Use Your Illusion

ENS.2016.4 | 33′
Poems by Michael Robbins
Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, Piano, Violin Cello


1. To the Drone Vaguely Realizing Eastward

2. Use Your Illusion

3. The Second Sex

4. Overnight

5. Within a Budding Grove

6. In the Air Tonight

7. Big Country

8. Lose Myself

My third setting of poems by Michael Robbins, Use Your Illusion attempts to find a musical analogue for Robbins’s brilliantly funny, savage, often religiously-informed, pop-culture-saturated imagery. As in 2014’s Plastic Robbins Band, I use enriched textures such as glissandos, quarter tones, and a variety of extended techniques to destabilize fundamentally tonal, even poppy musical material. References to other composers and songwriters from Arnold Schoenberg to Michael Nyman mirror Robbins’s use of mangled quotations, and the music is often fragmented, as if falling to pieces as it’s being performed.

Just as Robbins’s work often cloaks itself in strict poetic forms, so too does my piece follow systematic formal constraints. Harmonically, Use Your Illusion consists of every possible two-part combination of major and minor triads arranged into an overarching progression. These harmonies are activated by five contrasting textures, each comprising five tiny rhythmic cells.

Although complex precompositional processes were used to determine the order and disposition of all harmonic, rhythmic, and textural elements, these calculations were no more than tools toward the realization of a fundamentally musical concept. The actual composition using these elements was entirely free; only the material’s order and disposition was determined.

In this way Use Your Illusion could be thought of as a series of boxes: these boxes must appear in a particular order, and each box must contain elements x, y, and z, but their appearance, design, and configuration was entirely decided by the composer during the actual writing of the music. Although all eight movements are made of the same basic twenty-five musical ideas, each song describes its own narrative, its own sound world.