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.

Sunday, July 29, 2007
More on improv

Okay, so by now, you may get the impression that I'm a sporadic blogger. Usually, what happens is I get involved in a project of sorts, and I sort of forget about other things. Curiously, my daughter is the same way...

So, this is the next part of my thoughts on improvisation. I'm going to tie this into composition eventually. And, I agree with most of you, that they are distinctly related.


Improvisation itself, as an art form, can be conceived of in many different ways. There is a continuum, ranging from totally free improvisation, to a very restricted one.

In free improvisation, the performer plays without any preconception, at least in theory. This is quite a difficult task, as we often try to create recognizable patterns within randomness. Thus, a player may suddenly find him or herself playing a blues lick that may have been alluded to earlier, or a well-known chord progression. I'm not an expert on Cecil Taylor's playing, but I'd be surprised if he didn't have some favorite chords, harmonic progressions, or melodic patterns that appear throughout his playing. I mention him because he embodies the free improviser.

On the other end of the spectrum is something that is completely confined. I immediately think of the short solos found on some rock recordings. Often, these little 4-8 bar solos are interludes. They sound improvised, and I'm sure they were at one point. However, once they become part of the recording, they are often played the same way over and over again in every live performance of the work.

This reminds me of the 'head' arrangements that bands like the Count Basie band used to create. Now, this was a memorized arrangement - I don't think any of it was written out. And, from what I know, it was flexible - components could be added in or skipped over on the fly. The solos were rooted in the traditions of Dixieland/Big Band styles: basically keeping to variations on the melody. Most players of the pre-Bop era played within the harmonic and melodic constraints of the given melody. There's some great Louis Armstrong recordings where he is playing very lyrically, sticking close to the tune, as if he's singing it; of course, his innovative scat singing was a direct influence (or result?) of this.

Once we get to bebop, the nature of improvisation changes. The solos become a little more abstract; they're not necessarily based on the original melody (and, what is the original melody, when you're dealing with tunes based on existing chord changes, like "I've Got Rhythm", "What is this thing called love?", or "Back Home Again in Indiana"? By the way, that's called a contrafact); sometimes, the original harmonies are obscured through a plethora of chord substitutions and extensions (i.e., C7b9#11). For the uninitiated, it can sound random or chaotic, but it actuality, it can be quite controlled and refined.
As the music progressed through the 1950s and 1960s, the styles changed and the improvisations became expansive. Whereas 1950s Miles would often be playing 'inside' the prevailing harmony (that is, consonant with the chord), in the mid 60s, he and his band began exploring playing 'outside' the chords, freely using all notes and sounds; by the 1970s, he's basically playing atonal funk.

Next, I'm going to talk about how improvisation has been utilized in 'classical' music.