- Aleksandr Skryabin (Alexander Scriabin)
- Erik Satie
- Cross-Modal Aesthetics
- Fin-de-siècle French and Russian culture
- Music History and Appreciation Pedagogy
- Early Music Performance
In the Works
- Article on Skryabin’s relationship to Wagner’s legacy
- Biography of Aleksandr Skryabin
[Forthcoming] “Reich and Gursky: Parallel Minimalist and Post-Minimalist Narratives in Music and Photography.” Music in Art, 2021.
Both Reich and Gursky have traced parallel aesthetic paths in their respective fields of music and photography, from the inherited conventions of their predecessors at the origins of minimalism, to their mature style in the post-minimalist aesthetic. Early minimalist musical works, such as LaMonte Young’s Composition 1960 #7 (see fig. 1), or the Trio for Strings, scrutinize miniscule amounts of sonic material for prolonged stretches of time, magnifying an otherwise banal sound-world and re-framing it as an immersive, artistic experience. Similarly, Bernd and Hilla Becher’s school of photographic objectivity glorified the systematic experience by serializing overlooked images; through repetition, they sought to create a visual typology of a concept, an ur-bilder. Reich and Gursky eventually abandoned the impersonal procedures of these predecessors in favor of approaches that incorporated the mechanical procedures of the first minimalists to enhance the drama of their own works, which are strikingly similar, though from radically different mediums. Both artists use a more subjective, intuitive, and aesthetically-oriented style that incorporates process as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Reich’s early aesthetic, spelled out in his manifesto, “Music as Gradual Process,” was exemplified in his phase pieces, such as Come Out. His starting point is comparable to the Bechers’ Anonymous Sculpture (1970) (see fig. 2), for example, which surveys common forms in the Industrial landscape using a serial format. Gursky, a student of the Bechers, began with the same techniques as his teachers, as seen in his early serial works. Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians breaks from the strict automation and emotional detachment of early minimalism, but incorporates a variety of techniques derived from those procedures, such as insistent repetition, additive rhythm, transposition, and quasi-functional harmony, for dramatic effect. Gursky’s recognizable, mature style, features enormous, hyper-detailed, digitally manipulated photos (see fig. 3). These photographs on the subject of globalization and architecture, are indebted to the mechanical repetition and minimalistic aesthetic of his predecessors, but similarly embrace the subjectivity and chaos of commercial culture at the microscopic level, featuring a characteristic tension between the macro and micro.
[Forthcoming] “Modern Performance Practice of Erik Satie’s Piano Works: A Paralysis of Expression” Keyboard Perspectives 12 (2019).
Abstract: Influenced by John Cage and popular aesthetics of “atmospheric” music, a growing contingent of pianists and critics since the 1990s have crafted an “authentic” performance practice of Satie’s piano works, characterized by slow tempi, liberal pedal, and avoidance of expressive gestures. Though this interpretation is seemingly corroborated by Satie’s idea of Furniture Music and “Vexations,” these were isolated experiments that are now projected onto Satie’s entire oeuvre. An examination of early recordings by Poulenc demonstrate that before Satie became popularly associated with John Cage, works from his earlier and later periods were played with a variety of Romantic expressive gestures.
Macchiarella, Lindsey. “Early French Modernism Across Modalities: Erik Satie and Eugène Atget.” Music in Art 42/2 (December, 2017).
Abstract: Major cultural movements are not limited to a single medium of art and cross-medium comparisons bring changing aesthetics into sharper focus. While modernism is often examined from an interdisciplinary point of view, music and photography have yet to be considered together. Composer Erik Satie and photographer Eugène Atget were contemporary progenitors of French Modernism in their relative fields and were highly influential on younger generations. Though they worked in starkly contrasting mediums, their works show surprisingly similar features, such as the resolute and mocking rejection of Romanticism and a preference for functional, documentary, and spatially oriented art. Their structural juxtapositions and subtle exaggeration would later be heralded as the seeds of surrealism. Most distinctive, perhaps, is their avoidance of narrative and creation of a non-teleological sense of time. This study puts both Satie and Atget in an exceptional context, demonstrating the intrinsic interconnectedness of French Modernist aesthetics.
