extremely silly. But it's all great music, because the players and poets know each other so well. And yes, it's all improvised. The core group of performers for several years consisted of:
Al Jewer: flute, bass, percussion, wind synth
Ron Ellis: poetry performance
Larry Giles: poetry performance
Art Durkee: Stick, bass, occasional poetizing, percussion
Tom Hamer: electronic and acoustic drums, percussion, toys
Diedre Buckley: viola
Biff Blumfumgagnge: violin, balaika, guitars, vocals
Kristina Hord, french horn, vocals
We also had several regular guests, and one or two other regulars who were with us for awhile before moving on. Odds was also mostly a guitar-free zone, with guitarists invited by special request only.
Tantrum features me on Stick and drum programming (twin Yamaha RX5s that start in sync and gradually go out of phase), and Al Jewer on screaming wind synth. We recorded this direct to computer late one night, when we were both fed up with life and feeling mean. The piece's name was a no-brainer.
Horse At Breath is one of my own poems. It's read here by Odds chief poet R. Virgil Ellis, with myself on Stick, and Al Jewer on flute. In my opinion, this is a really terrific performance of this poem, and we were really "in the zone" the night we recorded it.
Odds Kill Barney is a little improv monstrosity in which we kill Barney the Purple Dinosaur. A silly moment. But he deserved it. Really. No regrets.
An Homage to Stick Players Everywhere from Chairman Al Big J.
A Dangerous Odds holiday greeting PSA for WORT-FM Madison, featuring Al, Tom and Art.
Ancient Girl is one of my favorite Odds performances. This is shamanic music, dark and poweful and muscular. Towards the end, I used the Infinite Sustain to create humpback whalesounds with the bass side of the Stick.
Clocks in Chaos features poet Larry Giles with the musicians all ticking away at various rates.
Sit Back and Enjoy the Music!
And here are some pics of the band, from a Dangerous Odds gig at Mother Fool's in Madison, WI.
Exception Error D000
(pronounced Dee-thousand) Our vintage analog synthesizer industrial project. This is Seriously Difficult Listening, not for the average listener. A one-time project that has developed something of a cult following. Recorded one loud night at Laughing Cat Studios, mixed direct to two-track digital. Later edited for content. We are still working on distribution for this project; meanwhile, here it is in edited MP3 format.
Exception Error D000
A short-lived but fun little project; several tracks feature the Infinite Sustain Feedback System. One of my punk rock bands, the only one that really recorded much, and the only one for which I also wrote all the lyrics and challenged the listener with my vocal stylings. Also, the only overtly queer boy punk rock band: homocore rules. So, yes, it's true: I've just come out. I am indeed a songwriter. There are another 7 QPT tracks in the can that I haven't finished mixing and producing yet. Someday, I promise.
Dave Bintz: drums, guitars
Art Durkee: Stick with ISFS, fretless bass, queer bass, vocals
A little side note: Yes, QPT stands for something. What that is, remains flexible. Quince Pop Tarts? Questionablly Poor Taste? Queer Power Trio? You be the judge.
Another short-lived but fun little punk project. We managed to record a couple of tracks, though, which still sound pretty good. Angry industrial post-punk flavored with a little McLuhanesque social commentary about the digitization of human culture.
Charlie Nichols: vocals & texts
Art Durkee: Stick, low bass guitar
Diane Perris: high bass guitar
Tom Hamer: drums & percussion
Jazz inspired by world music. Most of the pieces are written by Tom Lachmund, with a couple written by me, and a couple of free improvs. The notated lead sheets are often cyclic structures that serve as foundations for free blowing. Free jazz meets ethnomusicology.
Tom Lachmund: saxophones, bass clarinet, percussion
Art Durkee: Stick, percussion
"Uncle" Larry Hancock: bass, percussion
Tommy Thompson: drums, percussion
Improvised duo music for slide guitar and Chapman Stick. Also a tribute page to my departed pal Ron Jones.
An online Virtual CD of new trance/techno/spacemusic. Written & Produced by Arthur Durkee.
Arthur Durkee: Chapman Stick® with ISFS, loops, beats, computers, effects.
A work in progress. This will eventually be a spacemusic/techno CD. There's more on the way.
Two fonts creted by Stick players for the use of other Stick players. All I've really done here is provide cross-platform coversions, available for free download to the Stick community.
NAMM 2005 Stick Events
The first 2005 issue of Stick Enterprises' StickNews on the web features numerous photos and videos from the 2005 NAMM show in Los Angeles, in late January 2005. This is a highlight of the year for Stick players in general, and was a major thrill for me to be there. The following StickNews items, by Jim Reilly, are laced through with photos and videos by yours truly. Thanks to SE and everyone involved for letting me be there to capture it all!
Stick Nite in Hollywood
Photos from a collaborative art gallery opening in Minneapolis, featuring Paul Nixdorf and myself. I also provided live music for the opening, featuring Chapman Stick and loops.
I am a featured guest Stick player on the debut CD by Two Trees, Andy Mitran and Al Jewer, out of Chicago, IL.