Deus ex Machina, 2010
(flute, clarinet/bass, trumpet, trombone, violin, viola, violoncello, contrabass, percussion, drumset, and two amplified electric guitars)

Special tuning: the guitars are tuned (in unison) one quarter-tone below the rest of the ensemble.  Over the course of the piece, each of the wind instruments gradually detunes by pulling out tuning slides, head joint, or barrel; this corresponds paradoxically with the harmonic material becoming less complex.  One unique aspect of this piece has to do with the percussionist's playing technique on the roto-toms: he or she must continually tune and re-tune the three drums while playing them, adding a quasi-melodic element to the part.

Formally, Deus borrows from the world of heavy metal, whose songs often present material more as a series of unrelated riffs than an organic development of motifs.  The effect of slamming from one material to another can be jarring, comic even.  But there are certain devices at work throughout the entire piece that seek to glue the disparate-seeming sections together.  The most prevalent of these is the extensive use of what I call "echo."  Borrowing manipulations from the worlds of electronic and computer music, I extend the idea of an echo (more of a variable delay, like the commonly used guitar pedal) forward and backwards in time, and "bounce" it off of surfaces that sometimes move toward or away from the "sound source."  Also, sometimes the echo itself shatters into small pieces, each one flying off in a slightly different direction and/or at a different speed.  The piece seems to be constantly melting in various odd ways.

This is my first large-scale work where I really "let my hair down" and allowed musical elements from any and every part of my personality into the composition.  I invite the listener to feel free to laugh, cry, or headbang as needed.

The recording is from a live performance at the Center for the Arts at the University at Buffalo, September 21st, 2010.  James Baker conducts the Slee Sinfonietta