Composer Anthony Cornicello (born in Brooklyn, New York, 1964) writes music that blurs distinctions between performers and electronics, timbre and harmony, composition and improvisation, and explores the boundaries of what may be considered post-classical concert music. His music is vibrant and visceral, full of rhythmic energy and harmonic sophistication, and his forays into live electronics have led to exciting combinations of instruments and processed sound. Cornicello’s background as a jazz pianist is evident not only in the rhythmic activity of his music, but also in his constant investigation of the rich sonorities available from a variety of instruments.

He has been commissioned to write music for the Scorchio Electric String Quartet, ModernWorks! (funding from Meet the Composer/ Commissioning Music USA), the Auros Group for New Music, the Prism Saxophone Quartet, the New York New Music Ensemble, David Holzman, the Group for Contemporary Music, and the InterEnsemble of Padova, Italy. His work has also been featured on the Guggenheim Museum’s “Works and Process” series. Cornicello’s works have also been performed by the Chicago Civic Symphony, Parnassus, ALEA III, Composers Concordance, Madeleine Shapiro, Robert Black, among many other outstanding groups and solo performers. His music has been presented as part of the Darmstadt International Festival of New Music as well as the June in Buffalo Festival.

Cornicello’s Second String Quartet has been recorded by the Atlantic String Quartet; the Second Sonata for Piano by David Holzman (Centaur). More recently, his Post-Modern Waltz was recorded by Eric Moe for Albany Records. A portrait CD of Cornicello’s works is scheduled for 2006 release on Albany Records.

As a performer, he has conducted or played piano in his own works on numerous occasions. While a graduate student at Rutgers, he formed and directed the Janus Ensemble, a group dedicated to contemporary music. More recently, Cornicello has begun performing on the laptop, using a variety of interfaces and the Max/MSP program. Those performances, mostly with EEE!, have had a notable impact on his music, as EEE!’s music ranges from hip-hop to experimental noise. EEE! is based at Eastern Connecticut State University, where Cornicello is an Associate Professor and Director of the Electronic Music Lab.

Cornicello received the Ph.D. from Brandeis University, where he studied with David Rakowski, Eric Chasalow, and Martin Boykan. His teachers also include Charles Wuorinen, Gérard Grisey, and Richard Beirach.

His current fields of interest include developing unusual interfaces for live computer music performances, as well as continuing to investigate resonance and spatialization. His recent and current projects (mostly for string instruments and electronics) have been exploring the latter two, and the series of experimental works ReZenant Garden, performed by EEE! have operated on all three areas of interest. Future projects will include works for instrumental groups or soloists and electronics, as well as turntablists.

Cornicello's works are published by C.F. Peters Corporation and APNM, and he is a member of BMI.

Monday, September 24, 2007
Improvisation and Electronics

To my regular readers: (that's right, both of you!)
I've invited my students to come and read this blog post. Hopefully, they'll comment and add to the discussion.


I've been doing a lot of thinking about improvisation lately. Outside of totally free improvisation, the composer (or director) needs to be able to convey to players his or her intentions with the music. There can be some direction that allows a player freedom; too much notation can result in a piece that is not at all improvised, while too little can produce a chaotic piece. Okay, maybe that's a bit strong: chaotic as in totally outside the realm of what the composer originally had in mind. In a way, a lot of the improvisations of the electric Miles Davis groups (especially 1969-1975) show a tremendous amount of variety with very little control from Miles. If you were to listen to, say, all the cuts of Directions, you'd hear a different bass riff, different rhythm section figures, and (obviously) different solos. (I say obviously because it is the goal of a good improviser to create something new each time the music is played.) It takes a certain kind of player to do this, and in a group setting, the results can vary greatly from night to night.

Now, for me, one of the problems has been notation: how do we notate this stuff? The players aren't really playing tunes, so a lead sheet with chord changes as in The Real Book just wouldn't be appropriate.

So, in an attempt to demonstrate to my students different ways of improvisation, I've put together a few somewhat random recordings that demonstrate various uses of electronics in an improvised context. All the music shown is heavily improvised, although each has a different structure.

First up is "Ap Ke Baras", (yes, that's a link guys!)which is from the Live in San Francisco at Stern Grove album by Tabla Beat Science (which is directed by Bill Laswell). This is built up in almost a "traditional" layered approach. You set up a groove, and then add something else over it. Except on this recording (and all of the Tabla Beat Science recordings), the "something else" might be something unexpected, like tablas or Sarangi. But notice that in this recording, there is no real 'melody', and that nothing real dominates over the texture. Our ears are drawn to the newest thing, but then it is replaced by the next new thing.

Now, back to the 1970s and Miles Davis. "Thinkin' One Thing And Doin' Another" is from a very odd and controversial album by Miles called On the Corner; although this track is separated on the CD, it's really part of a larger, unbroken span of music. Here, you'll hear some melody from Miles, but really pay attention to the background. Outside of the basic groove (and kids, this is well before the use of drum machines!), a lot of what happens in the band is sound. There is only a hint of harmony, so everyone is basically improvising with sound: more concern for the effect, and less so for the harmonic implication. And, there's a lot going on: tabla grooves, congas, guitar chords and single notes, keyboards, and the occasional high note (as about 1 minute before the end of this track) that seems to just be there, for no apparent reason.

Finally, there's "Waxlips." Ah, isn't there always Waxlips? The group playing here is the HUB, from their Wreckin' Ball CD. Okay, this is something rather different; the first thing my students will notice is the lack of a true rhythm section: no drums, bass, etc - and no tablas! Some kids may even notice the apparent lack of structure. I'm not even sure how many players are involved with this piece - it's not as if I can clearly relate a specific sound to a particular player.

What does interest me, though, is how the group is toying with pure sound. There are little bits of music passed around between players, between processes. Around 1:20, we start to hear something that sounds like a modulated electric piano - that gets processed, and at around 1:43, it gets 'stuck' in a loop. The loop goes away, but then resurfaces under the subsequent material: little bursts of trumpet music with percussive bursts.

I'll return to talk about this in another post in a day or so. This is a long post, and I've got a lot to say! Please feel free to join in the conversation.

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