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Vortex (2014)
for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Trumpet, Trombone, Percussion, Drum Set, Piano, Two Violins, Viola, Cello, and Double Bass
Click here to view score

I. Turbine

II. Coin Funnel

Performed by the University of Texas New Music Ensemble, October 2014

As its title suggests, this piece is about vortexes. I had a really strange fascination with vortexes as a child, and my family doesn’t let me forget this. They tell me stories about how I had to flush all the toilets in every house we visited, how I could fall asleep watching the agitators in washing machines swish the water around, and how I once injured myself trying to get a better view of water going down my kitchen sink. I don’t know why they’ve always been so interesting to me, but I suppose it’s about time that it manifests itself in my music.

The first movement, Turbine, is about the creation of a vortex. Imagine you’re in a calm lake and you push the water in a certain direction; the vortex that forms is fairly small and disappears after a few seconds. However, if a big machine is moving the water around, the vortex that appears is much more significant and can last a long time. In Turbine, several impulses at the beginning dissolve quickly into sparse and isolated textures. On the third iteration, however, the impulse is significant enough that it generates spiraling motives that build throughout the rest of the movement.

The second movement is inspired by the yellow, funnel-shaped wishing wells you might see at a mall. If you’re not familiar with how they work, you drop a coin (or a lot of coins) down a chute and then watch them spin to the bottom of the well, where they finally disappear through a small hole. Each of the three themes in this movement imagines a different scenario: in the first theme, a stream of coins spirals down to the center, uninhibited. In the second, coins being dropped clumsily into the well fall down the sides, knocking any others out of orbit. The third theme, a lush melody passed from the strings to the brass, pictures a single coin spinning elegantly from the top to bottom. The three themes then repeat, each one coming back faster and faster – and just as the coins become a blur as they near the center of the well, by the end of the movement, the first and second themes oscillate back and forth so quickly that it’s difficult to keep track of them.