“Skryabin’s Prefatory Action: Libretto, Sketches, and Divine Unity”
Abstract: Prefatory Action is an unfinished work existing partially in the realm of hypothetical hearsay, and partially in the drafts of the libretto and musical sketches found after Skryabin’s death. Nearly all of the literature on this piece is cursory, or focuses only on summarizing and reiterating information from his early biographers. This dissertation undertakes an in-depth study of the libretto and sketches, presenting new research on primary sources, and positing interpretations of the work in the context of Skryabin’s theories.
The composer’s philosophies, as described in his private journals, are the product of the diligent study and fusion of studies from contemporary psychology, nineteenth-century philosophy, and Theosophy. Skryabin constructed both an ontology of the nature of consciousness and reality, and proposed strategies for transcending the limited mode of human experience through spiritual and mental unification. Prefatory Action would be both a representation of this unification, and an artistic event that would help educate the human race in order to fully realize it in the future. The Prefatory Action libretto outlines Skryabin’s version of the history of humanity – a cycle of unified, and differentiated consciousnesses – and represents the near future, in which humanity embraces death and abandons corporeal form to mingle their consciousnesses. Contrary to the typical characterization of Skryabin’s ideas, especially those concerning Prefatory Action, as wildly insane, they are actually organized into a fairly consistent and logical system, and they are deeply connected to contemporary occult culture, which would have found many sympathizers in the early twentieth century. The Prefatory Action libretto demonstrates many of the characteristics of modernism, including an emphasis on progress and the future, and the aesthetics of early twentieth-century symbolism and ritualism.
The musical sketches for Prefatory Action contain no obvious connections to the libretto, but they reveal the style of the music intended for the work. Skryabin’s strategies for atonal composition included deriving octatonic and acoustic collections by stacking intervallic patterns, and outlining and progressively developing very brief fragments of music. Small fragments of some of his late, published works appear in the Prefatory Action sketches, helping to flesh out our understanding of both the Prefatory Action style and the compositional process for Skryabin’s late pieces.
- “Localizing the Online Music Appreciation Course.” College Music Society – Southern Chapter Conference. Tyler, TX, March 21, 2019.
- “From Hero to Monster: Style and Representation in Modern Musical Beowulfiana” Beowulf’s Afterlives Conference. College Station, TX, November 30, 2018.
- “Skryabin’s Modernism: Process and Style in the Prefatory Action Sketches.” National Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Rochester, NY, November 9, 2017.
- “Performing Satie in the Tranquil Shadow of the Gymnopédies.” Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Musicological Society, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, April 8, 2017.
- “Our History: Teaching Undergraduates Like Graduate Students.” Teaching Music History Conference, University of Denver, CO, June 4, 2016.
- “Koyaanisqatsi in Photographic Discourse: Lacunae in Music and Image.” Music and the Moving Image, NYU Steinhardt, NY, May 29, 2016.
- “Skryabin’s Modernism: Process and Style in the Prefatory Action Sketches.”American Musicological Society: Rocky Mountain Chapter, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, April 22, 2016.
- “I Am God, I Am Nothing”: Psychology, Religion, and ‘Free Creation’ in the Journals of Alexander Skryabin.” American Musicological Society National Meeting, Louisville, November 15, 2015. American Musicological Society – Southern Chapter Meeting, New Orleans, LA, Feb. 27, 2015.
- “What Music Cannot Convey to Us’: Skryabin in America, 1906-1907.” 21st Southern Conference for Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Film. Tampa, FL, February 21, 2014.
- “Satie and Atget: A Common Aesthetic across Mediums in Early 20th-Century Paris.” American Musicological Society – Southern Chapter Meeting, Tampa, FL, February 8, 2014.
- “Tragic Narrative in Mendelssohn’s F-minor String Quartet, op. 80.”Southern Graduate Music Research Symposium, Athens, GA, September 14, 2013.
- “Gamelan Style, Exoticism, and Satire in Benjamin Britten’s The Prince of the Pagodas.” Society for Ethnomusicology Southeastern Caribbean Chapter, Atlanta, GA, March 2, 2013
- “Franz Liszt and George Sand: The Transformation of a Voyageur.” Southern Graduate Music Research Symposium, Tallahassee, FL, September 10, 2011. Southern Regional Graduate Student Conference, Tallahassee, FL, March 23, 2013.